Managing Stress

Stress is the word that many people use when they are describing how the demands of their life seem to be becoming too great for them to cope with. This ability to cope varies from person to person and what one person finds stressful may not be a problem for another.

Whilst many of us suffer with stress at times in our day to day lives, long term stress is known to be bad for our health and many of us would like to find ways to gain some control over it.

A relentless build-up of pressure, without the opportunity to recover, can lead to harmful stress. The important thing is to recognise the warning signs while you can do something about it.

Common signs are:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Stomach problems
  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Bowel or bladder problems
  • Breathlessness or palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Tingling in body
  • Sexual problems
  • Disturbed sleep pattern

  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling anxious or tense
  • Feelings worried
  • Feeling overwhelmed about ‘small things’
  • Feeling low about yourself and your life
  • Feelings of apathy
  • Feeling low in self esteem

  • Temper outbursts
  • Drinking or smoking too much
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Withdrawing from usual activities
  • Becoming unreasonable
  • Being forgetful or clumsy
  • Rushing around
If you have some of these signs it may be you are experiencing stress. These are some of the short term signs but long term health risks from stress are serious and include heart disease, high blood pressure, severe depression, stroke, migraine, severe anxiety, asthma, low resistance to infection, bowel problems, stomach problems especially ulcers, fatigue and sleep problems. Stress can manifest itself physically, emotionally and/or mentally.

Physical – this occurs when the body as a whole starts to suffer as a result of a stressfulsituation. Symptoms can manifest in a variety of ways and vary in their seriousness. The most common physical symptom is headaches because stress causes people to unconsciously tense their neck, forehead and shoulder muscles. However long-term stress can lead to digestive problems including ulcers, insomnia, fatigue, high blood pressure, nervousness and excessive sweating, heart disease, strokes and even hair loss.

Emotional – these responses are due to stress affecting the mind and include anxiety, anger, depression, irritability, frustration, over-reaction to everyday problems, memory loss and a lack of concentration for any task.

Anxiety is normally shown as a response to loss, failure, danger or a fear of the unknown. Anger is a common response to frustration or social stress and can become a danger to other individuals if not kept in check. Depression is frequently seen as an emotional response to upsetting situations such as the death of a loved one, illness and failure.

Psychological – long-term stress can cause psychological problems in some individuals. Symptoms include withdrawal from society, phobias, compulsive behaviours, eating disorders and night terrors.

How do I talk about how I'm feeling?

We all know how good it is to talk when you really connect with someone. For some of us, social media can only go so far. Indeed, research suggests social media can make some of us miserable. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ is a cliché because it’s true. It’s not about other people telling us what to do or being needy. It is simply that talking often lets us see the solution for ourselves in a way thinking alone can’t. We’re not alone - we often share the same problems.

Be honest with yourself, especially if you’re often angry or feel disrespected. Then, if you can, find someone else you can be honest with. It doesn’t have to be a mate or family member.

Should I see a GP?

If symptoms are making you unwell it would be advisable to seek help without delay. You could speak to your GP, the practice nurse at the surgery, the occupational health nurse at your workplace (if there is one) or a stress counsellor. You should certainly consult a health professional if you are depressed because of stress, or if stress is causing you anxiety or leading to panic attacks.

Stress is a major problem for many people — a hectic, stressful job, a chaotic home life, bills to worry about, and bad habits such as unhealthy eating, drinking and smoking can lead to a mountain of stress. If your life is full of stress, there are some simple things you can do to get your life to a more manageable level.

1. One thing at a time.
This is the simplest and best way to start reducing your stress, and you can start today. Focus as much as possible on doing one thing at a time. Pick something to work on. Do only that. Remove distractions such as phones and email while you’re working on that task.

2. Get moving.
Do something each day to be active — walk, hike, play a sport, go for a run, do yoga. It doesn’t have to be gruelling to reduce stress. Exercise on a regular basis helps to burn off and use up the stress hormones and neurochemicals. Thus, exercise can help avoid the damage to our health that prolonged stress can cause. In fact, studies have found that exercise is a potent anti-depressant, anxiolytic (combats anxiety), and sleeping pill for many people, without taking any pills.

3. Develop one healthy habit this month.
Other than getting active, improving your health overall will help with the stress. But do it one habit at a time. Eat fruits and veggies for snacks. Floss every day. Quit smoking. Cook something healthy for dinner. Drink water instead of a soft drink.

4. Use your breath.
This means taking a long, slow breath in, and very slowly breathing out. If you do this a few times, and concentrate fully on breathing, you may find it quite relaxing. Some people find that moving from chest breathing to tummy (abdominal) breathing can be helpful. Sitting quietly, try putting one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. You should aim to breathe quietly by moving your abdomen with your chest moving very little. This encourages the diaphragm to work efficiently and may help you avoid over-breathing.

5. Protect space for you.
Ring-fence time in your day to unwind and reflect - it will help you recharge your batteries and get things into perspective. Set specific times aside to relax positively. Don't just let relaxation happen, or not happen, at the mercy of work, family, etc. Plan it, and look forward to it. Different people prefer different things: a long bath, a quiet stroll, sitting and just listening to a piece of music, etc. These times are not wasteful, and you should not feel guilty about not 'getting on with things'. They can be times of reflection and putting life back in perspective. Some people find it useful to set time aside for a relaxation programme such as meditation or muscular exercises. You can also buy relaxation tapes to help you learn to relax.