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What is stress?

What is stress?

It's Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year's theme is focusing on stress.

We talk about stress a lot, but what is it? Stress can affect everyone, and most of us will know what it’s like to feel stressed from time to time. Feeling a little stressed now and again is normal: you might find yourself saying “I’m stressed” when faced with a situation where there are lots of things to do, or it might be your reaction when you are finding it difficult to cope with being placed under pressure.

But, if stress starts to affect your happiness and enjoyment in life, these feelings could begin to be a problem for you.

Signs and symptoms of stress

Depending on the situation, the symptoms of stress can vary from person to person. Stress can affect you both emotionally and physically, and it can also influence the way you behave too. You might recognise the signs of stress straight away, but sometimes you might experience symptoms before realising you’re stressed.

Some of the first symptoms that you might identify with as being stressed might be some of the physical signs, such as an upset stomach, tiredness or headaches. Often when we feel stressed, we have difficulty sleeping and eating well. Lack of sleep and poor diet can affect our physical health, which in turn can have an impact on how we feel emotionally.

If you’re often feeling stressed, our bodies prepare to respond to the threat by producing hormones; this is sometimes called “Fight or flight” mode. Once a threat is detected our bodies respond automatically and causes a number of physical reactions in the body, which can make you feel unwell and could have long-lasting effects on your health.

Emotional Physical Behavioural
A sense of dread
Rapid heartbeat
Shallow breathing
Muscle tension
Problems sleeping
Sexual problems
Blurred vision
Tired all the time
Clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth
Chest pains
High blood pressure
Heartburn or indigestion
Diarrhoea or constipation
Feeling sick or dizzy
Difficulty concentrating
Memory problems
Being tearful
Smoking or drinking more than usual
Constantly worrying
Snapping at people
Biting your nails
Picking at your skin
Hard to make decisions
Avoiding situations
Difficulty eating well
Unable to enjoy yourself
Uninterested in life

Causes of stress

Feelings of stress can be due to one big thing happening in your life or a build-up of lots of smaller things.

  • Triggers can include:
  • Divorce/relationship breakdown
  • Changes in your life
  • Financial problems
  • The death of a loved one
  • Loss of a job
  • Disagreement with friends
  • Lack of control over the outcome of a situation
  • Increased workload
  • Health problems
  • Moving home
  • Housing problems
  • Getting married
  • Unemployment
  • Exams

How to deal with stress

When we’re feeling stressed, our amygdala, which is the emotional hub of the brain, becomes very focussed towards danger. When this happens our senses are heightened, and we become more alerted to sounds, sights and smells. The quickest way to help reduce our stress levels is to engage our senses in a positive way, to help calm our amygdala down.

Below are a few helping tips to help you manage your stress levels:

  • Talking things through with a person you trust could help too, and might show just how much you are coping with at once. Having a good support network can help you see things differently and ease your stresses.

  • Make a list of things to do and prioritise what’s urgent. If you try to do too much at once, you can end up feeling like you have even more pressure on you. By prioritising what is urgent, you can feel more in control and see your achievements more easily. Try and identify your best time of day. For example, you might be more of a morning person than an evening person, and do the essential tasks that need the most energy then. Organising your time and creating a routine for yourself, could help you feel more on top of any tasks you’re undertaking.

  • Make time to go outside. Research shows that doing exercise releases the natural endorphins in your body that can make you feel good – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the difference it’ll make.

  • Ask for help. Cut yourself some slack and ask a friend or family member to help with some of your daily tasks to alleviate some of the stress. You’ll find that things will become more bearable if you can do things at your pace.

  • Take time out for you. When we’re stressed, you can often forget about you. Make sure that you schedule a bit of “me time” into your day to focus on you. Some people find that Mindfulness apps work for them, others enjoy yoga, reading a book, or listening to music. Whatever your “me time” looks like, make sure that it features in your day.

How do you reduce your stress levels? Tweet us at @Iesohealth or post a comment on our Facebook page.

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