Take a deep breath, it's Stress Awareness Month

In today’s climate, the world seems to be built on stress. From family troubles to jobs piling up, upcoming exams to finances, illnesses and general living! It is important to raise awareness of the negative impacts of stress, and how we can all control it to improve our overall health and wellbeing. Without recognising stress, it can consume us and develop into more severe health issues.

What is stress?

Stress is a natural response that everyone experiences on a day-to-day basis. It is our body’s response to pressures from challenging situations in life. It can be a feeling of being overwhelmed, under pressure, and panic.

There are three main types of stress:

Acute

This is the most commonly experienced stress. It often comes on suddenly and is usually short-term. For example, giving a presentation at work or sitting an exam.

Episodic

Episodic stress is a more frequent form of stress that people will experience if they are overwhelmed with constant responsibilities. Their minds never switch off. This is common with parents and people with busy jobs.

Chronic

When someone is exposed to stressors (an event or situation that causes stress) too frequently, the stress can become chronic, meaning it begins to take over your life. People living with financial difficulties, bullying, or are unhappy with their jobs, will experience chronic stress.

lady looking stressed working on laptop

Distress Vs Eustress

Stress is a natural response, we experience it for a reason, and it keeps us alert. Eustress is a type of stress that is ‘healthy’. It’s a coping mechanism that keeps us motivated. We can be stressed and excited at the same time, for example, when you’re packing for a holiday, or about to begin your dream job. This is usually acute stress and can be easily managed.

Distress is the bad kind of stress and causes general unhappiness. This is the stress that can lead to panic and panic attacks, this is the stress that we need to keep under control otherwise it’ll cause more damage.

Woman struggling with a migraine

What does stress do to your body?

Stress, especially chronic stress, can damage you both physically and mentally, which in turn can lead us to stressing even more, beginning a nasty, stressful cycle.

Physical symptoms of stress include losing or gaining weight (a common coping mechanism is ‘stress eating’), migraines, problems with your digestive system (constipation or diarrhea) and issues with your reproductive system - pregnant women who experience too much stress can also risk damaging their baby. It can also lead to an increased risk of a heart attack, stroke, or hypertension.

You can book an appointment at your local pharmacy to have your blood pressure measured here.

Mental symptoms of stress include an increased risk of depression and anxiety. In extreme cases, stress can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In most cases, stress is just part of life and will come and go. Not stressing enough can actually lead to similar health issues and stressing too much, so it’s good to find the right balance.

How to control stress

 

Get outside

Leaving the house and getting some fresh air is incredibly important for both your physical and mental health. Spending just five minutes out in nature can improve your mood.

Related Article: Mental health & coping mechanisms

Stay off social media

Social media has a lot of benefits, but it’s also very easy to be exposed to bad news and negativity which can stress you out. Limiting how long you stay on social media will mean that you are less likely to get consumed by the negativity.

Man on a hike for his mental health

Reduce alcohol and caffeine

Going out for a drink with friends now and then is a great way to let loose and have fun, however overdoing it can lead to a high feeling of stress (or ‘hangxiety’). If you are already stressed, consuming alcohol can increase that feeling. It’s also important to balance your caffeine intake, as it can affect your sleep and blood pressure, leading to a risk of insomnia, hypertension, and anxiety.

Also read: Food to avoid with high blood pressure

Get enough sleep

The average adult should have between seven and eight hours of sleep. Making sure that your body is well-rested is crucial for your nervous system and overall well-being. You’ll be more likely to function and process stressful situations if you’re recharged and ready to take on the day.

Man sleeping to recharge and help his well-being

Take a break

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is take your mind off the stress and take a break. Of course, this is dependent on your situation, don’t run away from all of your problems! But, if what’s stressing you out can wait, it can wait. Going away for a weekend and stepping away from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life not only means you can relax for a while, but it also means you’ll have a fresh look at your stressful situation when you return.

Speak to your pharmacist

If you feel you are stressed most of the time, speaking to your local pharmacist can be incredibly beneficial as they’ll provide professional healthcare advice and possible products you can use to relieve stress.

Lady reading on the sofa for her mental health

Useful resources

Below are some resources you can use if you are looking for extra advice on dealing with stress:

British Heart Foundation: Dealing with Stress

NHS: Tips to reduce stress

Mind: What is stress