Whether you suffer from anxiety or you see yourself as totally chilled, stress can really knock you for six. Out of nowhere, you may find yourself struggling to cope with pressure or emotions and may begin to feel lost. It is important to know that this is not a sign of weakness in any way, shape or form.
Some of the strongest and most powerful people across the world are very open about their battles with stress, however, with successful management strategies, they prove that you can come out of the other end.
What Is Stress Management?
Before we discuss what it means to manage stress, do we all agree on what stress is?
Mind.Org offers an insight into what stress looks and feels like. It says:
"There's no medical definition of stress, and healthcare professionals often disagree over whether stress is the cause of problems or the result of them. This can make it difficult for you to work out what causes your feelings of stress, or how to deal with them. But whatever your personal definition of stress is, it's likely that you can learn to manage your stress better by:
- managing external pressures, so stressful situations don't seem to happen to you quite so often
- developing your emotional resilience, so you're better at coping with tough situations when they do happen and don't feel quite so stressed
Is stress a mental health problem?
Being under pressure is a normal part of life. It can help you take action, feel more energised and get results. But if you often become overwhelmed by stress, these feelings could start to be a problem for you.
Stress isn't a psychiatric diagnosis, but it's closely linked to your mental health in two important ways:
- Stress can cause mental health problems, and make existing problems worse. For example, if you often struggle to manage feelings of stress, you might develop a mental health problem like anxiety or depression.
- Mental health problems can cause stress. You might find coping with the day-to-day symptoms of your mental health problem, as well as potentially needing to manage medication, healthcare appointments or treatments, can become extra sources of stress.
This can start to feel like a vicious circle, and it might be hard to see where stress ends and your mental health problem begins.
Why does stress affect me physically?
You might find that your first clues about being stressed are physical signs, such as tiredness, headaches or an upset stomach.
There could be many reasons for this, as when we feel stressed we often find it hard to sleep or eat well, and poor diet and lack of sleep can both affect our physical health. This in turn can make us feel more stressed emotionally.
Also, when we feel anxious, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. This is the body’s automatic way of preparing to respond to a threat, sometimes called the 'fight, flight or freeze' response. If you’re often stressed then you’re probably producing high levels of these hormones, which can make you feel physically unwell and could affect your health in the longer term."
Does this sound familiar to you? If so, we hope that you managed to find a positive outcome.
However, if you are in the midst of a stressful situation or you finding this stage in your life quite challenging on your mental health, then we hope these tips can help you.
Managing stress is, as it suggests, the action of taking control of your feelings and looking to find a solution or maintaining a positive outlook. In order to manage stress, you must, first of all, identify the root of the stress, pinpointing exactly what it is that is causing you to feel so negative. This could be one awkward situation at work, or it could be a series of family conversations that have made you feel under pressure - whatever the cause, there's always a solution!
One very important thing to remember is that two wrongs don't make a right, so don't turn to bad habits to make you feel better temporarily like smoking, drinking or drugs. The key is to be mentally strong, confident and to know what you want out of your situation.
Get a detailed explanation of stress management here.
Tips To Prevent And Relieve Stress
Everybody experiences stress at some point in their life, yet many don't recognise the side effects and may not realise how much pressure they are under. Here are just some of the common signs of stress to look out for. As with many illnesses, individual symptoms are usually not enough alone to diagnose stress, but paired with other symptoms then this could indicate an underlying problem. As you'll see, some are fairly straight forward whilst others might be a little surprising.
- feeling stressed or worried a lot of the time
- feeling overwhelmed by things that would otherwise not have phased you
- finding it hard to concentrate on the simplest of tasks
- experiencing mood swings or changes
- feeling irritable or having a shorter fuse than normal
- struggling to relax
- feeling down or depressed
- having a low opinion of yourself
- changes in appetite
- changes in sleeping habits
- turning to alcohol, drugs or tobacco to relax
- feeling physically tense
- having diarrhoea or constipation
- feeling nauseousness or dizzy
- loss of libido
If you are experiencing a combination of any of symptoms for what you feel is an unusually long time, then it would be wise to speak to your GP to find out what medical steps you should take to alleviate your stress. They may be able to recommend some support services or treatments should they feel it is necessary.
