Stress: how can I regain control?

Posted 17 December 2018 in Men's Health, Womens health

A stressed lady with her head in her handsThe festive season is well underway, but it can often be overlooked that the financial, social and emotional pressures associated with this time of year can be a major source of stress. So now is the perfect time to consider the ways in which we can aim to reduce the impact of stress on our day to day lives.

What is stress? 

Stress is a physical response to a challenging or threatening situation, initiated by an increase in ‘fight or flight’ hormone adrenaline. It is characterised by an increase in heart rate and breathing rate, sweating and tensing of the muscles. Once the situation is overcome, the body can quickly return to the usual relaxed state. However, if the difficult situation is long-term, such as financial worries, workplace pressures, family or relationship problems, illness, or bereavement, it can cause chronic stress, which can lead to the development of stress-related symptoms. (1)

What are stress-related symptoms?

Chronic stress can manifest itself in various forms. Emotionally, it can make you feel overwhelmed and helpless. You may find you have a short fuse and snap at people easily. Your confidence in yourself and your abilities may drop, and you may feel anxious and uncertain about the future. (1)

Stress can make it difficult to concentrate on tasks, with fleeting thoughts constantly popping up in your mind. You may worry excessively, and sometimes irrationally. Decision making can become very daunting as you over-analyse each option and its outcome. (1)

Physically, you may experience frequent headaches, feel tired and/or dizzy, have trouble sleeping and develop muscle pain as a result of constant tensing. Stress can also affect our diet – some people find they feel less hungry or forget to eat, meaning they don’t eat enough; others find they turn to food for comfort and eat too much. Other unhealthy behaviours that may be adopted during times of stress include heavy drinking, smoking and recreational drug use. (1)

How can I beat stress?

It’s often not possible to completely remove the factor that is causing stress from your life – at least not immediately. Therefore it’s important to try to find coping mechanisms to reduce the impact stress has on your health and wellbeing. If chronic stress is not tackled, it could lead to mental illnesses including anxiety and depression, and changes in diet could lead to poor physical health – undereating potentially leading to being underweight, deficiencies and muscle wastage, and overeating to being overweight or obese, with associated problems such as raised blood pressure and cholesterol and increased risk of diabetes. (1, 2)

Talk to someone about your stress

Talking to people close to you about the causes of your stress can not only help you to feel less alone in your struggles, but to gain a different insight and receive advice which could help to solve problem(s). Spending quality time with friends and family can help you to wind down and focus on enjoying the moment. (1, 2)

Alternatively, you can speak to your GP, or there are a number of organisations which have helplines available to offer advice and support, often 24 hours a day, including SupportLine and AnxietyUK. (1, 2)

Look after number one

Many people find work begins to become the centre of their life, or they strive to look after others whilst neglecting their own needs. Try not to let this happen - make sure you take time to do the things you enjoy. Whether it’s something as simple as setting an hour aside in the evening to do some reading, to going for a family meal, to booking a short break to escape from the stresses of day to day life for a few days. Finding a new hobby can help to refocus your thoughts and renew your sense of purpose. (2)

Get moving

Physical exercise can also help to clear your mind and boost levels of mood-enhancing chemicals (called endorphins) in the brain. Not to mention the clear benefits to your physical health! Find a form of exercise that works for you – whether it be going to the gym, a walk or run, swimming, cycling, attending a dance class, or even gardening! (2)

Offer a helping hand

Doing your good deed for the day can be surprisingly uplifting and increase your resilience. It can be something as small as pointing someone who’s lost in the right direction to donating to a charity of your choice or volunteering for a good cause. (2)

Count your blessings

Remember the positives in your life. It’s easy to take them for granted when something else is really getting you down. At the end of each day, try writing down three things that you enjoyed or that you’re grateful for. This should help you to put things into perspective and think more rationally. (2)

References

  1. NHS Moodzone. How to deal with stress [cited 10 December 2018]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress/
  2. NHS Moodzone. 10 stress busters [cited 10 December 2018]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/reduce-stress/

Author
Gabby Gallagher MPharm

Medically reviewed by
Superintendent pharmacist Margaret Hudson BSc(Hons)MRPharmS 
17/12/18

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