With an estimated 18 million working days lost to stress each year in the UK, Lisa de Silva explores the effects of stress and offers some tips for minimising and managing its effects
While small amounts of stress can be useful and even beneficial in helping us survive various life events and challenges, too much stress can lead to serious physical and mental health conditions.
WHAT IS STRESS?
Primarily, stress is the body’s response to a threatening situation. When we are fearful, the body releases hormones to help us ‘fight or flight’ from the perceived danger. So, if we have to give a public speech or run out of the path of a speeding car, the stress response is beneficial in elevating our ability to perform and protect ourselves. Once the threat has passed, our hormone levels stabilise and we can continue with our day, relatively unscathed.
The problem with stress in the modern world, is that many of us get stuck in the hormonal turmoil of the ‘fight or flight’ response. If we fear that we are not good enough at work or in our personal lives, we will constantly live with the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. This is not only physically exhausting but can often leave us feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF STRESS?
Living under the influence of stress, many of us become indecisive or inflexible. We may suffer from insomnia, develop compulsive habits, experience anxiety attacks and become increasingly withdrawn. Headaches, nausea, indigestion, IBS, skin problems and cardiovascular disease can all be symptoms of stress.
While self-medicating with alcohol, high fat and high sugar food, or cigarettes, may hold some initial short-term appeal, using these coping mechanisms will usually cause more harm than good.
HOW TO MANAGE STRESS
People have different tolerance lev els when it comes to the amount of stress they can withstand, but even those who experience it mildly still need some stress management strategies.
HERE ARE OUR TOP SIX TIPS FOR STRESS MANAGEMENT
- Identify what is causing the stress and resolve the issue if possible.
- Connect to others who may be able to help you address any conflicts, or to those who can provide a sympathetic ear.
- Develop a programme of relaxation techniques, such as meditation, stretching, time for hobbies and interests, along with physical activity.
- Do not overwhelm yourself by taking on too much – stop striving for perfection and practise self-compassion, self-forgiveness and self-care.
- Try to have a regular change of scenery by visiting somewhere you would not normally visit.
- Set yourself a challenge, volunteer for a cause you care about or focus on activities which aim to help others.