Stress

Stress is your body’s natural reaction to a threat or an excess demand. Some stress is good for you and helps motivate you to get something done. But when you are under too much stress for too long, it affects your health and wellbeing. Learning how to manage stress is a key life skill.

Key points

  1. When you are stressed, your heart pounds, your breathing quickens, your muscles tense and you start to sweat. Once the threat or difficulty passes, these physical changes settle down.
  2. If you're constantly stressed, your body stays in a state of high alert and you may develop stress-related symptoms, which can affect your body, mood and behaviour.
  3. Signs of too much stress can include headaches, stomach aches, poor sleep, being tired, irritable or using stimulants such as coffee or sugar to keep you going.
  4. Health conditions that can develop as a result of too much stress include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, anxiety and depression.
  5. Because stress is a part of life, learning how to manage it is key to maintaining good physical and mental health. 

What is stress?

Stress is our body’s natural reaction to a demand or threat. It triggers your body’s fight or flight response, which causes a surge of hormones that would have helped our ancestors to run away from the stressor or fight it. It is supposed to be a short, sharp response to danger. But if you feel stressed a lot of the time, you put a lot of pressure on your health.

Stress can come from many sources such as health issues, relationship problems, work, financial issues, deadlines, exams or unrealistic expectations you put on yourself. What causes stress for you may not be stressful for someone else. 

Some stress is helpful as it can motivate you to meet a deadline or get things done. But long-term stress can increase the risk of health conditions, such as:

A stress-related condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after experiencing trauma, such as from war, physical or sexual assault, or a natural disaster.

What are the symptoms of long-term stress?

Common symptoms caused by long-term stress include:

  • headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
  • dry mouth
  • feeling anxious or jittery
  • being more irritable or angry than normal
  • overeating or loss of appetite and not eating well
  • upset stomach
  • chest pains, rapid heartbeat
  • not sleeping
  • feeling tired, flat, down or worn out
  • finding it hard to concentrate or focus
  • needing coffee, energy drinks or sugar to keep going
  • increased skin infectionsmouth ulcerscolds, rashes or asthma. 

Wind down before you get wound up

It helps to learn how to recognise stress and find ways to cope with it before your body's stress response fully kicks in. 

Here are some ideas to help you get started: 

  • Include things you find relaxing in your everyday life, such as listening to music, mindfulness meditation, connecting with friends and regular exercise.
  • Learn useful anti-stress life skills such as effective problem solving, healthy communication and healthy thinking.
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance, take frequent breaks and find other ways to manage stress at work.
  • Take care of yourself by being physically active every day, eating a healthy diet, having good sleep habits
  • Make time to do fun things and spend time with the people who are important to you. 

What can I do if I’m feeling stressed? 

  • Talk with someone who will listen and provide good support and advice if you want it.
  • Review all the sources of stress in your life – what can be reduced, stopped or changed to take some pressure off.
  • Problem-solve and action plan to help break things down into doable steps.
  • Look at your lifestyle and make sure you are eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep and exercise.

 Read more about managing stress.  

Who can I talk to if I'm feeling stressed? 

If you are finding it difficult to manage your stress, tell your doctor or find a counsellor or therapist to talk to. 

Learn more

How to deal with stress NHS, UK, 2017

Problem solving worksheet BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information, 2009
Online life skills resource Living Life to the Full
How dogs can help with mental health – mind boosting benefits of dog ownership UK, 2018

References

  1. Stress MedLine Plus, US
  2. Stress management Mayo Clinic, US, 2019
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team .