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We talk about stress a lot, but what is it? Stress can affect everyone, and most of us will know what it is 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.

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

Symptoms of stress

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

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

When we feel stressed, our bodies respond by producing hormones in what is sometimes called “fight or flight” response. Once a threat is detected, our bodies respond automatically, and the physical changes that take place can make you feel unwell and can have long-lasting effects on your health.

  • Physical
    • Rapid heartbeat
    • Shallow breathing
    • Muscle tension
    • Problems sleeping
    • Sexual problems
    • Blurred vision
    • Lethargy
    • Clenching of the jaw or grinding of the teeth
    • Chest pains
    • High blood pressure
    • Heartburn or indigestion
    • Diarrhoea or constipation
    • Feeling sick or dizzy
    • Headaches
  • Cognitive
    • Constant worrying
    • Racing thoughts
    • Forgetfulness and disorganisation
    • Poor judgment
    • Pessimism
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Finding it hard to make decisions
    • Overestimating the scale of perceived problems
    • Underestimating our ability to manage perceived problems
  • Emotional
    • Moody
    • Irritable
    • Angry
    • Impatient
    • Depressed
    • Anxious
    • Worried
    • A sense of dread
  • Behavioural
    • Being tearful
    • Smoking or drinking more than usual
    • Restlessness
    • Snapping at people
    • Biting your nails
    • Picking at your skin
    • 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.

Research indicates that isolation, inequality, consumerism, being disconnected from meaningful work, long working hours, and being disconnected from the natural environment can all cause stress. There are many things in everyday life that can also cause stress, for example raising children, not getting enough sleep, commuting and the availability of smartphones and their use early in the morning and late in the evening.

How to deal with stress

When we are feeling stressed, we tend to become increasingly focused on threats, problems and danger. When this happens, our senses become more alert to sounds, sights and smells. The quickest way to help reduce our stress levels is to engage our senses positively.

Below are a few helpful tips to help you manage and reduce your stress levels:

  • Make a list

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

  • 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.

  • Make time for 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 represents "me time" for you - it is helpful to have more than one thing - it is important that the activity holds your attention so you really helping ‘switch off’ and stop worrying and ruminating.

  • Talk things through

    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.

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