What is stress?
Most people experience symptoms of stress from time to time. We become stressed when we feel unable to cope with the pressures and demands being placed on us. Stress affects everybody differently, but there are common symptoms you can look out for. Identifying what is causing the problem is an important step in managing stress.
Stress can be described as a negative reaction to the demands or pressures in a person’s life. When people feel that they do not have the resources to cope with these pressures, they often experience feelings of stress.
What are the symptoms of stress?
There are many different symptoms that you might experience if you are stressed, and it is important to remember that stress affects people in different ways. Learning how to recognise how stress affects you personally can be useful for working out the best way to manage your stress levels.
Not all of the symptoms listed below are experienced by everyone who is feeling stressed, but some of the more common symptoms are:
Headaches, muscle tension and pain, stomach problems, sweating, feeling dizzy, bowel and bladder problems, breathlessness, dry mouth and sexual problems.
Racing thoughts, constant worrying, imagining the worst, and going over things again and again.
Irritability, anxiousness, low self-esteem and low mood.
Having a short temper, drinking or smoking more, being on the go all the time, talking more or faster, changing your eating habits, feeling unsociable, being forgetful or clumsy, being unreasonable and struggling to concentrate.
What causes stress?
Many different things can cause stress. It could be one particularly difficult situation or event (such as a divorce or being unemployed), or it could be a number of smaller things adding together to contribute (eg feeling undervalued at work and dealing with difficult children). A situation or event that is stressful for one person may even be motivating for another.
Some common causes of stress include money problems, problems at work, relationship issues, the death of someone close, family problems and exams. Some of the stress we experience might even be self-generated, such as having unrealistic expectations or putting too much pressure on ourselves or those around us.
Excessive worrying is a large cause of stress for many people. Worrying about a problem might be useful if it helps us to problem-solve. But often we find ourselves focusing only on the negatives or worrying about things that might never happen. There are three common types of worry that can lead to stress:
- Worrying about the future – focusing on fears for the future and things that probably won’t happen.
- Worrying about the present – concerns and worries about situations you feel powerless to change.
- Worrying about the past – concern about something that has already happened when there is often little you can do to alter it.
Problems at work can also be a big factor, and stress is one of the most commonly reported types of work-related health problem. On average, each person experiencing this condition took 27 days off work in 2010/11. Lots of work-related issues can contribute to this, but some common problems are excessive demands and pressures, not being able to exercise enough control, poor support and management and unsatisfactory working conditions.
If you are having trouble identifying what is causing you to feel stressed, it might help to keep a stress diary for a few weeks. Noting down when you feel stressed, what happens just before or after and what you were thinking about at the time could help to identify what is triggering stressful feelings.
Although stress in itself is not an illness, it can lead to both mental and physical health problems if it is left untreated. If stress continues unmanaged over long periods, it can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Experiencing an extremely stressful or traumatic event, such as a serious accident, assault or abuse, could also lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in some cases. Many people use alcohol to relax, forget about their problems and cope with stress. However, using alcohol to avoid problems is an ineffective coping strategy and can lead to alcohol addiction.
How to beat stress
- Holiday – try to plan at least one a year or a change in activities or surroundings.
- Open up – if your relationship is part of the problem. Communication is very important.
- Work – is that the problem? What are your options? Could you retrain? What aspects are stressful? Could you delegate?
- Try to concentrate on the present. Don’t dwell on the past or the future worries.
- Own up to the way you feel, especially to yourself.
- Be realistic about what you can achieve. Don’t take on too much.
- Eat a balanced diet. Sit down, eat slowly. Allow at least 30 minutes for a meal.
- Action plans – try to write down the problems in your life causing stress and as many possible solutions as you can.
- Time management – plan your time, do one thing at a time, build in breaks. Don’t make too many changes all at once.
- Set priorities – if you could only do one thing what would it be.
- Talk things over – with a friend, family member or someone you can trust and share your emotions with.
- Relaxation – leisure time each day is important. Try new ways to relax – mindfulness, aromatherapy, reflexology or yoga.
- Exercise regularly – at least 30 minutes moderate intensity exercise on five or more occasions a week is excellent stress control. Walking is good.
- Say no and don’t feel guilty.
- Seek professional help if you have tried these things and they have not worked.
How do I get help?
Help is never far away.