Stress is a word that is bandied about quite often, but what is stress? Becoming more aware of what stress is and understanding what to do to reduce it will improve your wellbeing. April 2022 is stress awareness month, so let’s explore what stress is, what to do when stress becomes an issue in your life, and how a certain amount of stress can be a good thing!


Firstly, what is stress?


Stress is primarily a physical response to a potential danger. When a person is stressed their body switches to a fight or flight mode. This prepares your body for physical action, either to be able to run away or to fight the danger. Chemicals and hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol will be released. This will make your heart pound faster. The body will shut down unnecessary functions such as digestion. Blood will be pumped to your muscles which may induce involuntary shaking. You may become lightheaded and struggle to retain cognitive clarity, since the instinctive part of the brain will take over.

However, there are degrees of fight of flight. Stress is a useful tool and will assist you in times of danger such as escaping from a burning building. At the lower end of the scale, it will help you perform better, such as for an important presentation or a performance on stage. It allows your attention to become focused so you can respond quickly and accurately to the current situation. At the higher end of the scale, it is debilitating and renders us unable to function well. 

Unfortunately, at times our body can become stressed in inappropriate situations. We may become stuck in fight or flight mode, making daily life difficult. We’re not designed to be in this state for long periods. It may start to impact both your physical and mental health. You may suffer from high blood pressure, low libido, headaches, fatigue, depression or anxiety. 


Being stretched vs being stressed


Stress tends to gradually increase over time. Everybody has stressors in life; these can include family life, commitments, work, hobbies or school. And for our emotional health we need to be stretched, so too little stress would be detrimental to us. Stress helps us achieve the goals we set ourselves and to feel fulfilled. However too much stress causes us to become overwhelmed and can cause us to have a breakdown. There will be warning signs ahead of the breakdown and it is important to know what your warning signs are. This will help you to put steps in place to prevent burnout or breakdown. 

One of the difficulties is that everyone has different break points and everyone experiences stress in different ways. It is therefore difficult to provide you with an exact guide that would prescribe all your symptoms. 

Spotting the signs 
  • A first action you should take is to take notice of what activities cause you stress. 
  • Next think about how that stress demonstrates itself. Often stress will manifest in areas which you already suffer with. For example, if you suffer with migraines you may start to see an increase in frequency. If you have eczema or IBS you may suffer with increased flare ups. If you are an impatient person, you may become more irritable. If you are an anxious person, you may become more fearful.  
  • Then think about what actions you can put in place to stop the stress from becoming an issue. Please remember that stress is not avoidable, and we do need some stress, but we need to manage it. 


How stress can manifest


As we have previously said it is impossible to provide an exhaustive list of how stress may manifest itself. Stress can affect you emotionally, behaviourally or physically. 

Behavioural symptoms 

These could include eating more or less food or binge eating. A wish to escape from reality is usually common, so you may find you are drinking more alcohol or using drugs. You may change your exercise routine and your sleep patterns may change. It’s possible you become more demotivated and disinterested in tasks you previously enjoyed. You may also begin to isolate yourself from others and stop attending social events. This could result in  you becoming more serious and lose your sense of humour. Another common symptom is brain fog or struggling to think clearly or make decisions. 

Emotional symptoms 

These could include frequent mood changes, frustration, irritability, anxiety or panic. You may find you are more cynical, depressed or sad. It’s possible you have increased self-doubt and are unable to see your self-worth.  This means you might constantly berate yourself for not achieving tasks or being unable to get everything done. 

Physical symptoms

These vary significantly but common ones include aches and pains including joint problems. Increased colds and headaches are extremely common. If you get ill, it may take you longer than usual to recuperate. Skin complaints such as eczema or psoriasis are definitely stress related and may flare up. Your blood pressure may increase and you may suffer more frequently with indigestion. There may be changes in your bowel movements such as diarrhoea or constipation and you may suffer with IBS.  


What if we ignore the warning signs?


All of these warning signs from the brain are there as a sign that we are not just stretched but stressed and becoming overwhelmed. If we ignore the above warning signs and carry on pushing ourselves, it can be dangerous for so many ways. Burnout or an emotional or mental breakdown can happen. A person may start to struggle with their mental health and may start to suffer with depression or anxiety. 

Without wishing to be dramatic, stress can kill! Someone feeling totally overwhelmed may consider or attempt suicide. Physically, the heart is one of the main organs to suffer the effects of stress and can create increased rates of heart disease. High blood pressure is also common in people suffering with stress and left untreated this can lead to a stroke.


Tips to reduce your stress levels


There are some quick wins you can instigate to help reduce your stress levels. Eating healthily and staying hydrated are key to good physical and mental wellbeing. A regular sleep pattern and some exercise will also help you maintain lower levels of stress. Reducing the time spent on your phone, laptop or game console will also provide you with more quality relaxation time. Spending quality time each day in a relaxation state will help keep you focused on your priority tasks. The relaxation methods for each person will vary. Some ideas are massages, having a nice soak in the bath, meditating or reading. Being creative can also help you relax, maybe spend some time with the children in the evening, baking or drawing. 

Improving your organisational skills can help you to prioritise your tasks better. Think about tasks which have to be done, which should be done and ones which could be left undone. This will allow you to focus your energy in the right areas and probably cut your list in half. 

Changing your mindset can also help reduce stress. A more positive thought process can change the way we tackle a task. It can also make the work completing it seem less demanding. Think about the things you can control and the things you can’t. If you can’t control a situation then there is very little you can do to change the outcome. 


Remember that you have choices. Sometimes, we get so caught up in our obligations that we stop asking ourselves if we need or even want to do something! You could tell that person that you don’t want to go to that event, you could change your job. There may be ramifications from the choices, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves that these things are still choices. 


How therapy can help with stress


Everyone has an ideal performance zone where they perform at an optimal level. On either side of this zone is Burnout and Lethargy. As we have discussed in this article, increased stress levels will lead towards burnout. This will create behavioural, emotional and physical changes and will affect our mental and physical wellbeing. At the Lethargy end of the spectrum a person is likely to be depressed and unmotivated. They may have low enthusiasm and struggle to get tasks completed. 

Therapy can support you at both ends of the spectrum. Talking through your problems can highlight a new perspective and allow you to see different options. We use NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) based techniques to change behaviours and patterns that you currently follow. If you are struggling to identify what your priorities should be we can help with tools and techniques. We can provide you with tools to build resilience and confidence and educate you on mental wellbeing.

I hope you have found this article on stress management helpful, and if you know of someone who would benefit from reading it then please share it with them. Why not head over to our website for more information, articles and useful downloads. 

With warmest wishes


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