That said, there are also ways you can work on relieving stress before seeking medical attention.
Eat well, live well
It's amazing what a healthy diet can do for your body and mind, with evidence now showing that what we eat can affect our mood. By making sure that your daily intake of nutrients is sufficient enough to keep you feeling well, you can fight off the symptoms of oncoming stress. Try eating a well-balanced diet of essential vitamins, minerals and also adequate water.
Stop drinking and smoking
It is no secret that smoking and drinking causes more harm than good, but the difficulty for many is that it calms their nerves so they continue to do it, or turn to it during times of crisis. To stop stress taking over, you should try to cut out or at least cut down the amount you smoke or the amount of alcohol you drink, as these often make your problems worse.
Adopt a new exercise regime
Physical exercise is itself like a drug, and is a very effective remedy for relieving stress. If you're not one for tiresome regimes, then simply going for a brisk warm to your local shop can also help.
Take a break
When you are stressed, it can feel counter-intuitive to take some time off. But, striking a balance between work and yourself is very important and not taking this into account is probably what has caused you to feel this way in the first place. Try to take time for yourself to relax, switch off from work or whatever it is that is causing negative feelings, and soak up the benefits this will have on your mental health.
Being mindful is very important to your wellbeing, and practising meditation can really enhance your self-awareness and ability to manage your emotions. You can practice this anywhere, by going to a yoga or meditation class, by watching mindfulness videos or by listening to recordings via an app to help you to pay attention to your thoughts.
Have some downtime
As well as having some downtime from work, you also need some downtime in the form of sleep! Many people struggle to sleep when they are stressed, but getting a restful night's sleep is so important to recouping. If you are having difficulty sleeping through the night, why not try changing your environment by playing soothing musical, cutting out screen time for a few hours before bed or by (safely) lighting incense candles designed to improve slumber
Don't punish yourself
How are you supposed to feel positive when you won't give yourself a break? Having a bad day, week or even year is perfectly normal and something that many of us go through. Don't beat yourself up, and instead be your own friend at a time when you really could do with someone to appreciate you and all that you do.
Why Is Managing Stress Important?
No one can function in the long-term when they are put under stress. Sadly, prolonged stress can lead to a number of health complications, which is why it is so important not to bury your head in the sand and to ask for help. Despite some people performing well under pressure, this is normally only the case when it comes to short-lived stress, which isn't proof enough to ever call it positive.
Among some of the physical complications caused or enhanced by stress are heart disease, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, heart attacks, asthma, obesity (usually an indirect cause of the aforementioned heart risks), diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, accelerated ageing and headaches and migraines.
Furthermore, some mental issues caused by stress (and which could also have an effect on your physical health) are depression and anxiety (which can, in turn, lead to self-harm or even suicide) as well as Alzheimer's disease) which is said to worsen the more stressed you are).
See more reasons why you should manage stress.
Stress Management Strategies
We have already discovered some of the signs of stress and a few general tips on how to stop it in its tracks, but here are some more inventive ways to tackle stressful situations.
If you can't beat it, change it
Sometimes, you simply cannot avoid stressful situations. For instance, if you have a crying baby, there is no easy way to walk away from the child as they are your responsibility. That said, you can alter the way that you deal with the situation. For example, there is no harm in leaving your baby in a safe place while you take 2 minutes to clear your head and reframe your behaviour and reactions. Try to look from a different, more positive point of view, look at the bigger picture. Yes, the baby has been crying for half an hour but you getting stressed is not going to soothe your baby. Try the 'count to ten and start again' approach, re-entering the room with a more positive outlook and see how much easier it is to settle them when you have a calmer aura.
Start a journal
Personal diaries are a thing of the past, with Facebook and other digital forms taking up much of our personal time. Yet social media can be unhealthy as this is not the place to vent frustrations or air concerns. Instead, take the time to put your feelings down in a journal, as just putting things down in writing can take a lot of the worry away.
Make time for friendships
Friends make you feel good, but it's very easy to push people away hen you're not feeling yourself. Instead of putting up a wall, try to spend more time with friends to distract you from what is causing you to feel under pressure. Your friends need not know the ins and outs of your problems, but they can indirectly help you through difficult times just by bringing a good balance to your health.
See a detailed post on strategies to manage your stress.