What is stress?

We all know what it’s like to feel stressed, but it’s not easy to understand exactly what stress means. When we say things like “this is stressful” or “I’m stressed”, we might be talking about:

  • Situations or events that put pressure on us – for example, times where we have lots to do and think about, or don’t have much control over what happens.
  • Our reaction to being placed under pressure – the feelings we get when we have demands placed on us that we find difficult to cope with.

It may be difficult to understand what causes your stress but whatever your personal definition of stress is, it’s likely that you can learn to manage your stress better by:

  • managing external pressures, so stressful situations don’t seem to happen to you quite so often
  • developing your emotional resilience, so you’re better at coping with tough situations when they do happen and don’t feel quite so stressed

Stress can cause mental health problems, and make existing problems worse. For example, if you often struggle to manage feelings of stress, you might develop a mental health problem like anxiety or depression.

Mental health problems can cause stress. You might find coping with the day-to-day symptoms of your mental health problem, as well as potentially needing to manage medication, heath care appointments or treatments, can become extra sources of stress.

Why does stress affect me physically?

  • You might find that your first clues about being stressed are physical signs, such as tiredness, headaches or an upset stomach.
  • There could be many reasons for this, as when we feel stressed we often find it hard to sleep or eat well, and poor diet and lack of sleep can both affect our physical health. This in turn can make us feel more stressed emotionally.
  • Also, when we feel anxious, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. (This is the body’s automatic way of preparing to respond to a threat, sometimes called the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response). If you’re often stressed then you’re probably producing high levels of these hormones, which can make you feel physically unwell and could affect your health in the longer term.

How might you feel?

  • irritable, aggressive, impatient 
  • over-burdened
  • anxious, nervous or afraid
  • like your thoughts are racing and you can’t switch off
  • unable to enjoy yourself
  • depressed                                               
  • uninterested in life
  • like you’ve lost your sense of humour
  • a sense of dread
  • worried about your health
  • neglected or lonely

Some people who experience severe stress can sometimes have suicidal feelings.  

How you might behave

  • finding it hard to make decisions
  • constantly worrying
  • avoiding situations that are troubling you
  • snapping at people
  • biting your nails
  • picking at your skin
  • unable to concentrate
  • eating too much or too little
  • smoking or drinking alcohol more than usual
  • restless, like you can’t sit still
  • being tearful or crying.

What treatments are there?

Stress isn’t a medical diagnosis, so there’s no specific treatment for it. However, if you’re finding it very hard to cope with things going on in your life and are experiencing lots of signs of stress, we can offer the following treatments that could help.  These include:

Talking treatments

Talking with me can help you learn to deal with stress and become more aware of your own thoughts and feelings. Common types of talking treatments which can help with stress are:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps you understand your thought patterns, recognise your trigger points and identify positive actions you can take.
  • Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), which combines mindfulness, meditation and yoga with a particular focus on reducing stress. You can find out more from Be Mindful’s website.

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