Managing Your Stress – By Alison Runham www.alison.runham.co.uk
Persistent stress can affect our health and even cause serious illness, so we need to know how to reduce stress and its effects.
‘Stress’ can refer to two different but related things: situations or events that put pressure on us; and our reaction to that pressure.
- Affect your mental health, causing problems such as depression and exacerbating existing mental health issues.
- Affect your physical health by preventing proper sleeping or eating, and causing excess cortisol and adrenaline release. This makes you feel unwell and may eventually lead to serious conditions, e.g. heart disease, asthma, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.
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 (or lack of it) and past experiences).
- Your mental health and emotional resilience.
- The support you receive.
Symptoms of Stress
- Avoiding the stress source.
- 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.
- Blurred eyesight or sore eyes.
- Loss of libido.
- Teeth grinding or clenching your jaw.
- Chest pains.
- High blood pressure.
- Indigestion or heartburn.
- Constipation or diarrhoea.
- Nausea or dizziness.
Reducing and Coping with Stress
Reducing your responsibilities and using time-management or organisational techniques can help to reduce stress in your life. You can find time management tips at www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/time-management-tips/ and www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/stress/dealing-with-pressure/, which also has coping strategies for specific pressures, such as being a student.
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:
- Complementary therapies
Therapies like yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture and ecotherapy (time spent in nature) may help you relax.
- Lifestyle Changes
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
Develop a more positive outlook. This video discusses replacing negative thinking with positive: www.nhs.uk/Video/Pages/unhelpful-thinking-podcast.aspx?searchtype=Tag&searchterm=Mental+health.
- Breathing exercises
You can find instructions at www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/ways-relieve-stress/
- Stress-busting apps and courses
Try the NHS’ Chill Panda apps.beta.nhs.uk/chill-panda/, Silver Cloud apps.beta.nhs.uk/silvercloud/ and the Stress & Anxiety Companion apps.beta.nhs.uk/stress-anxiety-companion/.
For further help, visit your GP, who can recommend:
- Talking 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
E.g. antidepressants, sleeping pills, irritable bowel syndrome treatments and high blood pressure medication.
Don’t ignore stress until it’s damaged your health. Tackle it now.