Stress Awareness Month takes place every April to try and raise awareness about the causes of stress and ways of how to cope in our modern society. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives and has brought with it challenges that are potentially stressful and overwhelming.
Millions of us around the UK are experiencing high levels of stress and it can be damaging to our health. Stress is a significant factor in mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. It is also linked to physical health problems like heart disease, problems with our immune system, insomnia, and digestive problems.
What are the signs of stress?
We all experience stress differently in different situations. Stress can affect you both emotionally and physically, and it can affect the way you behave.
Emotional signs of stress:
- Irritable/aggressive moods
- Lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Loss of sense of humour
- Racing thoughts
Physical signs of stress:
- Shallow breathing or hyperventilating
- Muscle tension
- Problems sleeping
- Loss of sexual interest
- High blood pressure
- Chest pains
Behavioural signs of stress:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Eating too much or too little
- Smoking or drinking more alcohol than usual
- Avoiding situations that are troubling you
More symptoms of stress can be found here.
What are the causes of stress?
Stress can be caused by a wide variety of things, and will vary from person to person. Some examples of things that could cause stress include:
- Work – feeling pressure at work, unemployment or retirement
- Family – relationship difficulties, divorce or caring for someone
- Financial problems – unexpected bills or borrowing money
- Health – illness, injury or losing someone (bereavement)
Significant life events such as buying a house, having a baby, or planning a wedding can lead to feelings of stress.
Tips for helping deal with stress
Identify and take control
When you feel stress, try to identify what is causing these feelings. You can sort the possible reason for stress into categories:
1) Those where you can control the problem or create a solution yourself
2) Those that will get easier to deal with over time
3) Those problems that you have no control over
For stress causes in category 1, try to see if there are actions you can take that will combat the problem causing your stress. For example, if your workload is too much, can you hand over some of this to someone else, or talk to your employer or colleagues about your situation?
For stress causes in category 2 and 3, as there is nothing you are able to do to control the root causes of the stress, instead try methods that can help you cope with the stress, for example, practicing mindfulness. This is a great way to help yourself let go of these unhelpful thoughts. You can find more information about this here
Take care of yourself
Make sure to take time out for yourself to relax and do the things that you enjoy. Tell yourself that it is okay to make yourself a priority when it is needed. Winding down and enjoying yourself is a great way to help take your mind off stressful situations and puts you in a better position to deal with stress when it arises.
Stay active and eat well
Exercise has many benefits, not only for our physical health but also our mental health. Incorporating exercise into your lifestyle can be a great way to help relieve stress, even light exercise such as going for a walk can be a big help. The food we eat can also affect our mood and eating healthy can help to improve this. Making sure your diet has the vitamins and nutrients you need will also help to put your body in the best position to cope with stress.
Connect with people around you
Try talking about how you’re feeling to a family member or friend. Sometimes talking about the problem can help you feel better, and someone close to you may even be able to offer advice that can help you. Engaging in activities with friends and family is also a great way to relax and enjoy ourselves, which is a great stress reliever.
Mental health charities are also a good option if you need someone to talk to. You can find more information on who you can talk to here. And don’t forget that you can talk to your GP in confidence if you feel you’re not making any progress.
Beware of bad habits
Feelings of stress can often lead to us picking up or increasing bad habits that we have in order to help us cope with these feelings, for example, smoking, or drinking more alcohol. Although this may reduce tension initially, it can often contribute to increased feelings of stress and health problems down the line. When you feel stressed, try to avoid these habits and instead focus your mind on something else. This can include taking part in an activity you enjoy or going for a walk, so that you are physically removing yourself from temptation.
Take a break from media
It’s a good idea to stay informed, but constantly hearing about the pandemic or other negative world news can be upsetting. Consider only checking the news once a day at most, and take time to disconnect from your TV, computer screens and phone for a while.
More information and tips on how to deal with stress can be found here.
If you are experiencing symptoms of stress for a prolonged period, and feel they are affecting your everyday life or are making you feel unwell, you should speak to your GP.
If you are currently taking medication for anxiety or depression, Pharmacy2U can help take some of the stress away by delivering your NHS prescription medicines to your home with free delivery.