April is Stress awareness Month, and it aims to increase public awareness about the causes of stress and how to help combat it in this hassled, modern-day life.
Stress affects everyone. We all understand what it is to feel stressed – that feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope. It affects people differently and some are more affected than others, but have you ever considered that stress may be harming your well-being and mental
Being under pressure is (unfortunately) a part of modern life. Sometimes, a little stress can be good for us, it motivates us to manage high-pressure situations, such as speaking in public. However, when stress becomes unmanageable, it starts to affect your daily life and other problems can begin to arise.
What is stress?
Many things can make a person feel stressed. Whether that is buying a new house, going for a job interview, or running late for work. Stress is caused by something unexpected, threatening or an experience which is out of your control.
Stress is our body’s response to pressure from these experiences. The ‘fight or flight’ response is triggered, producing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These increase your heart rate, and you breathe faster so more oxygen can get to your muscles. This is your body getting ready to deal with a possible threat.
However, if stress becomes long-term, it can cause serious problems. When the stress response is activated repeatedly, your body will be in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’ and may struggle to return to its normal state. This can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to cope.
How does stress affect mental health?
Long term stress can increase the risk of developing depression and anxiety. Research has shown that when stress occurs, neurotransmitters (chemicals which send signals between nerve cells) are released. From this, stress hormones are released, which affect areas of the brain for regulating emotions. Repetition of this process affects how well these systems can cope.
Being unable to cope with the feeling of overwhelm may cause mental health problems or make existing problems worse. You may find that coping with your day-to-day symptoms of a mental health problem is intensified by stress, which only adds more stress!
Mental effects of stress
Everyone reacts to stress differently and it affects us in different ways. Here are some of the mental and emotional effects caused by stress:
- feeling overwhelmed
- being irritable or easily angered
- lacking self-esteem
- feeling constantly worried or scared
- finding it difficult to concentrate
- feeling more sensitive and emotional
- lacking an appetite
- experiencing mood swings
- avoiding certain people or situations
How to reduce stress
- Engaging in activities that support self-care may help reduce stress and anxiety. These can include
- exercise and mindfulness practices such as:
- Deep breathing
- Going for a walk
- Healthy diet
- Leisure activities
- Positive self-talk
- Evaluating priorities
- Social support
Although there are many ways to reduce stress on your own, its important to get help when you need it. If you’re experiencing overwhelming stress or symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, consider making an appointment with your GP or local Pharmacist to discuss ways to improve your mental health.
You can also find ways to beat stress on the NHS website: https://bit.ly/3LqadnH.