- Stress: Symptoms, Causes, and Stress Management
- What can people do for stress management? What are home remedies to combat stress symptoms?
- Stress Symptoms: Effects of Stress on the Body
- Essential Reads
- Recent Posts
- Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes – HelpGuide.org
- The effects of chronic stress
- Signs and symptoms of stress overload
- Causes of stress
- What’s stressful for you?
- Stress at work
- Job loss and unemployment stress
- Caregiver stress
- Grief and loss
- How much stress is too much?
- Improving your ability to handle stress
- Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Management & Prevention
- How does stress affect health?
- What are the warning signs of stress?
- Tips for reducing stress
- What is stress?
- What makes us stressed?
- Emotional changes
- Behavioural changes
- Bodily changes
- Who is affected by stress?
- How can you help yourself?
- 1. Realise when it is causing a problem and identify the causes
- 2. Review your lifestyle
- 3. Build supportive relationships
- 4. Eat Healthily
- 5. Be aware of your smoking and drinking
- 6. Exercise
- 7. Take Time Out
- 8. Be Mindful
- 9. Get some restful sleep
- 10. Don't be too hard on yourself
Stress: Symptoms, Causes, and Stress Management
Uncontrollable, unpredictable, and constant stress has far-reaching consequences on our physical and mental health. Stress can begin in the womb and recur throughout life.
One of the potential pathological (abnormal) consequences of stress is a learned helplessness that leads to the hopelessness and helplessness of clinical depression, but in addition, many illnesses, such as chronic anxiety states, high blood pressure, heart disease, and addictive disorders, to name a few, also seem to be influenced by chronic or overwhelming stress.
Nature, however, has provided us with efficient processes (mechanisms) to cope with stressors through the HPA axis and the locus coeruleus/sympathetic nervous system.
Furthermore, research has shown us the biological processes that explain what we all intuitively know is true — which is, that too much stress, particularly when we cannot predict it or control its recurrence, is harmful to our health.
What can people do for stress management? What are home remedies to combat stress symptoms?
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If we think about the causes of stress, the nature of the stress response, and the negative effects of some types of stress (prolonged, unexpected, or unmanageable stress), several healthy management strategies and home remedies to combat the effects of stress become clear.
An important step in stress management and treatment of stress-related symptoms is exercise. Since the stress response prepares us to fight or flee, our bodies are primed for action.
Unfortunately, however, we usually handle our stresses while sitting at our desk, standing at the watercooler, or behind the wheel stuck in traffic. Exercise on a regular basis helps to turn down the production of stress hormones and associated neurochemicals.
Thus, exercise can help avoid the damage to our health that prolonged stress can cause. In fact, studies have found that exercise is a potent antidepressant, anxiolytic (combats anxiety), and sleeping aid for many people.
For centuries in Eastern religious traditions, the benefits of meditation and other relaxation techniques have been well known.
Now, Western medicine and psychology have rediscovered that particular wisdom, translated it into simple nonspiritual methods, and scientifically verified its effectiveness.
Thus, one or two 20-30 minute meditation sessions a day can have lasting beneficial effects on health. Indeed, advanced meditators can even significantly control their blood pressure and heart rate as well.
Elimination of drug abuse (both illegal drugs and prescription medications have the potential for abuse) and no more than moderate alcohol use are important for the successful management of stress.
We know that people, when stressed, seek these outlets, but we also know that many of these substances sensitize (make even more responsive) the stress response. As a result, small problems produce big surges of stress chemicals.
What's more, these attempts with drugs and alcohol to mask stress often prevent the person from facing the problem directly. Consequently, they are not able to develop effective ways to cope with or eliminate the stress.
In fact, even prescription drugs for treatment of anxiety, such as diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), or alprazolam (Xanax), can be counterproductive in the same way. Therefore, these medications should only be used cautiously under the strict guidance of a physician.
If, however, stress produces a full-blown psychiatric problem, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clinical depression, or anxiety disorders, then psychotropic medications, particularly the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are extremely useful.
Examples of SSRIs include sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro).
We know that chronic or uninterrupted stress is very harmful. It is important, therefore, to take breaks and decompress. Take a lunch break and don't talk about work. Take a walk instead of a coffee break.
Use weekends to relax, and don't schedule so many events that Monday morning will seem a relief. Learn to recognize and respond to your stress signals.
Take regular vacations or even long weekends or mental-health days at regular intervals.
