Stress occurs when you feel you are not coping with life.
We all need a little stress to motivate us to achieve or get things done. However, too much stress, particularly over a long period of time, can take its toll on your health and sense of wellbeing. Extreme stress can be so overwhelming it causes physical reactions such as nausea, diarrhoea, over eating and under eating. There are many things you can do to manage stress; it is just about finding the right strategy for you.
Change! One of the biggest causes of stress is change. Whether it be normal life events such as pregnancy, childbirth, menopause or unexpected events such as a breast cancer diagnosis, loss of a job or having an accident, these are events that can cause a great deal of stress. However, on a day-to-day basis, what is stressful for one person is not necessarily stressful for another.
Experiences that many people find stressful include:
To help you identify if you are stressed, think about what words best describe your experience from the list below.
Anxious, aggressive, apathetic, bored, tired, depressed, frustrated, guilty, irritable, tense, lonely, overwhelmed, unhappy, mood swings
Difficulty in making decisions, less creative in solving problems, forgetful, hypersensitive to criticism, poor concentration, negative or anxious thoughts, poor organisation (family, work, other interests) memory problems
Restless, trembling, having accidents, drinking or smoking excessively, incoherent speech, eating too much or too little, nervous laughing, teary, increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs
Increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, dry mouth, sweating, dilated pupils, hot and cold spells, lump in your throat, numbness, butterflies in the stomach, aches, pains, nausea, dizzy, chest tightness, increased frequency of colds and flu, changes in sleeping routine, changes in eating routine
Dizziness, faintness, diarrhoea, asthma, chest and back pains, frequent urination, headaches or migraines, nightmares, loss of sexual interest, skin complaints, ulcers, coronary heart disease
Increased arguments with family members, missing work, avoiding seeing friends
If these words describe what you are experiencing lately, it is likely that you are stressed. There are a number of things you can do to lessen the impact of stress on your life.
Know your stress so that you can start to manage it. There are proven ways of managing stress such as relaxation and meditation. The following table lists effective ways to manage and reduce stress.
|Learn what makes you stressed|
|Identify levels of stress|
|Challenge the strength of your stressors|
Once you identify and rate your stressors, try challenging their strength: "I don't need to take that on board", "I can live with that", "I can live without that", "Is this worth getting stressed about", "I can do this" "I don't need to do that".
|Get quality rest|
It is important to have enough quality sleep because lack of sleep may lead to:
which can all heighten stress levels.
|Take a break|
Have a mental break if you have been working for long periods – get up from your desk and move around for a few minutes. It will help to prevent stress building.
|If possible, reduce working hours|
Reduce the number of hours you spend at work or even prioritise your work tasks to help lighten your load.
It is important to enjoy a healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and cereals. This maintains your blood sugar and promotes energy.
|Reduce stimulants like caffeine|
Caffeine stimulates the sympathetic nervous system causing stress: replace a caffeine drink with a glass of water or herbal tea.
|Activity and exercise|
Increase your physical activity. Moving your body, e.g. walking, increases the flow of feel good chemicals (endorphins) in your body to help you cope.
Nicotine is a stimulant of the sympathetic nervous system which increases stress. Some smokers say they smoke to calm their nerves, but this is a habit they have turned to for comfort, the chemicals in the cigarette make stress worse.
|Share your thoughts|
There is a separate webpage on relaxation if you would like to learn more about relaxation techniques.
This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at March 2014.