How is stress affecting you and what can you do about it?
It doesn’t matter how old you are, whether you work or don’t, we all encounter stress, which can impact our mental health and wellbeing. I’ve experienced it and I know many who’ve also had to. The stresses of; work, performing and pressures from those around you, are all common triggers of poor mental health. So, it’s vitally important to be able to identify the triggers, how to manage them and, in turn, limit the impact of stress on you.
What is stress?
Stress is our body’s response to external pressures from a situation or life event. Stress can vary from person to person depending on ones’ social and economic circumstances, the environment in which we live in and our genetic makeup, as it can be hereditary. Stress is a response to a perceived threat. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress.
Some common stress triggers include; experiencing something new or unexpected, something that threatens your feeling of self, or feeling you have little control over a situation. When we encounter stress, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones that trigger a ‘flight or fight’ response. This helps us to respond quickly to situations we regard threatening.
The feeling of ‘pressure’ can either help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense. For example, like running a marathon, or standing up in front of a large crowd. But remember for some this is a positive drive and it doesn’t cause stress, whilst for others it can be a completely reversed reaction. But, for some, this is a positive drive and it doesn’t cause stress, whilst for others it can mean the opposite. Problems can begin when feeling stressed is sustained.
A sign of stress becoming unmanageable is when you are; unable to think clearly, make rash decisions, become emotional, irritable, aggressive and withdrawn. Furthermore, if our stress response is activated repeatedly or it persists over time, the effects can result in physical wear and tear on the body and can cause us to permanently feel in a state of ‘fight or flight’. Which then leads to feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope day-to-day. If this occurs, it is often referred to chronic, or long-term stress, with implications for physical and mental health.
2018 data (ISMA, HSE) identifies some concerning statistics;
- Over 1/3 (85%) of British residents feel stressed for at least one day per week.
- On average, annual work-related stress accounts for 23.9 days of sick leave per affected person;
- The most common causes of stress are Money then Work, followed by Health concerns, then failure to get enough sleep and household chores.
- On average, women suffer stress 3 days more per month than men and are more susceptible to its effects;
- For women, money is the most common cause of stress, while men cite work.
- Young adults struggle with stress over 12 days per month
- Concerns vary by age: 18-24s money, 25-34s work, 35-44s money and work, 45-54s work and 55+ health.
- Only 32% of people use exercise to overcome stress.
- 54% of people who are stressed worry about the impact it is having on their health.
Looking out for signs of stress?
Behavioural changes: Being stressed, you may behave differently. For example: becoming withdrawn, indecisive or inflexible; change in your relationship habits with your partner, friends, family members not be able to sleep properly; irritable or tearful; might resort to smoking, consuming alcohol, or even taking drugs.
What physical changes are happening? When stressed this can be internally or even externally. Some may start to experience headaches, nausea and indigestion; change in eating habits; breathing patterns change causing palpitations or suffer from various aches and pains; self-harming which has lots of different underlying signs and symptoms. Also change in sleep patterns, memory is affected, change in routine such as exercise.
Actions you could take:
- Talk to your GP- get a referral for a therapist. There are many types of intervention professionals out there. It’s perfectly okay to ask for help Talking to a friend or close colleague about your feelings;
- Build supportive network/ relationship- Join a club, enrol on a course, or volunteer as this can change your perspective and helping others can have a beneficial impact on your mood. Expanding your social network with different people, cultures could be just what you need.
- Look at your eating and exercise habits- your lifestyle. Is it serving you?
- Take up a sport or hobby you are passionate about.
- Recognise and identify when and how it is interfering in your life and sort out possible appropriate solutions.
- Take control by taking small steps towards the things you can improve and that you are in control of.
- Make a plan or a list, to address the things that you can do.
- Delegate tasks and/ chores if you can. What can you let go of to give to someone?
- Take time out to be Mindful. Self-care is crucial. Mindfulness can reduce the effects of stress.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Love yourself- This comes down to self-care and not being too tough on yourself! Go easy! Give yourself credit and value the greatness you do and bring!
Let us raise awareness!
This takes place on the November 7th 2018 with a full week of events happening, running from the 5th to the 9th November. The National Stress Awareness Day is organised by the International Stress. Management Association (ISMA) where you can find lots of information to support you and those around you https://isma.org.uk/national-stress-awareness-day.
“You are not alone, there is support and help all around you. You just need to be brave enough to reach out and ask for help and for others to reach out for those who may be suffering in silence”.