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.

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 recognize the signs of stress straight away, but sometimes you might experience symptoms before realizing 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.

  • 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
    • Diarrhea 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
  • Behavioral
    • 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.

The research would indicate isolation, inequality, consumerism, disconnection from meaningful work, long working hours, disconnection from the natural environment all can contribute to stress. There are many things in everyday life that can also cause stress, for example raising children, lack of sleep, commuting and the proximity of smartphones and their intrusion into early mornings and late evening.

How to deal with stress

When we are feeling stressed, we tend to become increasingly focused on threat, 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 things to do and prioritize 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 prioritizing 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. Organizing your time and creating a routine for yourself, could help you 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 that might be for you, and it is helpful when there is more than one thing that works for you, it is important that the activity can hold your attention when you are doing it, really helping you to ‘switch off’ and interrupt worry.

  • 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.

If you are in crisis, or need help dealing with one - do not use this site. For immediate help, please call the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME to 741741.