We all experience stress from time to time, in fact it’s perfectly normal, but stress that overwhelms us and leaves us tense, unable to concentrate or vulnerable to illness, is what we need to look out for and learn how to manage better this Stress Awareness Month.
Stress is a left-over chemical response from the days when our lives literally depended on ‘fight or flight’ to avoid being a tasty meal for some man-eating animal.
And though there is the odd occasion when this instinctive reaction is still useful today (say, those times after hastily stepping out into the road and having to quickly jump back to avoid an oncoming car – this instinctive move is the result of the stress response), it is generally a prehistoric high-alert trait we don’t want hanging around all the time in our day-to-day lives.
Today’s stress triggers can usually be attributed to one of four culprits:
Work, e.g. unemployment, a high workload or retirement
Family, e.g. relationship difficulties, being a carer or divorce
Housing, e.g. moving house or problems with neighbours
Personal issues, e.g. financial problems, serious illness or bereavement.
And while stress, in small bursts, can help us make critical decisions, motivate us to meet daily goals and help us complete tasks more efficiently, too much stress can demotivate and even make us ill.
How do we know if we’re too stressed?
When our bodies are in a state of stress for long periods of time, brain function is minimised, the immune system can be weakened, we can develop high blood pressure, depression, panic, insomnia, chest pains and weight fluctuation – to name but a few.
Plus, the more frequent these bouts of continuous strain are, the further chance we have of developing serious stress-related illnesses such as, heart disease, IBS, strokes, diabetes, alopecia, allergies and more.
If you recognise any symptoms or changes whether emotional, physical or behavioural in yourself or in others, taking action now will help to minimise the risk of these serious illnesses occurring.
Ignoring problems and hoping they will go away is our ‘flight’ response taking over, it’s those times that can cause a build-up of pressure and make circumstances worse – leading to more stress. We can’t always avoid difficult and tense times, but tackling the root causes of upset can help to improve a situation.
Then there are times that we can’t do anything to change a stressful state and instead have to accept this and actively refocus our attention elsewhere.
There are many things you can try at home this Stress Awareness Month to help reduce your stress with everything from time management techniques and mindfulness, calming breathing exercises and hypnosis, to taking up a new hobby and speaking about your problems with friends or family.
However, these don’t always work for everyone and sometimes we need an extra helping hand. Speak to your GP if self-help techniques aren’t working as there is usually another avenue of help to get you back on track and managing your stress better.