Why understanding stress is a positive thing
Ever feeling stressed but you’re not sure why? Sometimes we can get bogged down in trying to juggle family life, our careers, and social lives and often, the causes of stress and the signs of stress aren’t so clear to us at first. However, stress can inevitably become part of everyday life so it’s time to take a step back, re-evaluate our priorities and listen to our body.
We’ve put together this guide on the different types of stress, the affects you may feel from stress and how best to deal with them.
What is Stress?
To put it simply, stress is the body’s natural defense against a challenging situation. Whether it’s a work deadline, moving to a new home, family stresses or even something small such as a traffic jam, our body goes through a hormonal change when feeling under pressure. Your body then reacts through physical means such as a heavy feeling in your chest, headaches and sometimes shortness of breath. Stress can also contribute towards feelings of depression and anxiety1. If you do experience any of these symptoms or are worried it always good to check in with your doctor. So, it’s learning how to manage stress that enables you to move forward with your life and not let it get the better of you.
Types of Stress
Different types of stress can be highlighted through several physical and emotional factors in almost any setting. This is why, the feeling of being stressed may affect your overall health & wellbeing. The modern world means we talk about “stress” a lot, but it comes in all shapes and sizes so it’s important to break it down and understand what we may be feeling.
1) Physical Stress
Injuries or ill health can have a huge impact on how you feel day to day and increase feelings of stress. Try using mindfulness practices to recentre yourself. Being kind to your body when it’s been through something tough is so important.
2) Emotional Stress
Emotional stress can come in many forms. Often, when we are going through periods of change or uncertainty, we can begin to overthink which can in turn create feelings of worry, fear, anger, and sadness2. One of the best things you can do when facing emotional stress, is to try and take some time out for yourself to relax. Read a book, enjoy a soothing bath, take a walk in the fresh air, or light a scented candle.
3) Work Stress
Work can be a great source of stress, for many reasons. Maybe you’re stuck in a profession you don’t particularly enjoy, feel like you’re being overworked or are experiencing conflict with a co-worker. When it comes down to it, we spend one third of our lives at work3 and with our colleagues so it’s important to try and find a suitable work-life balance and a way to manage these problems. Try talking to someone you feel you can confide in; your HR department is often the best place to start.
4) Life Stress
Life’s big milestones are often unexpected: the death of a loved one, divorce, moving house, job losses or illness can all be classified as life’s biggest stressors4. While in some cases, we can never be prepared for these moments we can take note of some helpful measures to alleviate the symptoms of stress. An example of this, can be mindfulness activities which will help you stay grounded and engage in the moment rather than listening to your body’s signs of stress. Another way is by surrounding yourself with your loved ones. Simply being around positive people in general can help reduce sadness and any negative thoughts you may be feeling.
Effects of Stress
Stress can look different on every person and can mean different things to different people, there are many physical and emotional signs of a person being stressed. While our bodies are designed to handle small amounts of stress, it’s rare for our bodies to handle more long-term problems without any chronic symptoms or ill consequences. Stress can affect your emotions, behaviour, ability to think clearly and mental health. It can cause low energy, headaches, bowel problems, and tension in your muscles. You may also find you struggle sleeping, may become more unwell with things like a common cold, and experience some cognitive problems such as the inability to switch off from racing thoughts, being pessimistic and constant worrying. If you are concerned about your symptoms or they persist it is best to have a chat with your doctor too.
Dealing with Stress
Now we’ve understood the impact of stress on our lives, it’s important to educate ourselves around stress management. There are a number of physical things we can do to be kinder to ourselves and our bodies, helping ease the mental load and the pressure of a potentially stressful situation throughout the day.
- Breathing techniques are a great place to start. Simply take a few minutes out of your day to take a few deep breaths. Try listening to your breathing to make this a more mindful practice, which will help recentre yourself and allow your thoughts to be present in the moment.
- Regular exercise paired with natural sunlight exposure can do wonders for our mental and physical health. Try and set aside 30 minutes each day to go for a walk in the fresh air.
- What you put into your body, will impact what you get out of it too. So, it’s important to maintain good nutrition habits to keep everything in working order. Making sure you get your 5 a day of fruit & veg is a good place to start.
- Getting a good night’s sleep will impact how you’re feeling as well as productivity levels throughout the day. Make sure you switch off your phone before bed and engage in a relaxing activity to wind your body down before sleep.
- Simply just talking to a loved one, colleague or friend can help take the pressure off when experiencing a stressful situation. As the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved.
- Lastly, setting some “you time” can be extremely helpful when dealing with stress. Whether it’s your favourite hobby, watching your favourite TV show or eating your favourite meal. Looking after ourselves is paramount.
While all of these quick wins are readily available, the NHS5 also have a number of resources to help with managing stress, such as peer support, guided time-management and breathing techniques and free mental wellbeing audio guides. Stress is a part of life that we can’t get rid of, but what matters most is how you handle it. Seeking out healthy ways to manage the feelings of stress can help us avoid the risk of developing further health complications.