Create predictability in one's work and home life as much as possible. Structure and routine in one's life can't prevent the unexpected from happening. However, they can provide a comfortable framework from which to respond to the unexpected.
Think ahead and try to anticipate the varieties of possibilities, good and bad, that may become realities at work or home. Generate scenarios and response plans. One might find that the “unexpected” really doesn't always come the blue.
With this kind of preparation, it's possible to turn stress into a positive force to work for growth and change.
For those who may need help dealing with stress, stress-management counseling in the form of individual or group therapy is offered by various mental-health-care providers. Stress counseling and group discussion therapy have proven to reduce stress symptoms and improve overall health and attitude.
Stress Symptoms: Effects of Stress on the Body
Stress affects us all. You may notice symptoms of stress when disciplining your kids, during busy times at work, when managing your finances, or when coping with a challenging relationship. Stress is everywhere. And while a little stress is OK — some stress is actually beneficial — too much stress can wear you down and make you sick, both mentally and physically.
The first step to controlling stress is to know the symptoms of stress. But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think. Most of us are so used to being stressed, we often don't know we are stressed until we are at the breaking point.
Stress is the body's reaction to harmful situations — whether they’re real or perceived. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury.
This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight,” or the stress response. During stress response, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. You’ve gotten ready to act.
It is how you protect yourself.
Stress means different things to different people. What causes stress in one person may be of little concern to another. Some people are better able to handle stress than others. And, not all stress is bad.
In small doses, stress can help you accomplish tasks and prevent you from getting hurt. For example, stress is what gets you to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting the car in front of you.
That's a good thing.
Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress. But, we are not equipped to handle long-term, chronic stress without ill consequences.
Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune.
But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions. So it is important to discuss them with your doctor.
You may experience any of the following symptoms of stress.
Emotional symptoms of stress include:
- Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
- Feeling overwhelmed, you are losing control or need to take control
- Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
- Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
- Avoiding others
Physical symptoms of stress include:
Cognitive symptoms of stress include:
- Constant worrying
- Racing thoughts
- Forgetfulness and disorganization
- Inability to focus
- Poor judgment
- Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
Behavioral symptoms of stress include:
- Changes in appetite — either not eating or eating too much
- Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
- Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing
A little stress every now and then is not something to be concerned about. Ongoing, chronic stress, however, can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including:
- Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders
- Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke
- Obesity and other eating disorders
- Menstrual problems
- Sexual dysfunction, such as impotence and premature ejaculation in men and loss of sexual desire in both men and women
- Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon
Stress is a part of life. What matters most is how you handle it. The best thing you can do to prevent stress overload and the health consequences that come with it is to know your stress symptoms.
If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed by stress, talk to your doctor. Many symptoms of stress can also be signs of other health problems. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and rule out other conditions. If stress is to blame, your doctor can recommend a therapist or counselor to help you better handle your stress.
Department of Health and Human Services: “Stress and Your Health.”
American Institute of Stress: “Effects of Stress.”
Helpguide.org: “Understanding Stress.”
© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. Stress Levels
Stress generally refers to two things: the psychological perception of pressure, on the one hand, and the body's response to it, on the other, which involves multiple systems, from metabolism to muscles to memory.
Some stress is necessary for all living systems; it is the means by which they encounter and respond to the challenges and uncertainties of existence. The perception of danger sets off an automatic response system, known as the fight-or-flight response, that, activated through hormonal signals, prepares an animal to meet a threat or to flee from it.
A stressful event—whether an external phenomenon the sudden appearance of a snake on the path or an internal response, such as fear of losing one's job when the boss yells—triggers a cascade of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, that surge through the entire body. These hormones increase heartbeat and the circulation of blood to support quick action, mobilize fat and sugar for immediate energy, focus attention to track the danger, prepare muscles for movement, and more.
Lifesaving as the stress response is, it was meant to solve short-term, life-threatening problems, not extended difficulties such as daily traffic jams or marital problems.
It generally takes some time for the body to calm down after the stress response has been triggered.
Prolonged or repeated arousal of the stress response, a characteristic of modern life, can have harmful physical and psychological consequences, including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, and depression.
Research has shown quite convincingly that our default mode is resilience. And resilience can be cultivated.
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Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes – HelpGuide.org
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.”
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident.
Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges.
It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV.
But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life.
If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself—and improve how you think and feel—by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.
The effects of chronic stress
Your nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats.
If you’re super stressed over an argument with a friend, a work deadline, or a mountain of bills, your body can react just as strongly as if you’re facing a true life-or-death situation.
