Persistent stress can affect our health and even cause serious illness, so we need to know how to reduce it.
‘Stress’ can refer to two different but related things: situations or events that put pressure on us; and our reaction to that pressure. Stress can affect your mental health, causing problems such as depression and exacerbate existing mental health issues. It can also affect your physical health by disrupting sleeping or eating habits and cause excess cortisol and adrenaline release.
What causes stress?
Major changes or events: bereavement, moving home, financial crises, exams, redundancy, retirement, job change, marriage, relationship break-up, illness/injury, pregnancy/parenthood. ‘Happy’ events put extra pressure on us not to appear stressed
- Continual pressure: job, health or relationship worries, overwhelming responsibilities
- Feeling out of control and unable to change situations
- Uncertainty, e.g. potential redundancy
- A life that lacks change, purpose or activity
- Clutter and disorganisation, e.g. always running late. Research shows just the sight of clutter causes stress
Your stress threshold may depend on your perception of the situation, affected by your positivity, your mental health and emotional resilience and the support you receive.
Symptoms of stress
There are a wide range of symptoms, including irritability, impatience, aggression, restlessness, depression or anxiety, an inability to enjoy yourself/take an interest, a sense of dread, feeling neglected or tearful, difficulty making decisions and concentrating, poor lifestyle choices: biting your nails, smoking or drinking, eating too much/too little, shallow breathing/hyperventilating, panic attacks, insomnia or disturbed sleep, muscle tension, loss of libido, teeth grinding or clenching your jaw, headaches, chest pains, high blood pressure, indigestion or heartburn, constipation or diarrhoea.
Coping with stress
Reducing your responsibilities and using time-management or organisational techniques can help to reduce stress in your life. The NHS has a number of videos to help deal with stress, anxiety and depression, which you can find at nhs.uk.
Reducing the causes of our stress is important, but sometimes we can’t change stressful situations. However, we can learn to improve how we react to them. Self-help strategies include:
Therapies like yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture and ecotherapy (time spent in nature) may help you relax.
A healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep help. Spend time with family and friends and talk through your problems. Make time for hobbies and relaxation; downtime isn’t a luxury, but essential for a healthy mind and body.
Changing your mind
You can try to develop a more positive outlook. Try to note down three things every day that make you happy, grateful or relaxed. There is a useful NHS video on replacing negative thinking with positive (the basis for CBT, mentioned below).
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps you understand what your stress triggers are and how you react to them, showing you how to act and react more positively.
- Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) combines mindfulness, meditation and yoga to reduce stressTalking treatments
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps you understand your stress triggers and reaction to them, showing you how to act and react more positively.
- Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) combines mindfulness, meditation and yoga to reduce stress.
Medication to reduce symptoms
Medication can help you manage symptoms, such as antidepressants, sleeping pills, irritable bowel syndrome treatments and high blood pressure medication.
Talk to your GP about your concerns and they will be able to help you find the best help for your particular circumstances.
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