Firstly, let’s debunk one myth: stress is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. Without this brilliant ability to feel stress, humankind would not have survived. Our cavemen ancestors, for example, used the onset of stress to alert them to a potential danger, such as a sabre-toothed tiger.
What is stress?
Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.
The challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations. When blood flow is going only to the most important muscles needed to fight or flee, brain function is minimised. This can lead to an inability to ‘think straight’; a state that is a great hindrance in both our work and home lives.
One of the difficulties with stress is that people experience stress in different ways. This contributes to stress manifesting itself differently. So, it would be wrong to over generalise when giving advice on how to identify stress in others. However, what we can say is that because stress has negative effects, it will usually manifest itself one way or another.
Signs and symptoms
Stress targets the weakest part of our physiology or character; if you are prone to headaches or eczema, these will flare up. If you have low levels of patience or tolerance for others, this will be the first area to present under times of stress.
Stress isn’t avoidable but it is manageable. A key step to minimise risk is to identify stress-related problems as early as possible, so that action can be taken before serious stress-related illness occurs.
- Poor judgement
- Inability to concentrate
- ‘Brain Fog’
- Starting many tasks but achieving little
- Fatalistic thinking
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Rapid heartbeat
- Aches and pains
- Frequent colds
- Skin complaints
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Isolating yourself from others
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Loss of sense of humour
- Increased intake in alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine to relax
Managing and coping with stress
Recognising stress and its causes and taking steps to look after your wellbeing can help you deal with pressure, and reduce the impact that stress has on your life. This is sometimes called developing emotional resilience – the ability to adapt and bounce back when something difficult happens in your life.
If you feel that stress is starting to affect your physical and mental health, there are lots of ways you can help yourself and access support. The most crucial thing you can do when you are stressed or anxious is to make sure you are continuing to look after yourself. Make time to relax when you need to and learn to say no to requests that are too much for you.
If you need support and your employer offers Vivup’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) it is available 24/7, 365 days a year and here to help you. The 24-hour telephone helpline is responsive, confidential, and totally independent, acting as an invaluable support for advice and short-term low intensity help. To find out more about the resources available to you, visit vivup.co.uk