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Stress Awareness

What is stress?

Stress has been defined by Mental Health UK as ‘the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure’. Stress is not a mental health problem, but it is linked to your mental health as it can lead to mental health problems and make existing problems worse.

What causes stress?

Many different situations or life events can cause stress. It is often triggered when we experience something new, unexpected or that threatens our sense of self, or when we feel we have little control over a situation. When we encounter stress, our body produces stress hormones that trigger a fight or flight response and activate our immune system. This helps us respond quickly to dangerous situations.

Sometimes, this stress response can be useful as it can help us push through fear or pain during a stressful event however, our stress hormones will usually go back to normal quickly thereafter with no lasting effects.

However, too much stress can cause negative effects. It can leave us in a permanent stage of fight or flight, leaving us overwhelmed or unable to cope. Long term, this can affect our physical and mental health

What are common impacts of stress?

Common feelings

If you are experiencing stress, you may feel:

  • Irritable

  • Nervous

  • Feel exhausted

  • Have low motivation

  • Have racing thoughts

  • Feel neglected or lonely


Physical signs

There are lots of physical signs of stress. The most common ones include:

  • Sweating

  • Chest pains

  • Feeling sick

  • Headaches

  • Sleep problems

  • Some people may experience panic attacks


Common behaviours

If you are experiencing stress, you might:

  • Struggle to make decisions

  • Find it hard to remember things

  • Feel restless or fidgety

  • Find it hard to concentrate

  • Cry or feel tearful

  • Grind your teeth

  • Eat too much or too little

How can you help yourself?

If you are feeling stressed, there are some things you can try to feel less tense and overwhelmed.

1. Recognise when stress is a problem

  • It’s important to connect the physical and emotional signs you’re experiencing to the pressures that you are facing. Think about what is causing you stress and make a plan to address the things that you can. This might involve setting yourself realistic expectations and prioritising essential commitments. If you feel overwhelmed, ask for help and say no to things you can’t take on.

2. Think about where you can make changes

Are you taking on too much? Could you hand over some things to someone else? Can you do things in a different way?

You may need to prioritise things and reorganise your life so you’re not trying to do everything at once.

3. Build supportive relationships

Find close friends or family who can offer help and practical advice who can support you in managing stress.

Joining a club or a course can help to expand your social network and encourage you to do something different and can have a beneficial impact on your mood. 

4. Eat healthily

A healthy diet can improve your mood.

Getting enough nutrients (including essential vitamins and minerals) and water can help your mental wellbeing.

5. Be aware of your smoking and drinking

Cut down or cut out smoking and drinking if you can.

may seem to reduce tension but actually, make problems worse. Alcohol and caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety.

6. Get some exercise

Physical exercise can help manage the effects of stress by producing endorphins that boost your mood.

It can be hard to motivate yourself if you're stressed, but even a short activity such as a walk can make a difference and help to clear your mind.

7. Take time out

Take time to relax and practice self-care, where you do positive things for yourself.

Striking a balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself is vital in reducing stress levels.

8. Be mindful

Mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises can be practiced anywhere at any time.

Research has suggested it can be helpful for managing and reducing the effect of stress and anxiety.

9. Get some restful sleep

If you’re having difficulty sleeping, you can try to reduce the amount of caffeine you consume and avoid too much screen time before bed.

Write down a to do list for the next day to help you prioritise, but make sure you put it aside before bed.

10. Be kind to yourself

Try to keep things in perspective and don't be too hard on yourself.

Look for things in your life that are positive and write down things that make you feel grateful.

11.Get professional help

If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

It is important to get help as soon as possible so you can start to feel better. Talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling. They should be able to advise you on treatment and may refer you for further help.

This information, more and additional supports can be found through the following mental health websites:

👉 Mental Health Foundation UK

👉 Mind