Stress information

Reading time: about 9 minutes.

Introduction.

Welcome! Here you can find out more about stress, its causes, effects and treatment.

What is stress?

Stress can be sudden and extreme, or it can be prolonged over weeks, months, or years. We’re stressed when the demands made of us exceed our ability to return to a more relaxed state. Stress pushes us too far from our usual state of balance.

Stress causes changes in the way the body works, and alters the way we think and feel. Many of these changes are the result of stress hormones such as glucocorticoids and adrenaline; both of which help prepare the body for action. Stress hormones are responsible for many of the unpleasant feelings we have when we’re stressed.

Severe or extended periods of stress can lead to long-lasting changes, so if we feel stressed, it’s best to do something about it as soon as we can.


Recognising stress.

Stress affects the way we think and feel, it changes our behaviour, and can even have long-lasting physical effects.

Here are some of the ways stress affects us …

Thinking.

• Forgetful.
• Distractable.
• Pessimistic.
• Confused.
• Worrying.

Feeling.

• Moody.
• Irritable.
• Overwhelmed.
• Resentful.
• Unhappy.

Physical.

• Aches & pains.
• Nausea.
• Tension.
• Low sex drive.
• Coughs & colds.

Behaviour.

• Agitated.
• Tired.
• Withdrawn.
• Impulsive.
• Addicted.

 


Am I stressed?

We’re all different when it comes to stress. A little stress can be a good thing, it can help us achieve more; something that stresses one person may feel exhilarating to another. This has a lot to do with our temperament and how we think about stress.

Have a look at the following four questions. They’re adapted from a questionnaire called the PSS-4.

Please answer for the last month.

1.   How often did you feel you couldn’t control the important things in your life?

Never = 0.   |   almost never = 1.   |   sometimes = 2.   |   fairly often = 3.   |   Very often = 4.

2.  How often did you feel confident about your ability to handle your problems?

Never = 4.   |   almost never = 3.   |   sometimes = 2.   |   fairly often = 1.   |   Very often = 0.

3.  How often did you feel things were going your way?

Never = 4.   |   almost never = 3.   |   sometimes = 2.   |   fairly often = 1.   |   Very often = 0.

4.  How often did you feel you couldn’t cope with the problems you faced?

Never = 0.   |   almost never = 1.   |   sometimes = 2.   |   fairly often = 3.   |   Very often = 4.

Add up your scores for the four questions, it will be somewhere between 0 and 16. There are no specific rules, but if your score is around 8 or more, you might want to take stock of the amount of stress in your life. You may also want to complete the PSS-10 stress assessment, which will give you a better idea about your symptoms.


What causes stress?

Many of us find similar things stressful. Public speaking is a good example; most people find making a speech stressful. Remember though, stress is personal, it affects people differently. Our genes, our life experiences, and our outlook all play a part in how stressed we feel, and in how we behave when we’re stressed.

Many things can make stress worse:

  • Being unable to control our environment, for example poor housing, redundancy, limited freedom, prejudice, stigma, and restricted mobility.
  • Life experiences such as poverty, unemployment, and uncertainty at work.
  • Conflict with other people, relationship breakdowns, bullying, and domestic or emotional abuse.
  • Major life events such as births, deaths, marriage, and separation.
  • Things we usually think of as pleasant, for example holidays and new relationships, can be very stressful.
  • Chronic health conditions, physical impairment, addiction, poor sleep.
  • Having to keep secrets.
  • Unrealistic deadlines and pressure at work or school.
  • Feelings of insecurity and self-doubt can make us more vulnerable to stress.

Reducing stress.

Stress isn’t an illness – it’s something that affects us all. However, too much stress, or staying stressed for too long, can make us ill.

There are many approaches to managing stress. If you find one doesn’t work, try a different approach until you find one that you feel comfortable with, and that works for you.

