You Vs Stress

Stress can be harmful to your health.

Stress is also extremely common.

From your personal life to your work life, It may feel like you can’t escape it.

But how do we manage it, so it doesn’t become a problem?

First, we need to understand what stress is and the different kinds of stress.

What is stress?

A lot of people think that stress is “all in your head”. That’s only partially true. It’s both mental and physical. In basic words, stress is our body’s response to pressure. We all react in different ways, to this pressure from breaking down to pushing forward to get over the situation as soon as possible.

 Stress usually occurs when we come across something unexpected that we need to deal with. It could be anything that threatens our safety (physical, mental, emotional, financial, etc) or anything that makes us feel vulnerable or feels like we have little to no control over a situation.

When we encounter stress, our body releases stress hormones that trigger a fight or flight response. This helps us respond quickly to dangerous situations.

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Sometimes, the stress response can be helpful. Sometimes it isn’t.

Lots of people use stress to push through fear or pain so they can run a marathon or deliver a speech, for example. However, too much stress can have lasting effects, leaving us in a permanent state of fight or flight, causing us to feel overwhelmed or leaving us unable to cope. Long term, this can affect our physical and mental health.

After a short period of stress, our hormones return to normal pretty quickly with no lasting effects. But what happens if the stress lasts too long? What if the pressure increases? You may end up reacting differently, depending on your ability to cope with stress, your genetics, upbringing, personality, mental state, and social, or economic circumstances. This will affect everyone differently in their own way.

What makes us stressed?

Any kind of pressure or situation can make us stressed. These can be big events like a death of a loved one, divorce, separation from a partner, losing a job, or they can be more consistent issues like money or long-term health problems.

Unfortunately, the most common cause of stress is work. Work-related stress can have an extremely negative impact on your mental health and employees lose an average of 24 days of work due to ill health related to work stress.

Mental health can potentially harm our physical health after a prolonged period. When you recognise this, you can start by looking after yourself. This can be done by taking some time away, meditating, going for a walk, and even putting things off that don’t need urgent doing.  Taking care of yourself can reduce your stress levels, so the more you prolong stress the worse it gets.

So, take a day to be kind to yourself by eating a healthy diet and getting the sleep you need.

What are the signs of stress?

There are several symptoms of stress.

It’s not always easy to recognise why you are feeling and acting differently, and there are no simple answers.  There may be some changes in your mental health and your behaviour. You could be more irritated and snappier than normal, you could be overwhelmed and worried. When you are in this state of mind you can feel like everything is too much. A slight worry becomes a concern and then it consumes how you feel. During this time, you may notice that you are anxious and afraid potentially leading to feeling dizzy. 

Remember that these are all common signs of stress. Try and recognise them quickly and efficiently so you can get to the root of the issue.

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Not only this you may be feeling –

  • Angry/aggressive
  • Sad
  • Irritable
  • Frustrated
  • Depressed 

There are also many other symptoms that you may notice in your mental health, physical health, and behaviour.

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If stress continues for an extended period of time, you may notice the effects of chronic stress. You are more likely to see massive disruption in your sleep, memory, eating habits, and exercise. In serious cases, you can see irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stomach ulcers, and even conditions like cardiovascular disease in extreme cases.

Who is affected by stress?

The short answer? Everyone.

Everyone can and will be affected by stress at some point in their lives.

However, some people are more susceptible to experiencing stress than others. For example:

  • If you’ve got a lot of money worries, debt, and financial or job insecurity
  • If you’re from a minority ethnic group or are LGBTQIA+ then you are more likely to be concerned/worried about prejudice or discrimination
  • If you have disabilities or long-term health conditions. You are more likely to constantly think about your condition and the stigma associated with them
  • If you’re living far away from family or friends, or having difficulty with relationships
  • If you’re experiencing loneliness
  • If you’re living in an area with poor access to services like healthcare, public transport and green spaces
  • If you’re a single parent
  • If you’re a carer
  • If you’re in poor-quality housing
  • If you’re lacking safety and protection, such as living in areas with a poor police system

Work-life balance and stress

What is one of the biggest contributors to stress in the UK?

It could be many things in the workplace including workload, management, and job responsibilities.

Yet, the biggest contributor to stress in the UK is work culture.

Average full-time working hours are currently 37 hours a week, but recent data show a dramatic increase in Britain’s working hours. Now 20.1% of the UK working population work 45 hours or more each week. Feeling unhappy about the amount of time you spend at work and neglecting other aspects of life, may increase your vulnerability to stress.  If increased levels of stress are not addressed early enough it can lead to burnout and more severe mental health problems.

Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are thought to be the leading cause of work absences, accounting for up to 40% of sick leave. In 2008, mental health accounted for 442,000 cases of work-related illness with a related estimated cost of £13.5 million. As a result, mental health now accounts for a significant proportion of long-term sickness and early retirement.

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Money and stress

Money and debt concerns place huge pressure on us, so it comes as no surprise that they have had a huge effect on our stress levels.

The current cost of living has affected everyone. A survey of 3000 adults commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation in November 2022 found that 1 in 10 UK adults was feeling hopeless about their financial circumstances. More than 1/3 were anxious and almost 3 in 10 were stressed. An effect of this is that 9% of employees are currently experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

Chronic stress and debt can result in depression and anxiety and have been highlighted as a factor linked to suicidal thoughts and attempts. year, these thoughts and feelings shouldn’t be dismissed.

