What is stress?
Stress occurs when what’s going on in your life – at work, in your studies, in your relationships – feels like more than you can cope with. Sometimes stress can be helpful, giving you a boost to get through something like an exam, driving test, making a presentation, a new social situation.
Untreated chronic stress can result in health problems including headaches, anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses such as heart disease, depression and obesity.
But if you can find healthy, positive ways of managing your stress when it happens you can avoid these problems. For some people an escape from their stress is gardening, playing music, painting, reading. Others prefer to go for a walk, do an activity such as yoga or tai chi or meditate.
Symptoms of stress include:
- aches and pains, especially headaches
- feeling vague/forgetful
- feeling tired/exhausted
- changes in appetite/weight
- changes in sleeping patterns/insomnia
- indigestion/upset stomach
- rapid heart rate
- sweaty palms
- tension in shoulders/neck/jaw
- teeth grinding
- erectile dysfunction
- loss of libido
Experiencing one of more of the following suggests that you may be suffering from stress:
- you feel stressed
- you’re always rushing around
- you snap at people
- you lose patience quickly
- you’ve lost your sense of humour
- you feel jittery if you sit doing nothing
- you can’t concentrate
The following tips can help to reduce stress:
- Identify the triggers that set you off and notice when it starts happening. Try to reduce at least one trigger each week.
- Think about what you might be able to do to remove the cause of the stress. What potential problems might there be if you do this? But what might be the benefits? Take one small step towards removing it if you can and then another and another and so on.
- Try to be as positive and realistic as you can. There will be some things that you can’t change or control. Focus on those that are within your control.
- Say no if you’re asked to take on anything which you think will increase your stress or create new stress.
- If it’s a person or people who are causing your stress, try to stand up for yourself. Do it very politely and tell them how you’re feeling, what you think or believe. Avoid being passive or becoming angry or defensive.
- Remove yourself from whatever is causing the stress for half an hour or so. If you’re worrying about your finances, a social event you’re about to attend, a complicated project for work or something else which is making you feel stressed, try to forget about it for half an hour. Allow yourself to do something completely different. This can help you see the worrying problem or situation in a new light or think about a new way of dealing with it.
- Talk to someone you trust, who will understand and not judge you. Ask your GP to refer you to a counsellor. Sharing your problems with someone else can relieve your stress even if they can’t solve the problems for you.
- Spend time with people you’re close to.
- Practise breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.
- You need to get as much rest and sleep as possible. Being stressed can disturb your sleep patterns and even cause insomnia. But your body needs rest to get over stressful situations and events.
- Do regular exercise. As well as improving your physical health, exercise benefits your mind. It can even give you a high and the positive effect can last for hours. It doesn’t need to involve a complicated routine or a visit to the gym – a 20 minute walk, swim or cycle ride when you’re feeling stressed can work wonders for your stress. You’ll feel better and be more prepared to handle problems.
- Eat as healthy a diet as you can. When you’re stressed you’ll probably be tempted to eat comfort foods especially sweet ones. But too much of them could simply add to your problems.
- Don’t be tempted to smoke, drink alcohol or take drugs to help you cope with the stress. This will only increase your problems.
- You may not be feeling like laughing and smiling but try because it will help to relieve tension and so help reduce your stress.