While there is no medical definition of stress, it’s most likely you know exactly what stress is and how it affects you.
Stress is a massive issue. The Mental Health Foundation report that 74% of people have felt so stressed in the past year they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. And there is an entire week dedicated to stress awareness, which has been actively campaigning for 20 years.
The trouble with stress is its pretty subjective – what is stressful for one, isn’t for another and two people might experience stress in completely different ways.
While a small amount of stress can help keep you focused, performing your best and even be motivating or energising, long term stress that overwhelms you can start to create problems.
The other complication about stress is nobody really knows whether stress causes other problems or other problems lead to stress! I guess both is true, right?
Stress can cause physical sensations such as headaches, tightness in the neck and shoulders or digestive issues and it can effect your mental health, leading to anxiety or depression. It can also affect the way you act – how you are with other people and your general enjoyment in life.
Stress can show up in numerous ways, including:
- Feeling irritable or impatient
- Feeling as though your mind never shuts up
- A sense of dread, anxiety or nervousness
- Loss of interest in hobbies, work, relationships
- Constant worrying
- Changes in appetite
- Smoking or drinking more than you usually do
- Uncontrollable tears
- Inability to concentrate
- Sleep disruption
- Thoughts of self harm or suicide
Causes of stress:
Virtually anything can cause stress, even the good things such as arranging a holiday or organising a wedding. And sometimes, it’s not always one big thing, it can be the result of many small things that eventually feel out of control and completely overwhelming. Some of life’s bigger events that can cause stress include:
- Bereavement and having to cope with all the practical details
- Illness or injury
- Becoming a parent
- Becoming a carer
- Loss of job or changes in financial situation
- Moving house
- Getting married or divorced
But don’t underestimate the smaller every-day details in life, common causes of stress include:
- Work deadlines
- Revising for exams
- Starting a new job
- Issues with neighbours or co-workers
- Worrying about the little things
- Our ‘always on’ culture
While we can’t always change what life throws at us, we can change how we respond to it. By developing emotional and mental resilience, it can help us when life throws us a curve ball.
Here are some ways to develop resilience and reduce stress:
Mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword at the moment. And while it can seem a bit woo-woo, there are many sound benefits to mindfulness. When you think about being stressed, chances are you’re worrying about a future or past event. Mindfulness helps you to get into the present moment where you have clarity of thought and more peace.
Spend time in nature
Nature is one of our greatest healers and you don’t even have to pay for the privilege! It even has a fancy name – Ecotherapy. Whether you sit in your garden with a cup of tea or pull your boots on and go for a ten mile hike, there’s no denying that being outdoors in nature can dramatically reduce stress levels.
Techniques such as doing a body scan – to literally check in with how you are feeling – or systematically tightening and relaxing your muscles can help relieve tension in your body and develop resilience.
We do it every day, but not all of us breathe properly. To remember how to breathe well, watch a sleeping animal or a baby – only their abdomen moves, their chests hardly move at all. Many of us breathe high into our chests which can then lead to feelings over stress and panic. Take five minutes a day to focus on your breathing.
Whether you choose something calming like yoga or prefer to get your stress out more dynamically with a run or boxing training, exercise is a great way to reduce stress and benefit your physical body. It’s easy to forget to add exercise to your routine, if you’re not a naturally active person, so schedule it in your diary to make it a priority. I like to colour code my activities on my planner, these highlighters are my favourites!
Yep, it can be boring to be reminded, but you are what you eat! And consuming a lot of caffeine, processed food and sugary foods will do nothing to stabilise your mood. If you’re already stressed, overhauling your diet probably isn’t achievable, but see where you could make small changes. Invest in a gadget like a nutribullet and start your day with a smoothie or at least take a high quality vitamin and mineral supplement until you can improve your diet.
Make time for hobbies
One of the first things to change when you’re feeling stressed is your interest in things and spending time with others. Go back to an old hobby you love, give a good friend a telephone call, or take up a new interest to immerse yourself in something different and bring balance into your life.
Get professional help
If you are feeling chronically stressed then ask for help. It’s not always easy to ask family and friends, so ask a professional. Your GP might refer you to counselling, CBT or suggest a short course of antidepressant medication, you could book yourself in for an aromatherapy massage, acupuncture treatment or your local MIND branch can help you get professional support.
What about you – what is your ‘go to’ for reducing stress?