Stress is the body’s natural reaction to certain situations, resulting in physical, mental, and emotional responses.
Whilst stress is a normal part of life, if you are exposed to constant challenges and stressful situations without relief, your body becomes over-worked and the stress becomes a negative.
Here’s our comprehensive guide to stress, the symptoms, and how you can deal with stress yourself, as well as supporting others through it.
The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it – it’s a natural reaction that causes physical changes in your body, designed to help you to take on threats and avoid dangerous situations.
In stressful situations, you might notice your heart pounding, your breathing quickening, and your muscles tensing. You might also start to sweat. Known as the fight or flight response, this occurs in response to a perceived threat to survival or a traumatic event.
Once the threat passes, these physical effects typically fade away. However, if you’re in a constant state of stress, your body can remain on high alert and you might start to develop stress-related symptoms. Find out more here.
What causes stress?
Stress can be caused by a whole host of factors, often a combination of more than one. Whether you’re going through a major life change or you’re starting to feel as though you’re no longer in control of your life, it’s not uncommon to feel stressed.
Other causes of stress can be related to:
- Personal issues such as serious illness and financial problems
Signs of stress
Everyone experiences stress but when it starts impacting on your life, health, and wellbeing, it’s important that you address the cause as soon as possible, Stress can affect people in a huge variety of different ways, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Whilst everyone reacts to stress differently, these are some of the most common physical signs include:
- Fast heart rate
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Difficulties sleeping
- Aches, pains, muscle tension
- Diarrhoea and constipation
- Loss of sex drive
- Clenched jaw/gritted teeth
Common emotional signs of stress include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Frequent changes in mood
- Low self-esteem
And it’s not just physical symptoms that can signify stress, stress can also cause mental health problems and make existing problems worse. Those who struggle to manage stress may develop mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.
Also known as tension headaches, stress headaches are brought on by stressful situations.
Often feeling like a constant ache affecting both sides of the head, stress headaches can also cause the tightening of the neck muscles or a feeling of pressure behind the eyes.
Stress and anxiety are the main causes of tension headaches.
Stress can affect almost any part of your body. And your skin is no exception.
Stress can cause a whole host of skin complaints, including rashes, hives, and itching.
How can stress cause a rash?
Stress causes a chemical response in the body that makes the skin more sensitive and reactive. This can not only cause skin problems such as rashes, but it can also make it harder for skin problems to heal.
Treating a stress rash
A stress rash can usually be treated at home, using antihistamines to help relieve the itching. Cooling the skin can also help. For more severe cases, your GP may prescribe stronger antihistamines, steroids, or antibiotic tablets.
To limit the effects of stress on your skin, you should also remember to take care of your skin, no matter how stressed, tried, or unmotivated you feel.
How to deal with stress
Whilst it isn’t always possible to eliminate stress, there are lots of ways to manage it better.
Identify the causes
Once you’ve realised that you’re suffering from stress, try to identify the causes. This will help you to come up with a practical solution and help you to address the causes as well as the symptoms of your stress.
As hard as they can be to deal with, setbacks, problems, and difficulties are an inevitable part of life. When stressful situations arise, try to accept the situation you’re in and focus your energies on doing everything in your power to move forward, rather than dwelling on the situation you’re in.
When you’re feeling stressed, it can sometimes be difficult to keep things in perspective. Try not to catastrophise minor events, and don’t let a pessimistic approach take hold.
Physical health can have a huge impact on our mental health. Make sure you exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
If you notice that you are becoming stressed, try to relax your muscles and calm yourself down with slow, deep breathing. Mindfulness can also be useful for managing and reducing the symptoms of stress.
If you feel as though you can’t deal with your stress on your own, don’t be afraid to seek help from those around you, as well as from professionals.
Seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness or failure, it’s often a key step to recovery.
The first person to approach is usually your GP, who will advise you on possible treatment options and may also refer you to other professionals. There are also a variety of organisations out there who can help you to deal with stress.
How to help someone deal with stress
With 41% of British people feeling stressed at any one time, chances are you know someone who is suffering from stress. However, when a friend, family member, or colleague is experiencing stress, it can sometimes be difficult to know how best to help them.
Of course, everyone deals with stress differently and the support that individuals need and find helpful will vary significantly. However, as a general rule, the following steps can help you provide support to a loved one who needs it:
- Engage – start a conversation about how they feel
- Exemplify – lead by example, talk about your feelings and follow your own advice
- Empower – share practical tips
- Empathise – put yourself in their shoes
- Encourage – positive reinforcement is key!
- Embed – help them think of ways to embed stress-reducing behaviours in their daily life
- Evaluate – Encourage them to measure the success of their efforts and keep evaluating how they feel
Find out more here.
How to relieve stress
Here’s a brief overview of just some of the ways that the NHS suggests you can relieve stress. You can find out more information here.
- Be active
- Take Control
- Connect with people
- Give yourself some me time
- Challenge yourself
- Avoid unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking
- Help other people
- Try to stay positive
The NHS has a digital library featuring a number of stress-busting apps which you might find helpful. The Mental Health Foundation also offers plenty of resources that you might find useful, including this Quick Fix Breathing exercise for stress and relaxation.
How to reduce stress
As well as relieving stress, it’s also important to find ways to reduce the build-up of stress in the first place. Here are some tips for reducing stress in your daily life.
- Take one thing at a time
- Write things down
- Don’t overload your daily to-do list
- Focus on finding solutions
- Prepare the night before
- Find a balance between work, rest, and play
- Minimise distractions
- Ask for help
- Slow down
- Just breathe
You can find out more about these stress reduction tips, along with many more here.
Although it might seem tough, it’s important to tackle the causes of stress in your life – remember that avoiding problems rather than facing them head-on can make things worse.
At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not always possible to change a stressful situation. In this instance, you might need to accept that there’s nothing you can do to change it and channel your energies elsewhere.
Want to talk things through?
If you feel constantly stressed and are struggling to cope, then support is available. Hidden Wounds is a free and confidential service run by Help for Heroes that offers treatment and support for people wishing to learn how to manage their anger better. You can reach them by calling 0808 2020 144 (free from UK landlines) or by requesting more information from them here.Contact Hidden Wounds