Humans are designed to deal with stress and some stress can be positive – it may help you feel more alert and help us react and deal with the pressures of everyday life. For example, if you feel stressed about an exam or a meeting this can help you perform well on the day. But if you begin to feel that you are under too much pressure and cannot cope, this can lead you to feel stressed.
The symptoms of stress include:
You may also feel that you are having difficulty controlling your thoughts – some stressed people report the feeling that their mind is whirring.
Many physical and mental illnesses are also linked to stress, which is thought to be the trigger in the onset of many health problems. Stress can also cause people to engage in potentially harmful behaviours such as smoking, drinking or consuming other addictive substances.
Stress can feel different to different people, and situations or events that leave one person feeling extremely stressed may have little or effect on another. There is no right or wrong time to feel stressed.
However, learning how to manage stress can help you feel less stressed and decrease the impact of stress on your mind and body.
Working out what exactly it is that is stressing you out can be really helpful in dealing with stress. Sometimes, the cause of your stress is obvious, for example, if you are working overtime on a particular project or are dealing with a big change in your life. But sometimes, you may feel stressed without knowing why. Writing down all the stressors in your life can be a useful exercise in identifying your stress triggers, and may help you work out how you can best deal with these problems, or even make you realise that your situation as not as bad as you originally thought.
Starting a stress diary can be useful in identifying your stress triggers. This could involve writing down exactly when you feel stressed, the symptoms you experienced and what you think caused the stress.
Increased physical exercise is linked to improved wellbeing and decreased feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. Being more active can also help you sleep better, which can leave you better able to cope with stress. If you are not currently active, you might want to start by trying a low-impact activity such as walking or swimming or try yoga.
Some people also find it useful to think back to the last time they felt relaxed and try to replicate it. If this is not possible (for example you were on a tropical beach and you don’t live anywhere near a tropical beach), try to think about the feelings you experienced in this place. If you felt relaxed because you were cut off from civilisation, for example, you could try switching off your phone and other devices or going to a place where you know you won’t be bothered.
Many people feel stressed because they feel they have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Getting on top of things can feel impossible at times, but making a list of all the things you have to do and when they have to be done and then prioritising this can help you feel more in control.
You can also ensure that you are more focused on the tasks you need to do by eliminating outside distractions and being strict with yourself. This might mean only checking your email or phone every hour or two instead of responding to messages as soon as they come in, or turning off the Internet when doing a task that doesn’t require you to be online.
If your day is full of stressors, you might feel you have nothing to look forward to. Set yourself mini targets (these can be as big or as small as you like, and could be anything from ‘run for half an hour’ to ‘leave the house today’) and reward yourself for achieving them by doing something you love.
If you’re rewarding yourself with food or drink, try to pick healthy treats as much as possible. Other rewards could be indulging in a long, hot bath, watching your favourite TV programme, playing a game you enjoy or simply calling someone for a chat.
Offloading or telling someone your worries can really help you to manage your stress. You might feel better just by talking about what is causing you stress, and discussing the problem can lead to coming up with solutions.
If you feel that your stress is becoming overwhelming and is causing you significant distress, talking to a professional can really help. Talking therapies can help you to analyse your stress and deal with it more effectively.
Accepting that you cannot deal with everything and that you are only one person with limited time can really help you to manage your stress. Techniques such as meditation and mindfulness as well as going to a therapist can help you to realise this.