A guide to understanding stress and ways to manage it

What is stress?

The body responds to an emergency situation or threat by producing adrenaline, which prepares the body to flight or fight. This is a stress reaction – it is normal and natural. Although usually we do not have to fight for our lives, other everyday events, situations or stressors can cause a stress reaction. 

These stressors may be different for each person and may even vary for an individual from time to time. 

Stress is not a diagnosed medical illness. The symptoms of stress, which vary depending on the individual, can be physically and mentally debilitating. It is a reaction that people suffer when the pressures upon them exceed their ability to cope. 

If stress isn’t managed well it could lead to an escalation of symptoms and the development of a diagnosed mental health condition, such as anxiety and depression. 

Stress vs pressure

Situations or events beyond our control may be particularly stressful. However stress is not always a negative response – some people thrive on adrenaline and take up dangerous sports or demanding jobs. 

Everyone is different. 

There’s no doubt that resilience, the ability not only to survive but thrive under pressure, is a key ingredient for success. 

Challenging situations can only become stressful if we interpret them as stressful. Threat or thrill? Excitement or fear? Stress or pressure? It can often be a choice (Source: Lane4) 

Stress and pressure are two different things. We need pressure to enable us to function and perform well. When demands are high and possibly unreasonable, we may not feel we can adequately respond to these expectations.  

We may feel out of control and overwhelmed. This is when we tend to experience stress responses. This may happen over a long period of time or in short bursts. Excessive levels of stress have been shown to lead to burnout, a state of complete mental and physical exhaustion. 

Tips for managing stress

  • Talk about your feelings – opening up to those around you and feeling listened to can help you feel more supported. 
  • Keep active – it improves your confidence and helps to keep you healthy. 
  • Eat well – your brain needs a balance of nutrients to function, so a diet that is good for your physical health is likely to be good for your mental health as well. 
  • Drink sensibly – some people use alcohol to improve their mood but the effect is only temporary, so keep within the recommended limits of 14 units per week. 
  • Keep in touch – strong family relationships and good friends all help you deal with the stressors of life. 
  • Take a break – plan something to look forward to because a change of scene and pace is good for your mental health. 
  • Do something you are good at – rediscover hobbies or take up something new. It will help improve your self-esteem. 
  • Accept who you are, as we are all different - it is much healthier to accept that you are unique than to wish you were more like someone else. 
  • Care for others – consider volunteer work as being needed helps us value ourselves. 
  • Ask for help 

If you’re struggling with your mental health, it’s important you seek some help from your GP. If it’s affecting your ability to work, speak to your manager to see if a referral to Occupational Health is appropriate. You can contact our EAP for free and confidential support 24/7, 365 days a year. 

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