What is stress?
Stress is our bodies' response to a physical or emotional threat. It's part of who we are and we need some stress to be healthy.
Prolonged stress is when we experience abnormal levels of stress over a long period and if left for too long, stress can cause physical ill-health and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
It's important that we can recognise stress both in ourselves and those around us.
Our bodies react to stress in different ways and we may experience a range of symptoms. Stress may result in physical, behavioural, emotional or thought and perception responses. We all react differently therefore some may experience a smaller number of symptoms while others may experience many more.
Listed below are some of the symptoms you may experience.
- Muscle tension/headaches
- Sleep disturbance/tiredness
- Increased skin 'breakouts'
- Rapid pulse
- Increased sweating
- Appetite changes not eating/compulsive eating
- Poor productivity/low energy
- Unsociable/withdrawing from others
- Drinking more alcohol/smoking more
- Loss of sense of humour
- Feeling of isolation
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Muddled thinking/unable to make decisions
- Reduced co-ordination/creativity
- Becoming vague/more forgetful
- Negativity/everything goes wrong
- Fear of rejection/defensiveness
What can you do to reduce the impact of stress?
It's important to maintain good health and reduce the impact of stress, and we can do this through:
- regular physical activity;
- relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or getting a massage;
- Keeping a sense of humour;
- Socialising with family and friends; and
- Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music
Aim to find active ways to manage your stress. Inactive ways of managing stress such as watching television, surfing the internet or playing video games may seem relaxing, but they can increase your stress over the long term as they are often avoidance tactics. Be sure to get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid tobacco use, excess caffeine, alcohol intake and the use of illicit substances.
Coaching and stress
A coach can offer a space where you can reflect and gain clarity without judgement. Coaching is a series of conversations where the coach asks you questions to enable you to gain greater understanding of your stress and its root cause, rather than just trying to resolve the symptoms.
Stress coaching may also be able to help you develop strategies and coping techniques to reduce stress and cope better with it when it arises. These could include identifying healthy lifestyle goals, mindfulness and relaxation skills and journaling techniques. You will be able to set goals for yourself and have areas you wish to focus on in each session.
Through a greater understanding of the causes of your stress you can develop greater emotional resilience, developing new habits and behaviours which will help you to control stressful events.
When to seek help
If you experience stress for a sustained period and you've taken steps to control your stress but your symptoms continue, see your doctor. Your doctor may want to check for other potential causes. Consider seeing a professional counsellor or therapist, who can help you identify sources of your stress and learn new coping techniques.
The Mental Health Foundation has more information regarding stress and its impact on your wellbeing.
Do you or does someone you know need urgent help?
If your mental or emotional state quickly gets worse, or you're worried about someone you know—help is available.
You're not alone; talk to someone you trust. Sharing a problem is often the first step to recovery.