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Stress: What is it, and how to manage it?

What is stress?

All of us will have felt stressed at some point in our lives, but it can often be hard to describe precisely what ‘feeling stressed’ is. For most of us, stress is a feeling that comes about from being under high levels of pressure. It can both cause mental health difficulties and make existing ones worse.

Feeling under pressure occasionally is a normal part of life, and it can help us act in situations where we need to. If you find yourself regularly becoming overwhelmed by stress, though, it could be a problem. When this happens, it’s important to try to address it as soon as you can.

What are some of the signs of stress?

You might first be aware that you feel stressed through physical signs like feeling tired, having a headache, or stomach pain. When we are stressed, it can often cause a vicious cycle, impacting our diet and sleeping patterns and making us feel more stressed and emotionally drained.
Some common signs of stress to look out for include:

  • Feeling anxious or worried
  • A sense of dread
  • Feeling uninterested in what’s going on around you
  • Being unable to enjoy yourself
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Smoking or drinking alcohol more than usual
  • Feeling tearful
  • Snapping at those around you
  • Being unable to concentrate

What causes stress?

Feeling stressed is usually caused by things that are going on in your life. It could be that you are under a lot of pressure, facing new changes, worrying about something, or not having enough work or activities in your life. Sometimes, stress can also be caused when little pressures build-up, making it hard to pinpoint exactly what is making you feel stressed.
Some common causes of stress include:

Personal

  • Long-term health problems
  • Losing a loved one
  • Being pregnant and becoming a new parent
  • Every day tasks
  • Relationships with families, friends, or colleagues
  • Going through a breakup or divorce

Employment or education

  • Being furloughed or losing your job
  • Being unemployed for an extended period
  • Exams or coursework
  • Starting a new job
  • Retiring

Money

  • Worrying about money
  • Being in poverty
  • Being in debt

Five ways to cope with stress

There are several things you can do to help cope with being under pressure. Everyone is different, and what works for some people might not work for you, so only try out what you feel comfortable with.


1) Identify your triggers
Take some time to think about what regularly causes you stress, so you can anticipate problems and try to solve them where you can. You might want to think about:

  • Issues that come up regularly
  • Individuals who are causing you stress
  • One-off events
  • Ongoing stressful events

It can help think about the things that have a practical solution, those that will improve over time, and the things that you can’t do anything to change. If you can, try to focus your attention on the things you can change and let go of those you can’t. 

2) Take control of your time
When we’re feeling stressed, we can often feel overwhelmed with all of the tasks we’re trying to complete. Making some changes to how you spend your time could help you to handle the pressure:

  • Think about what time of day you are most productive, and do the tasks that will take up the most energy in those times
  • Set yourself smaller and more realistic targets
  • Make a list of everything that you have to do, and arrange it in order of importance
  • Take breaks
  • Take things one step at a time

3) Make some lifestyle changes

  • Try some relaxation techniques. If you know a particular activity helps you to relax, make sure you set aside some time for it. Take a look at our mindfulness and relaxation blog for more ideas.
  • Try to get a better sense of balance in your life. Think about what takes up most of your time - you might find that your job, housework, or family responsibilities are taking up most of your energy. Try to focus some of your time on other areas of your life, like doing things you love or seeing friends and family.
  • Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep can make you feel better able to handle any challenges you’re facing. Take a look at our blog on sleep for some tips on how to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet. When we’re stressed, it can be tempting to ‘comfort eat’ and eat food that is bad for us, like chocolate or fatty foods. But what you eat can have a huge impact on your mood, so try to balance it out with nutritious food too.

4) Connect with those around you
Remember, you’re not alone in this. Sometimes just talking to people about how you’re feeling can make a real difference. If you’re feeling stressed at work, speak to your line manager or HR team about what support is available to you. If you’re at university or school, you might want to talk to your tutor or parents about how you’re feeling.

5) Address the causes
It’s important to recognise the things that you can and can’t change. While there are some things you won’t be able to do anything about, there might still be some practical things you can do to resolve or improve some of the issues that are making you feel stressed.

Here are some support organisations and helpful links:

Housing and finances
• [Support service]: Citizen’s Advice

Work
• [Resource]: 5 ways to wellbeing at work from Health in Mind

Family and personal life
• [Substance misuse support services]: Alcoholics Anonymous or Talk to Frank
• [Bereavement support service]: Cruse Bereavement Care


If you need some professional support, you can speak to your doctor. They can help you to access support and appropriate treatment. You can also find details of our support services here.

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