And the more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, making it harder to shut off.
If you tend to get stressed out frequently, many of us in today’s demanding world, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body.
It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process.
It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:
- Skin conditions, such as eczema
- Heart disease
- Weight problems
- Reproductive issues
- Thinking and memory problems
Signs and symptoms of stress overload
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor judgment
- Seeing only the negative
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Anxiety and agitation
- Moodiness, irritability, or anger
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Loneliness and isolation
- Other mental or emotional health problems
- Aches and pains
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea, dizziness
- Chest pain, rapid heart rate
- Loss of sex drive
- Frequent colds or flu
- Eating more or less
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from others
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
Causes of stress
The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.
Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.
Finally, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it.
While some of us are terrified of getting up in front of people to perform or speak, for example, others live for the spotlight. Where one person thrives under pressure and performs best in the face of a tight deadline, another will shut down when work demands escalate.
And while you may enjoy helping to care for your elderly parents, your siblings may find the demands of caretaking overwhelming and stressful.
Common external causes of stress include:
- Major life changes
- Work or school
- Relationship difficulties
- Financial problems
- Being too busy
- Children and family
Common internal causes of stress include:
- Inability to accept uncertainty
- Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility
- Negative self-talk
- Unrealistic expectations / perfectionism
- All-or-nothing attitude
What’s stressful for you?
Whatever event or situation is stressing you out, there are ways of coping with the problem and regaining your balance. Some of life’s most common sources of stress include:
Stress at work
While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and performance, impact your physical and emotional health, and affect your relationships and home life.
It can even determine the difference between success and failure on the job.
Whatever your ambitions or work demands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress, improve your job satisfaction, and bolster your well-being in and the workplace.
Job loss and unemployment stress
Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences. It’s normal to feel angry, hurt, or depressed, grieve for all that you’ve lost, or feel anxious about what the future holds.
Job loss and unemployment involves a lot of change all at once, which can rock your sense of purpose and self-esteem.
While the stress can seem overwhelming, there are many steps you can take to come this difficult period stronger, more resilient, and with a renewed sense of purpose.
The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, especially if you feel that you’re in over your head or have little control over the situation.
If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind — eventually leading to burnout.
However, there are plenty of things you can do to rein in the stress of caregiving and regain a sense of balance, joy, and hope in your life.
Grief and loss
Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest stressors. Often, the pain and stress of loss can feel overwhelming.
You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness.
While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and move on with your life.
How much stress is too much?
Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. Some people seem to be able to roll with life’s punches, while others tend to crumble in the face of small obstacles or frustrations. Some people even thrive on the excitement of a high-stress lifestyle.
Factors that influence your stress tolerance level include:
Your support network. A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against stress. When you have people you can count on, life’s pressures don’t seem as overwhelming. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your risk of succumbing to stress.
Your sense of control. If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier to take stress in stride. On the other hand, if you believe that you have little control over your life—that you’re at the mercy of your environment and circumstances—stress is more ly to knock you off course.
Your attitude and outlook. The way you look at life and its inevitable challenges makes a huge difference in your ability to handle stress. If you’re generally hopeful and optimistic, you’ll be less vulnerable. Stress-hardy people tend to embrace challenges, have a stronger sense of humor, believe in a higher purpose, and accept change as an inevitable part of life.
Your ability to deal with your emotions. If you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or troubled, you’re more ly to become stressed and agitated. Having the ability to identify and deal appropriately with your emotions can increase your tolerance to stress and help you bounce back from adversity.
Your knowledge and preparation. The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less stressful than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.
Improving your ability to handle stress
Get moving. Upping your activity level is one tactic you can employ right now to help relieve stress and start to feel better.
Regular exercise can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress.
Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully (focusing your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you move).
Connect to others. The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress when you’re feeling agitated or insecure.
Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe your nervous system. So, spend time with people who improve your mood and don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life.
If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.
Engage your senses. Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you.
Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.
Learn to relax. You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how much it affects you.
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response.
When practiced regularly, these activities can reduce your everyday stress levels and boost feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.
Eat a healthy diet. The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with life’s stressors.
Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress, while a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.
Get your rest. Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. At the same time, chronic stress can disrupt your sleep. Whether you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, there are plenty of ways to improve your sleep so you feel less stressed and more productive and emotionally balanced.
Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Lawrence Robinson. Last updated: March 2020.
Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Management & Prevention
Stress is the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts. Even positive life changes such as a promotion, a mortgage, or the birth of a child produce stress.
