Deep breaths in. Deep breaths out. Learn about stress & check out our top tips for coping when it all gets a little too much
‘I’m so stressed!’ How many times have you heard that this week? You may have even said it yourself. If you have – we feel you.
None of us enjoy being stressed but in small doses, everyday stress can be motivating, helping you to take action and meet the demands of home, work and family life. It may well be the thing that pushes you to get that promotion at work or run the last mile of the half marathon you’ve been training so hard for. Long-term stress is a different story though. It puts pressure on the body, can cause a range of symptoms and increase the risk of developing certain illnesses.
What is stress?
We all know what it's like to feel stressed. But it's not that easy to pin down exactly what stress actually means. Put simply, it’s a feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of situations or events that put pressure on us. This could be times where we have lots to do and think about, experiencing something new or unexpected, or feeling that we don't have control.
What causes stress?
Stress means different things to different people and what causes stress can vary hugely from person to person. Your stress levels will change based on your personality and how you respond to situations. Because everyone is different, it’s impossible to name all the different things that can cause stress. Common reasons include:
• problems at work
• financial worries
• loss of a loved one
• health concerns
• getting married
• moving house
What will stress do to my body?
When you’re feeling stressed you may notice that your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens, muscles tighten and blood pressure rises. This is the ‘fight or flight’ or stress response. If we’re faced with a situation that’s seen as potentially dangerous, our body produces stress hormones to help us respond quickly. Once the threat or difficulty passes, these physical effects usually fade away.
Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviours, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune. Just as everyone handles stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. If you're constantly stressed, it can have an impact on your health and you may develop stress-related symptoms which may include:
• muscle tension or pain
• feeling overwhelmed
• difficulty falling asleep
• eating too much or too little
• high blood pressure
• feeling tired all of the time
• a lack of interest in everyday activities
• feeling irritable
• losing interest in sex or being unable to enjoy sex
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, talk to your GP. They can evaluate your symptoms and rule out other conditions.
Tips for dealing with stress
Life can’t always be stress free (as wonderful as that sounds!), so it’s important to find ways to help you feel better. Whatever is stressing you out, proactively managing your stress can help to improve your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Regular exercise can help to reduce stress and lift your mood. Although it won’t make your stress disappear, it will help to clear your thoughts and reduce some of the emotional intensity that you're feeling. Remember, any exercise is better than no exercise. Find something you enjoy and stick to it, whether that be yoga indoors, gentle stretching in the garden, or a 10 minute walk at lunchtime.
Take control of the situation
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, think how you can break things down into manageable chunks. Being proactive about your situation and taking the steps to find a solution will help you feel calmer and more in control.
Talk it out
No matter how close you are to your family and friends, they aren’t mind readers. When you’re feeling stressed, lean on your support network and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Speak out and connect with those around you. It may seem like a simplistic solution, but they can help you see the situation in a different way and may offer solutions you hadn’t thought of.
Avoid unhealthy habits
It’s common for people to adopt unhealthy behaviours in an attempt to relieve stress. Don't rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine to help you cope. At the time they may seem like a quick way to help yourself relax, but in the long run they can be damaging to your health. Think about how you typically handle stress and try to think how you can replace an unhealthy habit with something else to help improve how you feel. If you normally reach for a cigarette when you’re feeling tense, you might instead call a friend or try some deep breathing exercises.
Take some time for you
Practising self-care is a great way to reduce your stress levels. Many of us have so many responsibilities in our day-to-day lives that we forget to schedule in time to take care of ourselves. We know it can be hard to prioritise self-care when you have so many other items on your to-do list, but it’s a super important aspect of stress management. It could be anything from arranging to go out for dinner with a friend, having a relaxing evening at home or simply waking up 10 minutes earlier in the morning to enjoy your breakfast in peace before starting your day.
Want to find out more about stress? We answer the most googled questions here.