Stress is part of being human, and it can help motivate you to get things done. Even high stress from serious illness, job loss, a death in the family, or a painful life event can be a natural part of life. You may feel down or anxious, and that’s normal too for a while.
Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. While it’s easy to identify major stressors such as changing jobs, moving, or going through a divorce, pinpointing the sources of chronic stress can be more complicated. It’s all too easy to overlook how your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors contribute to your everyday stress levels.
A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal or use a stress tracker on your phone. Keeping a daily log will enable you to see patterns and common themes. Write down:
Stress affects us in a number of ways, both physically and emotionally, and in varying intensities. Research has shown that stress can sometimes be positive. It makes us more alert and helps us perform better in certain situations. However, stress has only been found to be beneficial if it is short-lived. This guide aims to give you tips on how to manage and reduce stress.
Research has shown that stress can sometimes be positive. It makes us more alert and helps us perform better in certain situations. However, stress has only been found to be beneficial if it is short-lived. Excessive or prolonged stress can lead to illness such as heart disease and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
During situations that make you feel threatened or upset, your body creates a stress response. This can cause a variety of physical symptoms, change the way you behave, and lead you to experience more intense emotions.
Symptoms like these are triggered by a rush of stress hormones in your body which, when released, allow you to deal with pressures or threats. This is known as the “fight or flight” response. Hormones called adrenaline and noradrenaline raise your blood pressure, increase your heart rate and increase the rate at which you perspire. This prepares your body for an emergency response. These hormones can also reduce blood flow to your skin and reduce your stomach activity. Cortisol, another stress hormone, releases fat and sugar into your system to boost your energy.
As a result, you may experience headaches, muscle tension, pain, nausea, indigestion and dizziness. You may also breathe more quickly, have palpitations or suffer from various aches and pains. In the long-term, you may be putting yourself at risk from heart attacks and strokes.
All these changes are your body’s way of making it easier for you to fight or run away. Once the pressure or threat has passed, your stress hormone levels usually return to normal. However, if you’re constantly under stress, these hormones remain in your body, leading to the symptoms of stress. If you’re stuck in a busy office or on an overcrowded train, you can’t fight or run away, so you can’t use up the chemicals your own body makes to protect you. Over time, the build-up of these chemicals and the changes they produce can be damaging for your health.
You may experience periods of constant worry, racing thoughts, or repeatedly go over the same things in your head. Some people experience changes in their behaviour. They may lose their temper more easily, act irrationally or become more verbally or physically aggressive. These feelings can feed on each other and produce physical symptoms, which can make you feel even worse. For example, extreme anxiety can make you feel so unwell that you then worry you have a serious physical condition.
Everyone experiences stress. However, when it is affecting your life, health and wellbeing, it is important to tackle it as soon as possible. While stress affects everyone differently, there are common signs and symptoms you can look out for:
If you experience these symptoms for a prolonged period of time and feel they are affecting your everyday life or making you feel unwell, you should speak to your GP. You should ask for information about the support services and treatments available to you.
Stress may be caused either by major upheavals and life events such as divorce, unemployment, moving house and bereavement, or by a series of minor irritations such as feeling undervalued at work or arguing with a family member. Sometimes, there are no obvious causes.
Relationships are a great support in times when we feel stressed. However, from time to time the people close to you, be it a partner, parent, child, friend or colleague, can increase your stress levels.
Events such as ongoing minor arguments and disagreements, to larger family crises, such as an affair, illness or bereavement are likely to affect the way you think, feel and behave. This may consequently have an impact on your stress levels.
While traditional working hours are 37 hours a week, the recent and dramatic rise in Britain’s working hours suggests this is likely to increase. 20.1% of the UK working population work 45 hours or more per week.
The human costs of unmanaged work related stress is extensive. Feeling unhappy about the amount of time you spend at work and neglecting other aspects of life because of work may increase your vulnerability to stress. Increased levels of stress can, if not addressed early enough, lead to burn-out or more severe mental health problems.
Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are thought to be the leading cause of work absences, accounting for up to 40% of sickness leave. In 2008, mental health accounted for 442,000 cases of work-related illnesses and had an estimated cost of £13.5 million. As a result, mental ill health now accounts for a significant proportion of long-term sickness and early retirement, cited as the leading cause of illness for 20% of NHS employees.