What is Stress?
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure.
Although stress often helps us feel motivated, it’s growing problem in the busy and demanding world we live in. Increasing demands of work, relationships and finances can all lead to feelings of not being able to cope with the pressure.
Spotting the Signs of Stress
Stress can affect us physically and mentally. It can interfere with the way we think, our feelings and emotions and how we behave. Being under stress causes a 'fight or flight response' due to release of hormones like adrenaline. Some stress is necessary and helps us perform to well - meeting deadlines and targets for example, but the problem arises when the stress is constant.
Early signs of stress include poor sleep, tiredness and irritability. You may notice you aren’t performing as well at work and starting to drink more to unwind and rely on caffeine to get you through the day.
If the stress continues to build unchecked, your ability to do your job may be affected. You may struggle to get on with people you work with and may start to experience physical symptoms such as headaches, high blood pressure and irritable bowel syndrome.
What Causes Stress?
Things that put us under pressure often cause stress. This could be the demand of family life, strain of finances, or changes in your life such as a new job, learning to drive, or graduating from school.
In particular, work-related stress is a growing problem. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that every year around two million people experience a health problem they believe is caused by work. Stress is by far the largest cause of work-related illnesses.
Stressing about your finances can have a negative impact on your quality of life and your mental health, including the levels of stress faced every day.
72% of adults report feeling stressed about money, whether it’s worrying about day-to-day expenses and outgoings, or feeling overwhelmed by debt.
Considering the impact that financial worries can have on our mental wellbeing and even our physical health, this figure is incredibly significant.
Read more about money worries and mental health here.
Physical Symptoms of Stress
If you’ve been struggling with stress, you have likely experienced some of these physical symptoms:
- Appetite changes – either increased or reduced appetite which may also result in weight fluctuations
- Being restless or unable to sit still
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia
- Feeling tired all the time and having no energy
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Unexplained digestive problems
- Frequent infections and colds
- Sexual dysfunction, including reduced libido and erectile difficulties
- Muscle tension
- Nausea and Diarrhoea
- Feeling dizzy and faint
- Rapid heartbeat
- Trembling and shaking
Not all of these physical symptoms of stress will happen often, and some symptoms may pass within a few minutes of first feeling them. It all depends on how often you’re feeling stressed and for how long you have those feelings. However, if they do happen regularly and for long periods, it’s important to discuss them with your GP or a stress treatment specialist. If left untreated, they can develop into more serious conditions such as abnormal heart beat, skin and hair problems, and obesity.
Psychological Symptoms of Stress
As well as feeling the physical symptoms of stress, you will also experience psychological symptoms. These symptoms can affect your moods and emotions, and include:
- Feeling irritable, impatient, and angry (often taking it out on the people who are closest to you)
- Feeling as though you can’t ‘switch off’ or relax
- Feeling overwhelmed and as though you have lost control
- Racing thoughts
- Feeling lonely and worthless
- Low self-esteem
- Tearfulness – finding that you are crying more than usual
- Poor concentration and an inability to focus
Unfortunately, mental health problems such as anxiety and depression can develop if stress is left unrecognised and untreated. This can lead to significant difficulties not only at work but in other areas of your life - relationships can suffer, panic attacks can start and sometimes depression can be accompanied by thoughts of self-harm and suicide as well as dependence on alcohol and drugs as a way of coping.
Stress Management Techniques
Being able to manage stress in the moment is key to regaining control of your thoughts and feelings.
- Breath – try to be mindful of your breathing and keep yourself calm. Practice slow and deep breathing techniques so that it becomes a habit
- Sleep – keep up with good sleep habits. Many of us neglect quality sleep, but it is key to functioning mentally and physically the next day
- Eat well – having a healthy, balanced diet provides nutrition and energy to get you through the day
- Create enjoyable experiences – try to surround yourself with experiences you’ll enjoy and provide a sense of purpose
- Focus on small goals – by having small, achievable goals you can complete, you may rediscover the energy and enthusiasm you were lacking
If these tips do not help, seek support from health professionals like your GP and explore treatment options such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness and other therapies that can help treat stress. It's important to recognise the impact stress can have on your life and to take back control.