Do you feel like you are drowning? There are many reasons you can feel stressed. It could be short term stress caused by a traffic jam, work deadline or losing your keys. Generally, you can bounce back from these moments but if you find yourself feeling anxious or stressed regularly or for longer periods it might be time to address the source before it starts to affect your daily wellbeing and health.
What are the physical symptoms of stress?
You might notice that when you are stressed or anxious that you feel sick, or shaky, you might develop a headache, stomach ache or heartburn. You might feel like everyone can hear your heart pounding nineteen to the dozen or even worry that you are having a genuine cardiac episode. If you are monitoring your blood glucose you might notice it rises and blood pressure might also rise. Stress can also affect your desire or physical ability to have sex and can cause women’s menstrual cycle to pause. Some people feel dizzy or sweaty and others become constipated or conversely, develop diarrhoea.
Tense muscles can lead to aches and pains and some people feel exhausted or have trouble sleeping. Physical symptoms like these are due to the chemical reactions in your body when faced with stress, designed to keep you safe from danger.
What are the mental and emotional symptoms of stress?
If you know someone with stress you might notice they become angry easily, or impatient. The mental impact of stress can be huge with people with long term stress reporting feelings of despair, depression, and an inability to cope with daily life. People with stress might be more emotional than usual, less tolerant or may become forgetful or appear disengaged.
Stress can cause an imbalance of circuits in the brain affecting cognition, decision making, anxiety and mood. This imbalance, in turn, affects your physical body via neuroendocrine, autonomic, immune, and metabolic systems.
How Do I Cope With Stress?
Long term stress and the accompanying physical and emotional impact can put your body under incredible pressure and failing to address it could lead to stroke, heart attack and life-changing serious depression. High levels of stress have frequently been reported in people who have gone on to have suicidal thoughts.
The sooner you tackle stress the better. Examine your life and try to establish what areas of it are causing you stress. It might be that you are not spending enough time on your own wellbeing – easily done if you are dealing with a busy career, family life or caring responsibilities. Or all three!
Self Help Strategies for Stress
Sometimes just being able to say no to things can leave you enough time to enjoy an early night, a hot cup of tea (not a cold one grabbed and drunk like a shot because you have too much to do!) or a long bubble bath.
Work can be a minefield. In the UK we still have a culture of working too long and too late. I once worked in an office where I was contracted to leave at 5.30pm but literally no-one ever left their desk until 7pm or later and the first person to cave and get their coat was often regarded with some disdain. Despite the changes during COVID we seem to be back to the mentality of working through illness which can be very stressful. Be the person who calls out a toxic work environment and point out that a healthy, happy employee is generally a more productive one.
Family commitments can be fraught with guilt and a sense of duty. It’s OK to refuse to be at anyone’s beck and call and no one should be able to dictate how you live your life if you aren’t harming anyone else. Set clear boundaries and stick to them.
Remember, you can’t care for anyone else if you aren’t well mentally or physically. Seek help if you are struggling with toddlers/teens/elderly relatives. Those who have family members with SEN or specific medical issues can ask for advice, respite or at least a friendly understanding ear via local councils, GPs and Facebook groups.
For mild or intermittent stress think about taking up a hobby like Tai Chi or Yoga.
The exercise and the relaxation aspects will both help with stress. Maybe take up swimming or running – as your exercise those feel good endorphins will flood your body plus you will get at least half an hour away from any other commitments.
Try meditation and mindfulness – there are lots of books, podcasts and apps to help with this. Use positive affirmation as a tool to reduce stress and don’t be tempted to use alcohol as a way of drowning your sorrows.
Try relaxing teas with ingredients with proven stress relieving properties which might also help you get a good night's sleep. Chamomile is well known for this along with rose petals, lavender, rooibos and oat flowering tops.
Seek Professional Help
For longer lasting or higher levels of stress which are impacting daily life and relationships seek professional help. See your GP as a first step and consider counselling and/or medication to help you find your way back to stability. Don’t feel guilty about asking for help – stress symptoms are as much a real medical problem as a broken leg and no-one would expect you to just “pull yourself together” with a fracture.
If you can foresee a situation becoming stressful do your best to avoid being sucked in before it’s too late.
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