Stress, anxiety, depression and burnout have become growing problems over the past year.
We’ve had to deal with a global pandemic, live through multiple lockdowns, adjust to working remotely, and keep our families safe in addition to the usual everyday stresses that come from trying to balance our already busy work and home lives.
According to research, around 74% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the start of the coronavirus outbreak last year.
However, stress doesn’t just feel terrible. It also has a huge impact on your body, accelerating the ageing process, wrecking your immune system, and potentially leading to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
As lockdown starts to lift there will be new pressures to deal with. For some, it will be the end of furlough and returning to the workplace. Unfortunately, for many there might be looming redundancy on the horizon or uncertainty about their job role. For others, it will be the children going back to school and the worry that they are being kept safe when they are not around to protect them. Despite the obvious positives about lockdown starting to lift, it can still bring many anxieties.
In this blog post, we’ll be explaining what you need to know about stress as well as sharing some useful tips to help you cope.
What is stress?
Stress can be difficult to describe as it means different things to different people. When you are feeling stressed, you often feel like you’re under emotional or psychological pressure with lots to do or think about. You may feel overwhelmed, have difficulty concentrating, or experience physical symptoms such as a racing heart or feeling of agitation.
This happens because your body believes that it is under threat. When you sense danger, your body triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response to help you stay safe. It releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, speeds up your heart rate and shunts blood to your major muscles so that you can flee.
If you are under too much stress, have too much to deal with or the stress persists over a long period of time, it can impact upon your mental and physical health.
What are the symptoms of stress?
Everyone has a different experience of stress which can include a range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms. Often these aren’t stereotypical symptoms and can often go unnoticed until stress levels become more harmful to your health. You might notice the following:
Overthinking, worrying or obsessive thought patterns
Sleeping too much or too little
Chest pain or feeling like you have a racing heart
Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
Headaches, dizziness or shaking
Muscle tension or pain
High blood pressure
Feeling ‘hyper’ or ‘wired’
Anxiety, irritability or depression
Weak immune system
Sadness or feelings of hopelessness
Difficulty making decisions or making bad decisions
Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
When you’re under stress, you’re more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviours in your attempt to manage the stress. This could include:
Comfort eating and making poor food choices
Drinking too much coffee, tea or caffeinated drinks
Using drugs or drinking alcohol
Compulsive habits like gambling, shopping, sex or scrolling the internet
Avoiding certain places or people
How can you beat stress?
We can’t avoid stress completely, especially during more challenging times such as these we’re currently living through. However, there are many simple steps we can take to help us cope with life's stresses and reduce its impact upon our bodies. Here are the daily strategies that you might like to try.
1. Look after your body. Make sure you’re eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising and getting the sleep your body needs to rest and recover from stress. (Pop into your local branch of Whitworth if you need help or support. That’s what we’re here for.)
2. Take time to relax. Relaxation can help calm your body and mind, reduce those stress hormones and help you feel much better. Why not try relaxation exercises such as meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, guided visualisation or tai chi? Either pop over to YouTube for a variety of online relaxation exercises or download a smartphone app such as Calm, Headspace or Breathwrk.
3. Learn to say 'no'. Many of us find ourselves accepting to do favours for others or taking on additional responsibilities despite already having an overloaded schedule. We don’t want to let other people down, cause conflict, appear selfish, feel guilty or even worse, be rejected. But not standing up for your own needs will only ever lead to more stress, less energy and perhaps even a sense of resentment. The good news is that the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
4. Stay connected. Even if we can’t physically be with friends, family members and other people in our support network at the moment, we need to take time to connect with people who can offer the emotional support we need. By opening up to friends, family members and other loved ones, we can share the burden, reduce our anxiety levels and feel much less overwhelmed. They may also be able to help with practical matters such as picking the kids up from school to help reduce your workload.
5. Don’t be too hard on yourself
Often, our own perception of the stress will affect the way we feel. We have a stressful, difficult day and then end up questioning why we are struggling to cope when so many others can handle stresses with ease. When this happens, try to keep things in perspective and remember that we all have a bad day from time to time. Whenever you can, treat yourself with kindness and support, just like your best friend would.
6. Take part in the 30-Day Wellness Challenge. To kickstart your stress management and wellness plan, why not take part in April’s 30 day wellness challenge being run by The Stress Management Society? They’ll set you one wellbeing task for each day throughout the month, focusing on your physical, mental and emotional health. Find out more here.
Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but for the sake of your health, don’t let it get out of control. By looking after your body, taking time to relax, seeking support from others, practicing relaxation and learning to say no more often, you can better manage your stress and feel much better. For more help managing your stress, visit your local branch of Whitworth or visit the Stress Awareness Month website.