How does stress affect health?
The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between stressors.
As a result, the person becomes overworked, and stress-related tension builds. The body's autonomic nervous system has a built-in stress response that causes physiological changes to allow the body to combat stressful situations.
This stress response, also known as the “fight or flight response”, is activated in case of an emergency. However, this response can become chronically activated during prolonged periods of stress.
Prolonged activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body – both physical and emotional.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress – a negative stress reaction. Distress can disturb the body's internal balance or equilibrium, leading to physical symptoms such as headaches, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, sexual dysfunction, and problems sleeping.
Emotional problems can also result from distress. These problems include depression, panic attacks, or other forms of anxiety and worry. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.
Stress is linked to 6 of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
Stress also becomes harmful when people engage in the compulsive use of substances or behaviors to try to relieve their stress. These substances or behaviors include food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, sex, shopping, and the Internet.
Rather than relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances and compulsive behaviors tend to keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems. The distressed person becomes trapped in a vicious circle.
What are the warning signs of stress?
Chronic stress can wear down the body's natural defenses, leading to a variety of physical symptoms, including the following:
Tips for reducing stress
People can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives. You may want to begin with the following tips:
- Keep a positive attitude.
- Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
- Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
- Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi.
- Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Learn to manage your time more effectively.
- Set limits appropriately and say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
- Make time for hobbies and interests.
- Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
- Don't rely on alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviors to reduce stress.
- Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you love.
- Seek treatment with a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in stress management or biofeedback techniques to learn more healthy ways of dealing with the stress in your life.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/05/2015.
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What is stress?
At the most basic level, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event.
What contributes to stress can vary hugely from person to person and differs according to our social and economic circumstances, the environment we live in and our genetic makeup.
Some common features of things that can make us feel stress include experiencing something new or unexpected, something that threatens your feeling of self, or feeling you have little control over a situation.1
When we encounter stress, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones that trigger a ‘flight or fight’ response and activate our immune system 2. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations.
Sometimes, this stress response can be an appropriate, or even beneficial reaction.
The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense, running a marathon, or giving a speech to a large crowd.
We can quickly return to a resting state without any negative effects on our health if what is stressing us is short-lived 3, and many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting effects.
However, there can be times when stress becomes excessive and too much to deal with. If our stress response is activated repeatedly, or it persists over time, the effects can result in wear and tear on the body and can cause us to feel permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’ . Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Feeling this overwhelming stress for a long period of time is often called chronic, or long-term stress, and it can impact on both physical and mental health.
Stress is a response to a threat in a situation, whereas anxiety is a reaction to the stress.
What makes us stressed?
There are many things that can lead to stress. The death of a loved one, divorce/separation, losing a job and unexpected money problems are among the top ten causes of stress according to one recent survey 5. But not all life events are negative and even positive life changes, such as moving to a bigger house, gaining a job promotion or going on holiday can be sources of stress.
When you are stressed you may experience many different feelings, including anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, or frustration. These feelings can sometimes feed on each other and produce physical symptoms, making you feel even worse. For some people, stressful life events can contribute to symptoms of depression.6 7
Work-related stress can also have negative impacts on mental health 8. Work-related stress accounts for an average of 23.9 days of work lost for every person affected 9.
When you are stressed you may behave differently. For example, you may become withdrawn, indecisive or inflexible. You may not be able to sleep properly 10. You may be irritable or tearful.
There may be a change in your sexual habits 11.Some people may resort to smoking, consuming more alcohol, or taking drugs 12. Stress can make you feel angrier or more aggressive than normal 13.
Stress may also affect the way we interact with our close family and friends.
When stressed, some people start to experience headaches, nausea and indigestion. You may breathe more quickly, perspire more, have palpitations or suffer from various aches and pains.
You will quickly return to normal without any negative effects if what is stressing you is short-lived, and many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting adverse effects.
If you experience stress repeatedly over a prolonged period, you may notice your sleep and memory are affected, your eating habits may change, or you may feel less inclined to exercise.
Some research has also linked long-term stress to gastrointestinal conditions Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or stomach ulcers14 as well as conditions cardiovascular disease15.
Who is affected by stress?
All of us can probably recognise at least some of the feelings described above and may have felt stressed and overwhelmed at some time or another. Some people seem to be more affected by stress than others. For some people, getting the door on time each morning can be a very stressful experience. Whereas others may be able to cope with a great deal of pressure.
