Stress is something that affects all of us to varying degrees. Whether things get on top of you at the office, or home life becomes to busy to handle, almost anything can cause a certain level of stress in our lives.
But what is ‘stress’? Stress is produced to keep us safe and protected. When our brains are stressed, our body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and physical changes happen in our body as a ‘fight or flight’ response to a potentially dangerous situation.
That’s why you might start to sweat, shake, get quickened or heavy breathing, or begin to struggle for breath. It’s simply your body attempting to prepare for a challenge or threat.
And stress can also be a driving force. It can motivate us to get the job done – whether it’s paperwork or packing for a holiday at the last minute.
But when it overwhelms you, and leaves you feeling unable to get things done, it becomes a problem. If you feel as though you’re finding it difficult to cope, or unable to deal with the level of stress in your life, it’s time to take a look at your stress levels and how to reduce them.
So what are the stress symptoms?
They’re things we’re probably all familiar with, but sometimes it’s hard to recognise them as stress symptoms.
Stress can leave you mentally and physically exhausted. Despite people thinking it’s a mental state, stress may also cause physical symptoms such as stomach pain, a feeling of sickness, dizziness, sleep problems, and a feeling of tiredness that makes it difficult to do anything.
Mental problems can crop up too – stress can leave you feeling irritable, under-confident and fearful. When you’re stressed, you can also be left feeling unable to concentrate or to make any kind of decisions – as the threat of it all becoming too much hangs over you.
And of course, we all know the effect stress can have on our personal relationships too. If we’re stressed after a long and busy day, we’re far more likely to snap or become angry at our loved ones.
But there are ways to deal with the tension. You can learn techniques that will teach you how to deal with stress and how to reduce stress…
Try your hand at mindfulness
A relatively new idea, the concept of mindfulness is simple – and can help see you through some of the most stressful times.
Essentially, all it means is being aware of ourselves and the world around us in the present moment – and not constantly worrying about the future, or agonising over the past.
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, told the NHS, “It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,”
“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.
“Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment.
“It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”
Download a destressing app
There are plenty of apps on the market that can help to reduce stress in your life. Headspace is a good one to start with, as it offers 10-minute meditation exercises, which are easy to slot into even the busiest of lives. The exercises are also offered on a specialised basis too – including work stress, bereavement, divorce, or any number of things that may cause stress.
Pacifica is another useful app you can download straight to your phone. It allows you to track your mood so you can chart and examine the moments you feel most stressed, in order to do something about them. Along with relaxation techniques, this app also offers up a community of people who all feel similarly, so you can share your thoughts, feelings and any gripes you have as you go.
Exercise – but exercise outdoors
Exercise is a known stress-reliever, and a way to burn off all of the tense excess energy that stress brings. So make the most of its benefits and get outside. It may be a quick run in the sun, or a game of tennis with friends. Fresh air + physical activity = a vast range of benefits for your mental health.
Make sure you get more – and better – sleep
We all know that everything seems worse after a bad night’s sleep – and better after a good one. It’s essential to get your designated eight hours in order to be best able to cope with the stress that life can bring. According to the American Psychological Association, adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night report higher stress levels than those who sleep at least eight hours a night.
Having said that, it’s not a one-size-fits-all formula, so find the amount of sleep that works for you, whether that’s six, seven, eight or even nine hours sleep a night. Just make sure you keep your sleep pattern regular.
See your GP
However, in some cases, it’s essential to go to your GP to seek some professional help. Particularly if you find stress interferes with your day-to-day activities – such as sleeping, working, and interacting with your loved ones – it’s important to know that professional help, including counselling and therapy, can work.
Talk to friends and family
Counselling or therapy can come in all forms – it doesn’t just have to be with a qualified therapist. Talking to friends and family to release your emotions and admit some of how you’re feeling can be just as therapeutic, and can help to alleviate some of the anxiety you might be feeling.