Stress As a Condition
Stress is a common and normal feeling state we can all experience. We all encounter different demands in our everyday lives and from time to time this can become overwhelming. Stress is usually felt when these demands outweigh the resources we have to cope with such demands, creating an imbalance. Stress can have an effect on how we think, feel and act. Some stress can be beneficial in motivating us to approach and deal with a challenge. However, it can also become harmful and distressing if experienced for a prolonged period of time.
__Five Facts about Stress
The hormone cortisol is released when we are under stress - this is part of the body’s “fight-or-flight” response which can be helpful in threatening situations.Stress can make you feel shaky and on edge. The release of hormones and the physiological effects that stress has on our bodies can contribute to this.Stress suppresses your immune system, as it is non-essential in a potentially threatening situation.We can experience stress in response to positive events - such as getting married or starting a new job.Stress can cause preoccupation with the future, making our thoughts repetitive and circular.
Five Ways to Manage Stress
Exercise: when we experience stress our bodies prepare for action. If we engage in exercise (for instance, a brisk 15-minute walk per day) we can help manage the increase in stress hormones and their effect on our physiology.
Eat regularly: many people report forgetting or missing meals when under stress. This can increase the amount of adrenaline released in our bodies, making us feel more stressed. You can read more about eating and stress here (link).
Learn to recognise the signs: Everyone reacts differently to stress. Perhaps you can start by noticing what your typical warning-signs are (for instance, increased heart rate, loss of appetite) and use these as an indicator that it is time to take a break, step back and seek some support.
Take a few minutes to yourself: You can engage in some mindful activities (link), take a walk or do something that relaxes you for a few minutes.
Take some deep breaths: a common physiological response to stress is rapid and shallow breathing. By using deep breathing techniques (link) you can slow your breathing down and feel better.
Symptoms of stressEveryone experiences stress in different ways, however, we tend to exhibit one or more of the common symptoms listed below:
FatigueWhen we feel stressed, we are more often than not in fight-or-flight mode. You can be on constant alert. If this goes on for a prolonged period of time fatigue can set in and you can feel as though you are running on empty.
Feeling overwhelmedYou can start feeling as though the pressure of everyday life is more than you can handle. Things that you coped with before can start feeling unmanageable.
Shaking and sweatingYou can experience trembling hands or trembling all over - it is common to experience shaky legs in addition to increased sweating.
Feeling unwell more frequentlyWhen we are in stress-mode, our bodies suppress non-essential functions such as our immune system meaning we are more vulnerable to illness.
Forgetting things more easilyYou may feel you have a thousand things to do and you may not know where to start; or perhaps you are trying to tackle everything at once. When in this heightened state of arousal, it is easy to forget things and we can feel as if we are becoming more disorganised.
TreatmentsStress can become more manageable, even though many people experiencing stress may not have access to, or receive, the treatment they need. There is no ONE treatment for stress, as everyone is different (and the causes and their experience of stress differs) but there are some treatments that have been proven clinically effective. We outline some below:
1. Self-help for anxietyThere is a wealth of resources, both online and available through (for instance) your GP, which describe how you can manage stress and these have proven helpful for many. Included in these are understanding your stress, relaxation techniques, exercising and breathing exercises. This is not an exhaustive list, of course.
2. Talking therapiesTalking therapies have proven effective in the treatment of stress. Engaging in psychological therapy gives you a space to understand potential triggers, what helps and what makes it harder to manage, and look at developing helpful ways to cope, amongst other things. There are different therapeutic approaches that have proven effective, for instance Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.
3. MedicationSome prescribed medication can help alleviate the symptoms of stress and reduce its impact on your day-to-day life. You should talk to your GP or psychiatrist about the options available for you, the benefits and the potential side-effects of any medication. Medication can be prescribed as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with, for instance, talking therapies.