Some groups of people may be more ly to experience stressful life events and situations than others.
For example, people living with high levels of debt, or financial insecurity are more ly to experience stress related to money16, 17, people from minority ethnic groups or whose who are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) may be more ly to experience stress due to prejudice, or discrimination18,19,20, and people with pre-existing or ongoing health problems may be more ly to experience stress related to their health, or stress due to stigma associated with their condition.
How can you help yourself?
There are some actions that you can take as an individual to manage the immediate, sometimes unpleasant, signs of stress and identify, reduce, and remove stressful factors that may cause you to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. If you feel comfortable, talking to a friend or close colleague at work about your feelings can help you manage your stress.
However, sometimes individual actions on their own are not enough to reduce long-term stress for everyone. We can often be affected by factors that are beyond our direct control. Communities, workplaces, societies, and governments all have a role to play in tackling these wider causes of stress.
1. Realise when it is causing a problem and identify the causes
An important step in tackling stress is to realise when it is a problem for you and make a connection between the physical and emotional signs you are experiencing and the pressures you are faced with. It is important not to ignore physical warning signs such as tense muscles, feeling over-tired, and experiencing headaches or migraines.
Once you have recognised you are experiencing stress, try to identify the underlying causes. Sort the possible reasons for your stress into those with a practical solution, those that will get better anyway given time, and those you can't do anything about. Take control by taking small steps towards the things you can improve.
Think about a plan to address the things that you can. This might involve setting yourself realistic expectations and prioritising essential commitments. If you feel overwhelmed, ask people to help with the tasks you have to do and say no to things that you cannot take on.
2. Review your lifestyle
Are you taking on too much? Are there things you are doing which could be handed over to someone else? Can you do things in a more leisurely way? You may need to prioritise things you are trying to achieve and reorganise your life so that you are not trying to do everything at once.
3. Build supportive relationships
Finding close friends or family who can offer help and practical advice can support you in managing stress. Joining a club, enrolling on a course, or volunteering can all be good ways of expanding your social networks and encourage you to do something different. Equally, activities volunteering can change your perspective and helping others can have a beneficial impact on your mood.
4. Eat Healthily
A healthy diet will reduce the risk of diet-related diseases. There is also a growing amount of evidence showing how food can affect our mood. Feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring our diet provides adequate amounts of nutrients including essential vitamins and minerals, as well as water.
5. Be aware of your smoking and drinking
If possible, try to cut right down on smoking and drinking. They may seem to reduce tension, but in fact they can make problems worse. Alcohol and caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety.
Physical exercise can be an excellent initial approach to managing the effects of stress. Walking, and other physical activities can provide a natural ‘mood boost’ through the production of endorphins. Even a little bit of physical activity can make a difference, for example, walking for 15-20 minutes three times a week is a great start.21
7. Take Time Out
One of the ways you can reduce stress is by taking time to relax and practicing self-care, where you do positive things for yourself. Striking a balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself is vital in reducing stress levels.
8. Be Mindful
Mindfulness meditation can be practiced anywhere at any time. Research has suggested it can be helpful for managing and reducing the effect of stress, anxiety, and other related problems in some people22. Our ‘Be Mindful’ website features a specifically-developed online course in mindfulness, and details of local courses in your area.
9. Get some restful sleep
Sleep problems are common when you’re experiencing stress. If you are having difficulty sleeping, you can try to reduce the amount of caffeine you consume23 and avoid too much screen time before bed24.
Writing down your to do list for the next day can be useful in helping you prioritise but also put the plans aside before bed25. For more tips on getting a good night’s sleep read our guide ‘How to sleep better’.
10. Don't be too hard on yourself
Try to keep things in perspective and don't be too hard on yourself. Look for things in your life that are positive and write down things that make you feel grateful.
If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, seeking professional help can support you in managing effectively.
Do not be afraid to seek professional help if you feel that you are no longer able to manage things on your own. Many people feel reluctant to seek help as they feel that it is an admission of failure.
This is not the case and it is important to get help as soon as possible so you can begin to feel better.
The first person to approach is your family doctor. He or she should be able to advise about treatment and may refer you to another local professional.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be helpful in reducing stress by changing the ways we think about stressful situations26, this might include focusing on more positive aspects of a situation and reassessing what their ly impact might be.
Other psychosocial interventions that can be helpful include brief interpersonal counselling, which can give people the opportunity to discuss what causes them to feel stress and develop coping strategies; and mindfulness-based approaches27.