Stress is involved in pretty much the life of anyone. It can be good and it can be bad. You may often hear people say “Oh gosh, I am so stressed” and perhaps they are! Though what the most important question is – is it having a bad impact on their mental health?
What is stress?
According to a mental health website:
“At the most basic level stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. What contributes to stress can vary hugely from person to person and differs according to our social and economic circumstances, the environment we live in and our genetic makeup.” -mentalhealth.org.uk
If a person feels that they are under too much pressure whether it is mental or emotional this turns into the feeling of “stress” as it causes a range of hormones to be released within the body. The stress hormones that are released are purposely for allowing a person to deal with pressure etc. this can also be deemed as the ‘flight or fight’ response.
Is stress useful or harmful?
To be honest it is both! Having some stress in life can be beneficial for a person as in some cases the pressures can cause people to be more productive if for example meeting deadlines within the workplace or studying for an exam. Life may appear a lot calmer without any stress in life but it would also be very mundane and boring which could have a negative effect on a person’s life. Therefore, a reasonable amount of stress can be seen as a healthy aspect within life.
It is only when the ability to cope with pressures in life becomes too much that it starts to impact on a person’s life and the stress can cause problems to arise and be harmful. Even the most simple, tiny issues a person can face could build up over time if they do not deal with it initially, and eventually it all becomes too much to handle. This can cause physical problems such as high blood pressure and damage the immune system. If this occurs it can become a very harmful, vicious circle as if an individual was to become ill it can add to their stress especially if it is a type of illness that has preventions.
Psychological, Physical and Behavioural signs and symptoms:
Negative thinking is a sign/symptom that causes a person to think badly and in a negative way at themselves or their life. For example, let’s say Bob works in a sweet shop and he has started to become stressed at work due to the pressures and events he is facing on a daily basis. Bob now no longer gives himself credit for the good he does at work, instead he believes his standards have dropped which has knocked his confidence. Bob now overthinks a lot and looks more in depth negatively at his progression at work and what has been happening. These negative thoughts can create symptoms of having the inability to concentrate. Bob has become that stressed he brings his work problems home meaning that he finds it difficult to concentrate on anything else but at the same time equally not concentrating properly on his job. Excessively worrying is also another sign/symptom, this can become quite bad if left untreated as it can lead to depression and anxiety if it becomes too severe.
A few of the common physical signs and symptoms of stress include high blood pressure, which can be monitored by a home blood pressure machine. We have one in our home and I highly recommend purchasing one if you want to keep a close eye on things. Stress can also weaken the immune system (which is probably why my immune system is so terrible!) the amount of frequent colds and infections I have had for what I thought was for no particular reason now suddenly makes sense! People may also attempt to handle stress differently to each other; weight loss or gain is a factor of this as some people eat more when stressed whereas others do not have the appetite to eat. Other signs and symptoms include panic attacks which are a form of anxiety too and feeling nauseous.
When a person is stressed it is usually the behavioural symptoms that are easily spotted first due to the fact they are more obvious that the previous ones I have mentioned above. As an example, a psychological symptom could be depression but that might not be picked up on as well as the behavioural signs of self neglect, a change in appearance would be noticed more at first. The other behavioural signs would be an increased reliance upon smoking, caffeine, alcohol and other substances. A stressed individual can sometimes end the day with a large glass of wine, or smoking more than usual as they feel this could “take off the edge”. Furthermore, due to lack of concentration the behavioural symptoms would make an individual more prone to accidents, especially if they are suffering with insomnia or waking tired as their body is not fully aware of what is going on around them making accidents more prone to happen.
Possible causes of stress;
* Work Problems – These can be things like working long hours, facing heavy workloads and struggling to meet deadlines can all cause too much pressure for a person to handle and soon mounts to stress. Other people in the workplace may also contribute to the build up of stress, even if a person bottles up their worries or mentions them it can still cause unnecessary stress.