Sometimes it can be hard to summon the energy to get help. A simple phone call to your GP can get things moving, and get you on the road to recovery. Your first appointment with a health professional can feel daunting, so it might be helpful to write down what you want to discuss. Make a note of any questions or worries you might have. Some people find it helpful to take a friend or family member along.

Avoid avoiding!

When we’re stressed we might want to shut ourselves away from others. It can be hard, but keeping active and staying with people can be very helpful. Remaining in work, or returning to work, might be hard too, but can help us keep a sense of control. Keeping a normal daily routine is usually much better than withdrawing or staying in bed.

Ask yourself: “If there’s something I’m avoiding; what could I do differently?” Make a note of your answer below.

Deal with the difficult things first.

Putting off problems can make them mount up. Are there things in your life that you’re putting off dealing with? Might an advocate or extra support help? Citizens Advice can help with a range of issues from housing to money worries. Doing practical things, however small, to address our problems relieves the burden. It helps us feel in control again. A list of things we have to do can be a burden and takes up precious energy, even when we’re not consciously thinking about it. Procrastination drains energy! If you have a “to do” list, also keep a “done” list, to help you remember your achievements!

Ask yourself: “What little thing will I do today that will help me feel better about myself?” Make a note of your answer below.

Repair Relationships.

People with strong relationships tend to feel happier, healthier, and live longer. Close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, and support, and increase our feelings of self-esteem. Wider networks of friends bring us a sense of belonging. If you’re struggling with a difficult relationship, or stress is causing problems in your relationships, you can contact Relate UK on 0845 456 1310, or speak to a health professional about other types of counselling.

Avoid alcohol and drugs.

Alcohol is a depressant, it lowers the mood. Non-prescribed drugs are best avoided. If alcohol is a problem, contact Alcoholics Anonymous on 0845 769 7555. If you’re using drugs and want help, contact Narcotics Anonymous on 0300 999 1212.

Take care of your body.

Keeping active is not only good for our physical health, it also reduces stress. We don’t need to run marathons, there are simple things we can do each day. Maybe take the stairs instead of the lift, and devote a few minutes each day to gentle exercise. We can also boost our wellbeing by unplugging from technology, by getting outside and by making sure we get enough sleep.

Notice the world around you.

Learning to be more mindful can do wonders for our wellbeing in all areas of life. We can learn to become more mindful during everyday events like driving to work, when eating, or when talking with friends. Mindfulness helps us get in touch with the present moment, and stops us dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Search for mindfulness classes close to where you live.

Express gratitude.

Positive emotions like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, and pride are not just positive in the moment. Research shows that regularly experiencing positive emotions creates a kind of upward spiral, helping to strengthen our ability to deal with current and future stress.

Although we need to be realistic about life’s ups and downs, it helps to focus on the good parts of any situation – the “glass half full,” rather than the “glass half empty” approach. Why not keep a gratitude journal; a personal record of the things you can be grateful for each day. It doesn’t only help build resilience, it’s also something to look back on when times are tough.

Find meaning and purpose.

People who have a sense of purpose feel happier, more in control and get more out of life. They also experience less stress, anxiety and depression. But where do we find meaning and purpose? It might be our faith; maybe its being a parent or doing a job that we feel makes a difference. The answers are probably different for each of us, though they often involve being part of something bigger than ourselves.


Act now!

If you’re affected by anything you’ve read here, speak with a trusted friend or contact a health professional. Don’t delay in seeking help. Why suffer waiting for stress to reduce on its own? Act now to get the support to aid your recovery.

Are you currently in a crisis? remember the Samaritans are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – in the UK, call free on 116 123.


Disclaimer.

This material is for information only. We’ve taken care in compiling these resources but don’t guarantee their accuracy or completeness. Please consult a health professional if you’re worried about your health.

Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 September 2017.
Last updated on: 14 July 2018.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 14 July 2018.
Date for review: July 2020.
Flesch Reading Ease: 72.

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