We will have all experienced stress at some point in our lives, sometimes on a daily basis. Stress is a completely natural response to situations, however it can have really harmful impacts if it's not managed and becomes chronic.
The biology of stress:
I will explain this in really brief terms as it's been a while since I learned it all in depth, but there are some links at the end of this section if you'd like to delve deeper into the ins and outs of our bodies response to stress....
Our body notices whether there is a stressor* by taking in the sensory information around us, but also relating the situation to any past events/previous knowledge we may have. Our body then responds to the stressor by releasing hormones to help us react.
*(a stressor is a situation, or anything, that provokes a release of stress hormones).
Evolutionary scientists would talk about the 'fight or flight' response which was an in the moment response to an immediate threat. This is generally related to a short-term stress response where the threat is dealt with quickly and the body doesn't have any long-term impacts from the response.
Nowadays, stress can seem to be part of our everyday lives with modern life being full of stressors and threats. If we get stuck in 'stress mode' our body continues to release these hormones which can cause mental health and physical health implications.
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Different 'types' of stress:
One important thing to remember is stress isn't always bad! Stress can help us out when it is in manageable and small amounts. We can experience good stress, it's a natural response to a challenging, threatening, difficult or even exciting situation.
Acute Stress -
'Good' stress is called acute stress, this is an appropriate reaction to a stressor. This stress is short term, infrequent, and can help us manage the stressor.
Causes for acute stress might be:
Needing to hit a deadline
Getting in a fight
Giving a speech
Acute stress can boost our performance in the moment and motivate us. Once the stress response has done it's magic and got us through the immediate 'danger', 'threat', or situation, the body switches off the response so that we can once again relax and continue on as before.
Another type of good stress can be called "eustress" which is in response to a more positive stressor. Such as:
Going on a roller coaster
Our body would react in the same way as it does when explained in 'acute stress', but this is in response to a more positive or thrilling situation.
Chronic (bad) Stress -
Stress becomes bad when it is chronic, long-term or turns into a disproportionate response. Acute stress can become harmful when our body is having this reaction frequently.
Some believe our stress response hasn't yet evolved to fit modern day life. Back in prehistoric times our body would respond to physical threats caused by life threatening events. Now, we have so many sensory inputs that can be processed as a stressor from emotional stressors, physical stressors, psycho-social, and even spiritual leading to the response being more of a frequent occurrence.
Causes of chronic stress can be in relation to events such as:
Difficult relationships and abusive relationships
Death of a loved one
Long term stress can put significant strain on our bodies which can then impact our physical and mental health.
Symptoms of Stress:
The first step to managing stress is actually knowing and recognising when you're stressed. @mindcharity have a great outline of different emotional, behavioural, and physical symptoms of chronic stress.
Feeling nervous or anxious
A sense of dread
Losing interest in things
Worrying about many things
Not able to make decisions
Picking at skin/biting nails more
Snapping at people
Headaches, light headedness, dizziness.
Being tired all the time
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So, how do I manage stress?
There are many ways to manage stress. Some will work for you and others will not, so it's important to try a few things to see what works.
DIET - Addressing diet may be one way to help with stress. Comfort eating can definitely boost mood in the short term but can cause longer term problems and so finding a healthy diet that suits you can help regulate your mood in the long run.
EXERCISE - yes, I know this is another 'treatment' like diet that gets thrown around a lot, but having an exercise routine can be beneficial. Even going for a 10 minute walk has been shown to improve health and mindset too.
MINDFULNESS - practicing mindfulness can help keep your mind in the present and to disengage with some worries. There are many mindfulness techniques, so if one doesn't work for you try having a look at a different technique.
YOGA/MEDITATION - these practices focus on breathing and control of the body and mind. It can help build up a resilience to stress and block out stressors around you.
THERAPY/TALKING - speaking to someone about what's going on and having your own safe space to explore this can be useful. There are many types of therapy around so you don't have to settle for something that doesn't suit you.
SLEEP HYGIENE - try to get a routine in place for sleep. Find ways to switch off before bed and unplug from the wider world.
ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES - why not try acupuncture or a massage to ease away the physical tension.
SELF CARE - make time for yourself! Whether this is through any, all, or some of the above, or things like a hot bath, a long walk, talking to a friend, playing with a pet, watching your favourite TV show, having a sing-a-long to some music etc.
As mentioned, it may be that only a few of these work for you, but it's good to try and mix in different ways of managing stress to they can complement each other and keep your well-being in check!
If you feel you're doing all you can and you're still suffering from stress or you can't even think how to start putting this in to place try speaking to your GP to look into options.
*remember these posts are purely for guidance!
Check out the 'Stress Management Societies' website. This site is full of resources looking at ways of managing stress and what to look out for. They even have a stress test that can be used as a gauge of the stresses going on in your life right now along with recommendations - https://www.stress.org.uk/individual-stress-test/
The 'Stress Busting' website is also full of great ideas to manage your stress. It's loaded with unique and wonderful techniques to try out - http://www.stressbusting.co.uk/treatments/
The 'International Stress Management Association' have a great page which lists loads of different organisations that may be able to offer you more information around stress or for seeking help with stress - https://isma.org.uk/isma-useful-organisations
The Guardian have a great article on knowing what your rights are as a worker in the UK when it comes to stress. It covers what you can do to help yourself as well as what you can talk to your employer about - https://www.theguardian.com/careers/careers-blog/dealing-with-workplace-stress-your-legal-rights
'Helpguide' has a really in depth page around stress management and what you can do yourself. It includes some reflective questions, ways to identify the areas of stress in your life, and how to move forward with them -https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm