Life can stress us all out at times, whether it’s financial stress, exam stress, stress from work, or stress from relationships. Short term, we can usually cope, but if you’re continuously under pressure for a long time, it can have all sorts of impacts, from making you physically ill to changing how you behave.
As we don’t all react the same way, it’s not always easy to spot the signs of stress or to recognise in yourself that stress is causing your symptoms. You might find you’re having problems with your memory or concentration or you can’t make decisions. You may be feeling burned out or overwhelmed. Physically, you might experience headaches, stomach aches, chest pain, muscle pain, or sexual problems. Many people find their behaviour changes too: they sleep more, or less, eat too much or too little, or start drinking heavily. It’s not uncommon to find you easily become angry or irritable
Stress is caused by the hormones your body releases in moments of fear; the surge of adrenalin and cortisol that give you the boost you need to run or fight your way out of a dangerous situation. Unfortunately, you can’t simply flee work related stress or punch financial pressure in the face and move on. That’s when a useful hormone surge becomes potentially damaging stress. And the longer the physical symptoms last, like a faster heart-rate, the more likely they are to cause you long-term health problems.
Money, work, exams, relationships, poor health, bereavement, divorce… there are all kinds of things that can create an ongoing stressed physical state. Finding out what particular emotional or mental pressure is causing your stress is the first step in managing it.
As with many other mind health problems, talking about your feelings is a proven way to help you manage them. This can be with a professional therapist, or a trusted friend or family member. You may not be able to solve the problem that’s ultimately causing your stress – talking won’t pay your debts or take your exam for you – but you can certainly change the way you think and feel about the situation, and so lessen the physical and psychological effects.
Feeling stressed often comes from a sense of not being in control. So, one of the best things you can do for yourself is focus on what you can change, not on what you can’t. Set yourself achievable targets and don’t pile the pressure on yourself to do everything at once.
Self-care is essential. Learn how to relax, using breathing techniques, avoid turning to alcohol or drugs to relieve your stress, and get more physical exercise if you can. Most importantly, know that you’re not alone.