Updated: Mar 28
April marks the start of Stress Awareness Month, with the theme being 'Regaining Connectivity, Certainty and Control.'
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over this past year that they have felt 'overwhelmed' or 'unable to cope.' 65% of people in the UK have said they have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020 (according to research conducted by Huawei, in conjunction with the Stress Management Society). The three key causes for concern were feelings of disconnection, uncertainty and a worrying loss of control, hence the choice of theme for this years Stress Awareness Month.
Stress if the feeling of being under too much pressure, whether mentally or emotionally. Stress is your body’s way of helping you deal with pressure or threats, so when you are stressed, your body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol – sometimes called a ‘fight or flight’ response. Once the pressure or ‘threat’ has passed, your stress hormone levels usually return to normal.
Stress affects all of us at some point or other. However, whilst a little stress can be good, actually motivating us into action, so that we get things completed; too much stress can become a problem and be damaging to both our physical and mental health. If left unchecked, it can lead to negative changes in mood - such as increased anxiety and depression, as well as physical problems with our immunity, sleep and digestion. Being overstressed can be detrimental to our relationships with others.
Each of us copes with stress differently, depending on our personality, genes and life experiences. For example, some might find a looming deadline a real reason to panic, whilst others might perform better under the pressure.
Learning how to deal with our stress begins with understanding what our unique triggers are, so that we can then find ways to either reduce the source of our stress and/or find strategies to better cope with it.
What Causes Stress?
There are many factors that can lead to someone feeling stressed. In fact almost anything that affects you in your daily life, whether from a work or relationship perspective, can cause stress:
- Being under a lot of pressure
- Facing big changes – e.g. changing jobs, moving house, getting married, having a baby
- Feeling a lack of control
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling ‘stuck’ with nothing to do or look forward to
It might be just one big thing that is causing the stress or a whole series of smaller things that have been building up over time.
Recognising the Signs of Stress
Stress can be recognised in behaviours or symptoms. Of course each individual will be affected in different ways but there are certain common things to look out for.
Behaviours might include biting your nails, picking your skin, eating too much or too little and smoking or drinking to excess. You might find yourself wanting to cry all the time, snapping at people, having problems sleeping, being unable to concentrate or finding it difficult to make decisions.
Often however, the first signs of stress are physical in nature. There is a long list of physical symptoms to look out for which includes:
2) Stomach problems
3) Muscle tension/pain
4) Fast heartbeat
5) Constant tiredness
6) Sexual problems – losing interest in sex
7) Shortness of breath/hyperventilating
8) Problems sleeping – whether staying asleep or having nightmares
10) Dry mouth
When we feel stressed we often find it hard to sleep or eat well and poor diet and lack of sleep of course affect our physical health, making us feel even more stressed emotionally. When we feel anxious, our bodies release cortisol and adrenaline – hormones that respond to any kind of threat. When stressed, we produce even higher levels of these hormones making us feel physically unwell and affecting our longer term health.
1) Feeling irritable or impatient
2) Feeling overwhelmed
3) Having racing thoughts that you can’t switch off
4) Inability to enjoy yourself
5) Uninterested in life
6) Feeling lonely
7) Being nervous/afraid/anxious
8) Making mistakes
9) Forgetting things
10) Being unable to concentrate on tasks
Chronic stress disrupts the nervous system and can manifest as hyper-vigilance and extreme fluctuations in emotion, with individuals easily triggered into fight or flight mode. Others may freeze or dissociate, seeming ‘dazed’ or not really there, in an attempt to retreat from a frightening and unpredictable external world, into the safety of an internal world.
We can learn to manage our stress better by:
a) Working out what our triggers are – what is it that is causing the worry e.g. Is it about paying bills; slipping up at work? You might find it helpful to keep a ‘stress diary’ for a few weeks as it will help you identify things that are causing you stress and also help you to work out what you might be able to change. Write down what happens just before or after you feel stressed
b) Learning how to manage our stressful pressures more effectively – here are some ‘Top Tips’ as to how to do this:
Plan your time – this will help you feel more in control – write lists; prioritise the most important tasks; learn how to share tasks with others (to reduce the feeling of overwhelm); don’t put things off; set yourself goals for the more complicated tasks
Try to avoid spreading yourself too thinly – know your limitations and accept help from others
Prioritise Self-Care – take regular breaks; make exercise and meditation/mindfulness/relaxation part of your daily routine; get enough sleep; laugh everyday
Talk to someone – whether a friend or a professional, it is good to share and offload how you are feeling