How to manage stress
The latest research by The Mental Health Foundation in 2018, showed that in any year, three quarters of us experience a level of stress that makes us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Stress is undoubtedly the enemy of wellbeing. It affects us in many ways and can have a serious impact on both mental and physical health. Learning to identify and manage your feelings of stress are potentially lifesaving skills.
Why is stress bad for health?
Stress can affect our health in many ways. Some of the first symptoms of stress are often physical – you might feel nauseous, exhausted, have frequent headaches or other unexplained aches and pains. Some people notice physical shakes and trembling, and it’s very common for stress to cause sleeplessness. Lack of sleep then leads to other physical complaints.
While a few odd days of stress won’t normally have lasting effects, experiencing consistent levels of stress may lead to longer-term illnesses. Stress has been linked to asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, strokes and even cancer.
It can also cause or exacerbate mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression.
What are the signs of stress?
Aside from physical symptoms, there are often behavioural signs of stress. It’s common for people to be more irritable than usual or to feel tearful when stressed. Some of us lose our sense of humour and snap at others who try to lighten the mood.
You might find that you skip meals, eat unhealthily or consume more than usual (comfort eating). Many people drink more alcohol or coffee when they are feeling stressed, or their usual healthy habits, like exercising, fall by the wayside.
Try to identify your own personal indicators of stress – sometimes our behaviour can be the first sign that something is wrong.
Stress management techniques
Sometimes a little pressure in life can be a positive – it can make us more productive, speed up our thinking and drive us to take action. But if the pressure becomes too much, you can start to feel overwhelmed.
Simple ways to manage stress tend to involve taking better care of yourself. Take regular breaks from work and make time to exercise, ideally in the open air, to get you away from the causes of stress. A walk or a run can be highly beneficial both in relaxing our body and giving your mind the chance to come up with possible solutions to your challenges. Many people also find that yoga is a helpful antidote to stress.
Improving your diet, by steering clear of sugary snacks and eating more fruit and vegetables, will help you maintain energy levels. Hunger and sugar spikes make the feelings of stress far worse.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, deep breathing is highly effective in calming the mind. The NHS website suggests learning a few mindfulness techniques, which can also be extremely helpful in helping you regain control of your emotions.
Addressing the causes of stress
Be realistic about the causes of your stress. This is the first step in reducing the problem.
If you’re under unreasonable pressure at work, speak to your manager about it. Most employers recognise that stress is a major source of absence and will want to find ways to support you so that you don’t end up off sick.
If your stress is the result of other pressures – relationships, family issues or money worries, there are usually steps you can take to overcome the problem. The most important thing is to speak up. Talk to a friend, family member or colleague. Sharing your worries has an amazingly helpful effect. And very importantly, if your mental health is suffering, talk to your GP for advice.
Useful further reading