We all get a bit ‘stressed out’ at times. Juggling work and busy homes along with life’s inevitable ups and downs can make even the most chilled-out person feel under pressure. But our modern lives are becoming more stressed than ever. While occassional, acute stress can motivate us and improve performance, when we experience ongoing, chronic stress we can experience mental and physical health problems.
The impact of chronic stress on our health
Long-term exposure to stress has been shown to cause mental health problems like anxiety and depression and recent research sugests it can even lead to dementia. It can also cause physical health problems including high blood pressure and heart attacks, generally weaken the immune system so you are more susceptible to infections and exacerbate conditions like irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), insomnia and eczema.
What happens when we’re under stress
As discussed in this post on anxiety, when we feel threatened, the brain gives the ‘danger’ signal, we go into ‘fight or flight’ mode and the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol surge into our bodies. If the danger is fleeting, then the physical and mental symptoms of stress are short-lived. However, when our lives have too many stress factors in them and we move from one stressful situation to another, the constant exposure to stress hormones can cause problems. We can experience psychological symptoms such as feeling overwhelmed, finding it hard to switch off and becoming easily agitated and frustrated. We may also see physical symptoms such as stomach and skin problems or insomnia, and we may develop ongoing anxiety or depression. Some people may also turn to unhelpful coping mchanisms such as drinking which can cause further issues. So, how do you stop stress taking control?
Some tips to manage stress
It’s very difficult to erase stress from our busy lives, and indeed stress is an inevitable fact of life. However, you can make small changes that can make a big difference to how you feel and indeed, how you react to stressful events. The tips unsurprisingly are similar to those on how to deal with anxiety.
- Eat a healthy diet – see 5 good mood food tips
- Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.
- Try a little mindfulness.
There is increasing evidence that mindfulness can help with stress. Yoga and meditation of any kind encourage mindfulness, which is really just paying attention to the present moment, or you could go on a Mindfulness course in person or online. Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (MBSR) has been shown to have a significant impact on stress reduction.
- Try to get enough sleep – this can be tricky as it’s a vicious cycle when you feel stressed. There are some good sleep tips here.
- If work is the main cause of your stress, think about ways you could reduce the impact. It might be time to try to move roles, find a new job or just try to manage your time more effectively.
- Talk to someone you trust about how you feel. Just talking in itself may well help, or they might be able to help you come up with practical ways to reduce your stress factors. If you can’t talk to someone close to you and stress it taking its toll on your mental or physical health, talk to someone else – it could be your GP, someone at your local Mind or a counsellor or psychologist.