It’s important if you are worried about your finances and debts that you do not try to deal with them alone. There’s a lot of help and support available to you through organisations such as StepChange and Citizens Advice.

You could also talk to your GP or a trusted health professional if you are worried about how debt is affecting your mental and physical health.

How can you help yourself?

If you’re feeling stressed, there are some things you can try to feel less tense and overwhelmed. We have listed a few things that you can try.

Managing stress and building resilience

Learning how to manage your stress is essential. A lot of this comes down to being prepared and knowing your triggers. Doing this regularly can make stress easier to get through and help you to recover afterwards. However, during this stage, you must be resilient.

The terms ‘resilience’ and ‘managing stress’ can mean different things to different people, so we put them together for this point.  Dealing with stress is very personal – it may be harder for some of us than for others. The way you focus your efforts on learning how to manage your stress and then build resilience will be very important.

Recognise when stress is a problem

Connecting the physical and emotional signs you’re experiencing to the pressures you face is important. Don’t ignore physical warning signs such as tense muscles, tiredness, headaches, or migraines.

Think carefully and logically about what’s causing your stress. Sort them into issues with a practical solution and take control by taking small steps towards the things you can improve.

Not every issue you face can be solved straight away, so you need to focus on what small steps you can take towards solving the problem.

A great step you can take is making a plan. This might involve setting yourself realistic expectations and prioritising essential commitments. If you feel overwhelmed, ask for help and say no to things you can’t take on.

Think about where you can make changes

Are you taking on too much? Could you hand over things to someone else? Does that urgent thing need to be done RIGHT NOW? You may need to prioritise and reorganise. It’s been proven that if you write them out you can feel less stressed by ticking off each step.

A great way of organising priority is to use a method like the Eisenhower Matrix. Look at ways that can help keep you and your work and life prioritised effectively and find what works for you.

Build supportive relationships

Find close friends or family who can help and support you.

Even doing something like joining a club or doing a course can help to expand your social network and build great relationships.

Activities like volunteering can also change your perspective and have a beneficial impact on your mood.

Eat healthily

There has been a lot of science that shows a healthy diet can improve your mental and physical health. Getting enough nutrients (including essential vitamins and minerals) and water can help your mental well-being massively.

Even if they’re just small changes, they can have a massive impact.

Be aware of your smoking and drinking

Cut down or cut out smoking and drinking if you can. They may seem to reduce tension but in fact, they make problems worse. Alcohol and caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety.

When you’re stressed, you’re likely to increase taking all of these. So be aware of that and cut it down where possible.

Get some exercise

A lot like eating healthy, any kind of physical exercise can help manage stress. Exercise produces endorphins that boost your mood and help your mental health.

When you’re stressed it can be hard to motivate yourself, but even a little bit of activity can make a difference. It doesn’t have to be some kind of intense workout, even just going for a walk regularly can help.

Take time out

Take time to relax and practice self-care, where you do positive things for yourself. Striking a balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself is vital in reducing stress levels.

Be mindful

Mindfulness meditation can be practised anywhere, at any time. There are millions of videos on YouTube to get you started as well as loads of apps like Calm and Headspace.

Research has suggested it can help manage and reduce the effect of stress and anxiety.

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Get some restful sleep

If you’re having difficulty sleeping, you can try to reduce the amount of caffeine you consume and avoid too much screen time before bed.

Write down a to-do list for the next day to help you prioritise, but make sure you put it aside before bed.

Another thing you can do is do a journal. Here you can reflect on your thoughts and feeling throughout the day and express why you felt this way. This is a good way to recognise your triggers and identify your fears and concerns. Recognising why you feel this way can help you in the future, as you can identify your triggers and fears.

You can start this in many ways by drawing how you feel, listing bullet points, or just writing. Anything that helps you express how you feel. You could do this for 5 – 10 minutes a day. Something little can make a big difference.

Be kind to yourself

Try to keep things in perspective, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Look for positive things in your life and write down things that make you feel grateful.

Get professional help

If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Getting help as soon as possible is important so you can start feeling better.

The first person to approach is your GP. They should be able to give you treatment advice and may refer you to another local professional. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness-based approaches are known to help reduce stress. There are also several voluntary organisations which can help you to tackle the causes of stress and advise you about ways to get better.

  • Every Mind Matters – The Mental Health Foundation supported the development of the Every Mind Matters stress resource, which offers advice on how to cope with stress
  • Anxiety UK – runs a helpline staffed by volunteers with personal experience with anxiety
  • Citizens Advice – provides free, independent and confidential advice for a range of problems, as well as providing information on your rights, and responsibilities
  • StepChange – provides help, and information for people dealing with a range of debt problems
  • Samaritans – offer emotional support 24 hours a day – in full confidence
  • Specialist mental health services – there are a variety of specialist services that provide a range of treatments, including counselling, and other talking therapies. These different services are often coordinated by a community mental health team (CMHT), which is usually based either at a hospital, or a local community mental health centre

If your stress is work-related, and if you feel comfortable, talk to your manager or HR team about how you’re feeling to see what support, and adjustments they can offer. You could also talk to your workplace occupational health person or Mental Health First Aider for confidential support, or counselling if your workplace has an Employee Assistance Scheme.

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