Stress, at the most basic level, is our body’s way of responding to external pressures. The things that make us stressed and how we reduce these stresses will vary from person to person.
When we encounter a “stressful” situation, our body produces hormones that trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response, which is our body’s way of preparing us for action. Sometimes, this stress response can be appropriate or even beneficial.
However, there are times when stress becomes excessive, and if this stress becomes overwhelming, it can lead to chronic or long-term stress.
What are the signs and symptoms of stress?
We all know what it’s like to be stressed, but it’s not always easy to explain what it means, or how it feels. Below is a list of emotional, physical, cognitive and behavioural symptoms that you may experience if you are stressed:
- Feeling lonely
- Feeling frustrated
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Having difficulty quieting your mind
- Chest pain
- Low energy
- Racing thoughts
- Inability to focus
- Poor judgement
- Constant worrying
- Change in appetite
- Nervous behaviour
- Picking up bad habits
- Avoiding responsibilities
This is just a small number of the symptoms people may experience when stressed. But what can we do to reduce our stress and mitigate these symptoms?
10 ways to reduce stress
Here are some key strategies from Caroline Harris, our in-house psychologist, which can help you reduce stress:
- Try to identify which situations lead you to experience stress. Can you reduce these situations? If you can’t, how can you manage your response better?
- Accept that you will not be able to change or control everything that causes stress in your life.
- If you can, improve your time management – this will remove unnecessary stress.
- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet – this will help regulate your emotional and physical responses.
- If you aren’t sleeping well, you may become more stressed, but if you can get back into a good routine, this will help you deal with the stresses around you.
- Getting regular exercise can help reduce stress levels.
- Regular relaxation, mindfulness and breathing exercises incorporated into your daily routine will allow you to reset your stress levels.
- Sharing your worries with family and friends will help them help you, and they may even have some good suggestions on how you can reduce your current stress levels.
- Plan regular breaks, or holidays – taking time out will ensure your overall stress levels don’t get too high.
- Build positive experiences into your life – spending time on your interests, hobbies and enjoying social time will allow you to reset.
The list above contains a mixture of pragmatic and therapeutic psychological strategies to help you with general stress and provide strategies to manage your stress response.
Taking steps to look after your wellbeing can help you deal with pressure, and reduce the impact that stress has on your life – this is sometimes called developing emotional resilience. Resilience is not just your ability to bounce back, but your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances.
Seeking professional advice
Remember, if you are struggling with stress and can’t seem to manage it on your own, reach out to a professional. Be open and honest with the GP/Clinician, describe your feelings and keep it factual – you could even keep a diary of your symptoms.