There was a time when we thought stress could be positive and negative, but what we actually know now is that stress is the brain’s way of alerting and protecting us when it thinks something bad is about to go down.
So, if you’ve ever found yourself feeling excited about going on a date, or nervous attending an interview, the tension you might feel could just be the type of healthy reaction which would accompany these events. It’s not stress as such, it’s more like nervousness or excitement.
When we find ourselves in a difficult situation – one which our brain interprets as dangerous – we can find ourselves in an automatic response called “fight or flight” which is focused on our individual survival. When the threat response is left unmanaged or continues over a period of time, it can take its toll on the body and mind.
When I ask people what causes this survival mode to kick in, the most common reasons they give me are:
- Other people (including their manager and relationship breakdowns)
- Financial worries
- Life events, like redundancy and bereavement
Recognising symptoms of stress early and knowing how to manage it healthily can make a big difference to our health and wellbeing.
Some common symptoms of stress include:
- headaches and stomach upsets with no physical cause
- sweating palms, “shakes”, legs trembling
- repetitive, negative thoughts about not being able to cope
- tension in the neck and shoulders
- trouble sleeping
- loss of appetite or eating more
- irritable and snappy
- relying on drugs, alcohol or engaging in other distraction techniques and coping mechanisms
Everyone is different, so what one person finds stressful another person won’t. The key is recognising your early warning signs of stress, like the ones above, and what may be causing it.
You might choose to visit your doctor first. Here’s a video from Mind about how to chat to your GP about your mental health.
You might also choose to review your lifestyle. If you know for example that caffeine makes things worse you can start a programme to slowly reduce your intake. If you’ve turned to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, your doctor will be able to help with that too.
Mindfulness is a proven strategy for reducing and managing feelings of stress. You could sign up for a course, learn about it online, or again see if your doctor can recommend anyone.
You can also read a story about stress here.
The symptoms of stress can be very similar to anxiety. A certain amount of anxiety is normal, like preparing for a big event.
Whereas stress tends to focus on a problem happening now, unhealthy anxiety often focuses on fears of what may happen. You might find yourself going over and over a conversation in your mind, and not feeling any better for it. You might repeat things like “what if…” in your mind trying to plan for every eventuality, or create contingency plans which mean avoiding people and places.
Anxiety becomes a problem when it stops you living your daily life in a healthy way. You can read more about anxiety here.
If you recognise any of these descriptions, make an appointment to see your doctor so you can talk through local treatment options.
If you’re really struggling with your mental health, you can also ring Samaritans on 116 123, they’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Stress is something we all experience from time to time. With the right help, you can manage yours healthily and get your sparkle back.
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© Copyright Delphi Ellis