* Financial Worries – Worrying is a symptom of stress and so applying that to a specific cause like finances can cause added stress for a person. Seasonal festivities can play a part of causing stress due to financial worries. Those who celebrate Christmas have gained many stress related symptoms in the lead up to the festive period due to having to purchase presents, food etc. wages for that month can be spent instantly and also costs rise due to the festive season. In the recent years Christmas has become more focussed on spending lots rather than spending time with loved ones and this has definitely been a factor of causing stress. (Top tip from me: I purchase a few presents a month throughout the year, see something I know someone will love and try find it at the best price etc. I have done this for the past two years this year will be the third and honestly it was the best thing I have ever done! Plus I get to have quality family time! Bonus!).
* Health Worries – Whether it be illness of oneself or illness of another this can cause stress in a person’s life due to the worry and also the physical symptoms surrounding it. If a person is having to care for a loved one due to an illness as well this can put strain within the relationship and it can be exhausting which can result in stress occurring.
External and Internal Demands;
External demands are the events that happen in the outside world and the situations a person can find themselves in. It is the factors that change our personal world and also make up the life we live and because of these situations it may result in stress.
Internal demands are the way in which people react to external stressors. It is the type of demands that they impose on themselves such as their own outlook on things which can cause stress due to the way things are perceived. Although stress can also be caused by their personality and how they behave.
What can I do to reduce or manage my stress?
I’m going to tell you four health strategies that can be used to help reduce on manage your stress. Firstly would be to IDENTIFY the stress, perhaps keep a stress journal and jot down signs and symptoms you have experienced or trust a close loved one to jot these down from what they see. Jotting down things that may be stressful for a person can be handy to pinpoint where it can start to begin. Identifying can also help because it allows a person to change the outcome before it gets severe.
Identify the SIGNS and TRIGGERS of stress. It’s very similar to the above but this is identifying purely the signs and triggers of stress. To be able to do this allows a person to highlight a sign for example, if they are not sleeping well and therefore can act fast for a more healthier attitude towards managing their stress. Being able to pick up on the red flags and pinpoint their actions in a more quicker timeframe is far more healthier than to let the signs fester and get worse. Take it from me – knowing allows more time to manage the stress. I am terrible for bottling things up and pretending I’m as cool as a cucumber when in actual fact I’m a stressy sweet potato.
Mindfulness/Meditate/Yoga – Soft, easy relaxation techniques is so healthy and helpful for the mindset especially when stressed. These are also a calming way of self help when wanting to manage stress. I won’t lie but for me I didn’t find it easy to get into doing this, I would start laughing or just not concentrate. But PERSIST WITH IT. Do it with a group or do it by yourself. I prefer to do it by myself but each to their own. The stress response is reversed when relaxing and this helps with heart rate and blood pressure as they reduce during this time and breathing techniques are quite helpful for many people.
Being healthy! A healthy lifestyle isn’t always just about exercising and eating well. Although this is a good way to have a healthy strategy of managing stress as eating healthily can boost your immune system and exercising releases endorphins which creates a positive feeling in the body. The other side of being healthy is having a healthy mental well-being for example – talking. Time To Talk is a charity that encourages those struggling in many ways to talk. Despite the fact it is a charity, talking can really help an individual by having someone they can talk to saves bottling up their worries and troubles. (Again, trust me! I’ve been there, cramming it all into a bottle and the outcome isn’t nice.) It gives a feeling of relief to some and by not holding everything in themselves and sharing it can relieve them of stress.
These are a few support sources that range from helping an individual with stress worries with workshops and guides (SMS) to those who might be stressed at work and need guidance on their employee rights within the workplace (TUC). Citizens Advice is also another great organisation that helps with any queries or worries a person may have, especially if they have financial worries. Citizens Advice is free and confidential which is perfect as anyone can use them!
Since studying about stress I have learnt that it is far more than just a term used on days when we feel slightly overworked, overwhelmed and super busy. In my personal opinion talking was one of the best ways I have managed to deal with stress. Talking to those I know I can confide in and trust is what makes me feel comfortable and safe and on the right track to reducing stress whenever I can.
PS – Try bed yoga! Yes it is an actual thing that you can do from the comfort of your bed! I haven’t tried it yet but I am deffo gonna give it a go!
Please note that all of this information I have written is based on my understanding, my research and learning and also my own life experiences.