Stress is what you feel when you’re under pressure. We usually associate stress with the physical and mental side-effects that are a result of too many demands or worries, often as a result of our hectic lives. The truth is, a little bit of pressure can also be good for us. Pressure keeps us motivated and makes us work harder.

What are the symptoms of stress?

Whatever the cause of stress – such as exams, divorce, marriage or moving house; planning a holiday, other problems with health or concerns at work – everyone deals with it in a different way. To reduce stress, we need to recognise we’re suffering from it. These are some of the most common symptoms:

  • Being more irritable than usual
  • Over-reacting to criticism
  • Feeling as though you ‘don’t know where to start’
  • Experiencing guilt if you’re relaxing, and not always ‘on the go’
  • Having trouble getting to sleep, or waking up early
  • Drinking and smoking more than usual
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Struggling to make decisions, where this was once simple
  • Suffering from indigestion, loss of appetite, or ‘comfort’ eating
  • Nail-biting or increased compulsive activities
  • Finding ‘tense’ sensations in your body, the neck particularly

How does stress work?

When you’re faced with a stressful situation, the body generates chemicals called cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. In modern life, the ‘fight or flight’ urges these chemicals produce aren’t always a practical option – so the chemicals build up in our bodies.

Too much adrenaline and noradrenaline will raise blood pressure, increase heart rate and make you sweat more. Too much cortisol prevents the immune system from functioning properly, and releases fat and sugar into your bloodstream.

How can we cope with stress?

The best way to deal with stress is to identify its cause and eliminate it – but that isn’t always easy, or practical. You can help reduce your stress levels though, by making some simple lifestyle changes. We recommend you see a GP if any stress levels are giving you cause for concern.

  • Do one thing at a time, and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ when additional demands are placed on you. Walk away from stressful situations.
  • Talk to someone – spend time with people who are positive and rewarding in their comments, rather than critical.
  • Accept offers of practical help, and know your own limits – try not too be too competitive or expect too much of yourself.
  • Let off steam safely – shout, scream, or even hit a pillow.
  • Use relaxation techniques – yoga or meditation classes are ideal – and practise slow breathing using the lower part of your lungs.
  • Be more physically active – gentle cycling, brisk walking or swimming will help you sleep better.
  • Make time to socialise with friends, and also make time for yourself.

Fast facts

  • Always take a lunch break at work. Recharging your body with healthy food and taking time away from your desk will help reduce stress levels.
  • A relaxing 10 minutes of ‘me time’ in an evening bath could make a positive difference to irregular sleep patterns caused by stress.

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