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
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:
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
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.