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Stress – How to Recognise and Manage It

Stress – How to Recognise and Manage It
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Stress: How to Recognise and Manage It

Stress. We’ve all felt it at some point in our lives. It might affect us all in slightly different ways but there’s one thing we can all agree on – feeling stressed and anxious isn’t much fun. Most of us have ways that we deal with everyday stress and use these coping mechanisms to keep stress from getting on top of us. But sometimes stress can become too much, making it more difficult to deal with day-to-day situations, affecting our relationships and causing problems at work and at home.

So how do you recognise stress in yourself? Are there ways to keep it from overwhelming you? And once back on an even keel how do you keep stress from taking over next time? Read on for our complete guide to recognising and managing stress and its symptoms.

What is Stress?

A normal human response to challenges, stress is defined by the World Health Organization as ‘a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation’[i]. Stress affects each of us differently but there are signs and symptoms you can look out for to make it easier to recognise…

What are the everyday symptoms of stress?

A little stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing[ii] – it can help us get things done, might make you more resilient and, according to research, a bit of stress could even help our immune system to thrive[iii]. However, too much stress can result in a variety of unpleasant symptoms[iv], including:

· Feeling irritated, tearful or unable to cope

· Anxious, worried or scared feelings

· Difficulty making decisions

· Tension headaches

· Rashes and hives

· Nausea and stomach aches

· Difficulty sleeping

· Chest pains and a racing heart

Can stress cause vertigo? Unlikely symptoms of stress

To experience vertigo, it can can be brought on by emotional tension related to unfavourable life circumstances, although this is not fully understood at this time. Elevated levels of stress, worry, and depression can trigger vertigo on their own, but they may additionally worsen the symptoms of underlying problems such inner ear infections. In addition to the everyday symptoms of stress listed above you might also encounter other, more unusual symptoms that are can trigger from stress and cause vertigo are:

· Dizziness and vertigo

· Unusual or unexpected muscular pains

· Blurred eyesight or sore eyes

· Heartburn and indigestion

· Constipation or diarrhoea

· Changes to your menstrual cycle

If you are experiencing a vertigo attack, it is advised to try lying down in a calm environment, which will relieve any dizziness or nausea symptoms, this will in-turn relieve stress slightly.

Can stress have long term effects?

As you can see, stress can affect every part of your body as well as your mind, making you feel physically unwell while also impacting your mental wellness. In addition to these symptoms, which should go away when your stress levels are reduced, extreme stress, such as that experienced after the death of a loved one, can, on rare occasions, result in takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome[v]. For those who menstruate, extreme stress can cause secondary amenorrhea, or missed periods, affecting fertility[vi]. Additionally, stress can lead you to develop long term habits, from biting your nails or picking at skin to overeating, smoking or drinking too much[vii].

Why Do We Feel Stressed?

With so many unpleasant symptoms to contend with it seems like we could all do without stress. So what causes it and why does it impact us physically?

Why do we experience stress?

The symptoms of stress are thought to be part of the fight or flight response[viii]. When faced with something we perceive as a threat our body, clever as it is, will respond in a particular way, readying us to deal with outside threat by activating the sympathetic nervous system – slowing down unnecessary physical actions like digestion and getting us ready to leg it. But since these days we’re more likely to be stressed by annoying in-laws or a difficult work project rather than a sabre-toothed tiger, that reaction just leaves us feeling tightly wound and a little sickly.

What are the main causes of stress?

Stress can be caused by any number of situations but some are more likely to cause serious stress symptoms than others. Work problems, in particular, can cause stress for many people, with 17.1 million working days lost in the UK during 2022/23 due to stress, anxiety and depression[ix].

In addition, common causes of stress[x] include bereavement, divorce and separation. The loss of a job and money problems are oft-cited causes of stress too. Some people will feel stress in positive situations too, for example, when moving house or starting a new job. For young people, bullying and societal issues as well as the pressure of exams can cause feelings of stress, with around 60% of those aged 18 to 24 saying they feel overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed[xi].

What is the difference between acute and chronic stress?

Most of us deal only with acute stress, that is, stress that results from a singular situation and that resolves quickly once that situation is done and dusted. For some of us however, stressful situations can pile up and we find ourselves unable to cope with everyday stress. Though chronic stress may increase and decrease day-to-day, it’s ever-present, making it difficult for those experiencing it to function normally. In cases of chronic stress it’s important to consult your GP.

How Should I Deal With Stress?

It’s never easy to avoid stress, so assuming that it’s something that we’ll have to contend with, what can we do to reduce the symptoms of stress and lessen its impact on our lives?

Try self-help for stress

Cognitive behavioural therapy is shown to be effective in helping us to cope with stressful times in our lives[xii]. And though NHS waiting lists may be long there are ways you can employ CBT at home, without professional support. For example, the NHS offers a free online guide to self-help techniques, including reframing situations and facing your fears.

Exercise can help with stress

When you feel stressed hitting the gym may be the last thing you feel like doing. However, staying active is good for both your mental and physical wellbeing. When it comes to stress, exercise can help you to burn off that nervous energy and may even take your mind off the source of anxiety. Squeezing a sensory toys such as a stress ball, stress toy, fidget toy, squishy ball or even a keyring, can provide stress relief and release frustration by giving an outlet for emotional stress, afterwards, giving a sense of relaxation.

Benefits of using stress balls

Stress balls, originally designed for stress relief, have gained popularity for their potential health benefits. Squeezing them strengthens nerves and muscles, improving the nervous system, reducing hormones, and controlling stress levels.

Benefits of this a stress ball include relief of arthritis pains, emotional stability enhancement, anxiety reduction, lower blood pressure and improved sleep. Stress balls improve blood circulation by raising heart rate and increasing brain oxygen levels, reducing stroke, heart attack and heart disease risk, according to numerous medical recommendations.

Stress balls are compact and affordable and can reduce tension and anxiety attacks by releasing adrenaline and calming the mind. Regular use can help relax the  mind and promote positive thoughts, an effective way of managing stress and an instant way of stress relief.

Care for your gut health

Not only can stress cause you to suffer unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, there’s also a proven connection between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis[xiii]. Taking care of your intestinal wellbeing, therefore, could not only help reduce the likelihood of stress-related stomach issues but may also support your mind at challenging times

Get organised to reduce stress

If everyday stress is causing problems the solution could be as simple as better organising your day. Consider using a day planner, making lists and delegating tasks wherever you can to make work and home life easier. Just as important is factoring in me-time to give yourself space to breath. And instead of jumping straight into chores in the morning? Make time for coffee, exercise or catching up on messages from friends.

Speak to someone about stress

They say a problem shared is a problem halved. Talking to friends and family when stress is getting on top of you can help to take a weight off your shoulders. It can also result in some great advice and offers of help too. If stress is becoming too much at work be sure to speak to your manager or HR department (who have a legal responsibility to support you) and, should stress become unmanageable, be sure to get professional assistance via your GP or another healthcare provider.



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