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When pressure builds to stress

July 20, 2016

What is stress?

Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure which leaves us feeling unable to cope.

We all need a certain amount of pressure to perform. Without the alarm clock going off in the morning we wouldn’t get out of bed, a deadline at work puts enough pressure on us to get the job done, the time of the bus arriving motivates us to leave the house in time to catch it.


When there is pressure coming at us from all angles and we begin to feel unable to cope this is when pressure can become stress. Sometimes making simple adjustments, like saying no to something or reviewing our timescales is enough to relieve this pressure but when we start to notice a change in our behaviour, mood or health it is time to take action.


The stress cycle

This pressure goes in a cycle. When the pressure is building, for example a deadline is looming, hormones flood our body to give us that push we need to respond to the situation. In this case it is the motivation and energy we need to meet the deadline. Once the pressure has passed our hormone levels return to normal, often leaving us feeling tired. This is our trigger to take a break, allow ourselves a little time out to recover and recharge our batteries. When we have recovered we are refreshed and able to face the next challenge. If we don’t allow ourselves a recovery period our energy stores become low, we may start to feel unable to cope and the signs and symptoms of stress can start to show.


The signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of stress are different for us all. It’s helpful to recognise what the warning signs are so we can take action at an early stage. There are three different categories; physical, behavioural and emotional and the list below shows some of the common signs and symptoms:


Physical signs                 Behavourial signs                Emotional signs

Sleep problems               Lots on the go                     Loss of interest in others

Recurring illness             Unable to concentrate         Crying easily

Headaches                     Change in appetite               Anxiety

Dizziness                        Smoking/drinking more        Feeling a failure

Tiredness                        Unable to make decisions   Depression

Skin disorders                 Restless                               Lack of self esteem

Muscle spasms               Nail biting                             No interest in life

High blood pressure                                                    Loss of sense of humour

Stomach problems

Excessive sweating


Managing stress

Once we recognise the warning signs it is good to have a strategy in place so we can deal with stress in a healthy way. It is important to find what works for us, as we are all individuals and different things work for different people. Here are a few tips that may help:


  • look after your wellbeing – maintaining a good sense of wellbeing helps build resilience and gives us the ability to cope better during stressful periods. Stress often pushes us to comfort eat so paying attention to what we eat and keeping plenty of healthy snacks close to hand can help. Exercise helps us feel better and also helps to discharge the negative energy that builds up. It can help us find the headspace to work through difficult situations and work out a solution


  • find your joy – being thankful and having a positive attitude can help us through difficult times. Try finding three things every day to be thankful for, it is a great habit to get into and is something to look back on when things aren’t going so well


  • engage with people – talking through how we feel and what’s going on can help give us perspective on a situation. When we share something it frees up space our head and other people can often help us see a situation from a different angle. This doesn’t need to be a professional, just chatting with a friend or colleague may be all that’s needed


  • take a break – our brain’s first reaction to a situation is an emotional one, meaning we sometimes react badly, say the wrong thing or make the wrong decision. If we stop for a moment it allows time for the thinking part of the brain to kick in leading to a more rational response. When the pressure is building, try taking a step back, go for a walk, take a few deep breaths, before going back to face the situation


  • manage your time – it’s easy to get caught in the trap when we’re busy of feeling everything needs our immediate attention, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and under pressure. At times like this it is worth taking time to look at our tasks. Some things will be important and require immediate attention but there may be other things that, while important, are not urgent and can be done at a later date. When the task list is building try taking a few minutes to evaluate everything that needs to be done. This can help to decide what is essential, what can be left for another time and what we don’t really need to do at all


  • accept what you can’t change – there are certain situations that are out of our control. Rather than fighting against these circumstances, try to find peace within it. This is not about giving up, rather learning to flourish within a situation we cannot change. To achieve this, we may need to learn to adapt to a new situation or alter our attitude to it


  • make time for yourself – understanding what we enjoy and learning to incorporate this into our daily lives helps to build resilience and protect us from the negative effects of stress. Making a list of all the things we love doing is a great place to start. When we are feeling under pressure the list becomes a great reminder to do something we enjoy and be kind to ourselves. By looking after ourselves in this way it helps us to be resourced to look after those around us.


Stress is an inevitable part of life but if we are prepared for it, by recognising the signs and symptoms and learning some ways to deal with, we can overcome stressful periods without suffering long term effects.

If you feel your stress is becoming a problem that is too great for you to deal with on your own you should speak to your GP.


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