This week, 7 to 11 November, is International Stress Awareness Week. To mark the occasion, we take a look at stress, what it is, what is feels like and what you can do to try and combat it.
Between the cost-of-living crisis, climate change and the war in Ukraine, there has rarely been a more stressful time outside of work. Combine this with the workload created by the aftermath of the pandemic and the staffing crisis in the healthcare sector and you might find it is becoming overwhelming.
What is stress?
Mind describes stress as the way 'we react when we feel under pressure of threatened. It usually happens when we are in a situation that we don't feel we can manage or control'. A small amount of stress can help us get through our to-do list and feel energised. Stress can become a problem when it last for a sustained period of time or is very intense. It can start to affect our physical or mental health.
What are the symptoms of stress?
If you are stressed, you may experience some of the following feelings:
- Irritable, angry, inpatient or wound up
- Over-burdened or overwhelmed
- Anxious, nervous or afraid
- Like you thoughts are racing and you can't switch off
- Unable to enjoy yourself
- Uninterested in life
- Like you've lost your sense of humour
- A sense of dread
- Worried or tense
- Neglected or lonely
There can also be physical symptoms including:
- Difficulty breathing
- Panic attacks
- Blurred eyesight or sore eyes
- Sleep problems
- Muscle aches and headaches
- Chest pains and high blood pressure
- Indigestion or diarrhoea
- Feeling sick, dizzy or fainting
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Developing rashes or itchy skin
- Changes to your period or menstrual cycle
- Existing physical health problems getting worse
What effect can stress have?
If you are feeling stressed, it could make you:
- Struggle to make decisions
- Find it hard to concentrate
- Unable to remember things or your memory could feel slower than usual
- Worry all the time
- Snap at people
- Bite your nails
- Grind your teeth or clench your jaw
- Eat too much or too little
- Smoke, use recreational drugs or drink alcohol more than you usually would
- Spend or shop too much
- Exercise less or more than usual
- Cry or feel tearful
- Withdraw from people around you
What causes stress?
According to the Mental Health Foundation and the American Institute of Stress, the most common causes of stress are:
- Pressure to succeed (60% of young adults)
- Self-image (49% of young adults)
- Health (36% of adults)
- Body image (36% of women and 23% of men)
- Housing (32% of young adults)
- Work (26% of adults)
- Debt (22% of adults)
This is just the tip of the iceberg, causes of stress could include anything from experiencing abuse to being pregnant to going through a divorce. The important thing is to recognise when stress is becoming unmanageable and knowing what to do about it.
How you can manage stress
- Look after your wellbeing. Be kind to yourself and try to find time to relax. Spend time on your own interests and hobbies and out and about in nature. It's important to look after your physical health by getting enough sleep, staying physically active and eating a balanced diet. Even small changes can make a difference.
- Build your support network. Speak to people close to you like friends and family about how you're feeling. Ask for support at work whether that's from your manager, HR department, union representative or employee assistance scheme. If you're at university you'll find there are people you can talk to at student service or ask your tutor. You may also find a peer support group that can help.
- Identify your triggers. If you can work out what triggers stress for you, you can be prepared, even if it's not possible to avoid it entirely. Think about situations that come up often and one-off events that are on your mind a lot. Perhaps it's an ongoing stressful event like experiencing discrimination or something you are worried about happening again like going back to a place where you had a bad experience.
- Organise your time. Work out when you have the most energy and try to do your most important tasks then. Make a list of the things you have to do and arrange them in order of importance, perhaps planning out a timetable of when you can do what. Set smaller, achievable targets and try not to achieve too much at once. Mix up tasks you find stressful with ones you find easier. Have breaks and take things slowly and ask someone if they can help by doing some of the your daily tasks. If someone is asking something unrealistic of you, let them know.
What to do if you feel stressed
If you are finding it difficult to manage your stress, speak to your GP. They can signpost you to community-based help, prescribe either medication or refer you to a trained professional that you can talk to.
If things feel too hard to deal with, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 (freephone) or call Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774 or text 07537 416905.
For more information about Stress or any other mental health issue, please visit mind.org.uk