“AGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!” - Ever felt like shouting that at the top of your voice?

At one time or another (or at many times) I bet we’ve all done it to relieve the stress we’ve felt. Almost everyone experiences stress from time to time, and while a small amount of stress can be ok, even motivational, but if we constantly feel like screaming it may be time to take action!

Many things can cause us to feel stressed, including work, relationships, family issues and financial problems. Some stressors can start off small but build up over time, some can ‘hit us between the eyes’ when we least expect it. Either way, if stress builds up it can have a seriously damaging effect, with our minds and body paying the price!

So, what is stress?

Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body's defences kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction or the ‘stress response’. The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, stress can help you stay focused and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life as it can give you extra strength to defend yourself – e.g. slamming on the brakes to avoid a car accident or running away from a potential attacker.

Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It can ‘keep you on your toes’ when doing a presentation at work, it can sharpen your concentration when competing in sport or it can drive you to study for an exam when you'd rather relaxing with your friends.

However, beyond a certain point, stress can stop being constructive and can start to cause major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.

How do we recognise stress?

Everyone experiences stress differently. Sometimes it may feel obvious when you're feeling stressed but at other times it may creep up on you as you may not have recognised the signs.

Stress not only effects thoughts and emotions but can also influence the way we behave as well as harm us physically!

>Some Emotional Signs

• irritable, agitated, frustrated, moody, wound-up

• over-burdened, overwhelmed, like you’re losing control

• anxious, nervous, afraid

• a sense of dread

• difficulty relaxing, thoughts racing, unable to ‘switch off’

• unable to enjoy yourself

• low mood

• uninterested in life, hobbies

• health worries

• neglected, lonely,

• feeling bad about yourself, worthless

>Some Behavioural signs

• hard to make decisions

• unable to concentrate

• constantly worrying

• avoiding others, withdrawing from social activities

• biting your nails

• picking at your skin

• change in eating habits (over eat, reduction in appetite)

• increase smoking or alcohol intake

• Obsessive behaviours (e.g. over exercising)

• restless, unable to relax

• tearful

>Some Physical Signs

• shallow breathing or hyperventilating, panic attacks

• tense muscles

• problems getting to sleep, staying asleep or having nightmares

• sexual problems (e.g. loss of libido or enjoyment)

• low energy, extreme fatigue

• grinding teeth, clenching your jaw

• headaches

• chest pains

• high blood pressure

• indigestion or heartburn

• upset stomach (e.g. constipation, diarrhoea, nausea)

• feeling dizzy, fainting

• excess sweating

It's important to tackle the causes of stress in your life if you can. Avoiding problems rather than facing them can make things worse so TAKE ACTION - NOW!

>How Can We Try To Manage Stress?

You can't always prevent stress, but there are lots of things you can do to manage stress better. The NHS suggest the following (click on the links):

• 10 simple stress busters: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/reduce-stress/.

• time-management techniques: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/time-management-tips/.

• mindfulness: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/.

• calming breathing exercises: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/ways-relieve-stress/.

• relaxation and mindfulness apps: https://apps.beta.nhs.uk.

• anxiety control audio guide: https://www.nhs.uk/Video/Pages/anxiety-control-training-podcast.aspx?searchtype=Tag&searchterm=Mental+health__Moodzone&.

>They also suggest the following may help:

• share your problems with family or friends

• make more time for your interests and hobbies

• take a break or holiday

• take some regular exercise and make sure you're eating healthily

• make sure you're getting enough sleep. See tips on better sleep: https://www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/sleep/Pages/sleep-home.aspx

If self-care methods don’t seem to be helping reduce or alleviate the feelings of stress you are experiencing, you may wish to visit your GP and/or seek support from a trained Counsellor.

To find a qualified counsellor, visit the National Counselling Society’s ‘Find a Counsellor’ webpage at: https://www.nationalcounsellingsociety.org/find-counsellor/.

References:

https://www.nopanic.org.uk/stress-awareness-month/.

https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/stress.html.

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/stress/signs-of-stress/#.WsNAAy7waUk.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress/#how-to-tackle-stress.

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