What is stress?

Stress is your body’s natural response to feeling threatened. It’s an instinctive reaction that millions of years ago would have been very helpful to our survival as a species. The threat of predators to early humans was very real and stress indicators in the body alerted our ancestors to take action in order to stay alive.

This may have presented as getting ready to fight a wild animal, or to attempt to get away, or even to freeze to minimise harm. These reactions are typically known as fightflightfreeze responses.

Of course, in the modern world, the threat from wild animals (for most of us) is not hugely common, but the stress indicators in our body still work in the same way.

Stress releases a concoction of chemicals into the body such as adrenaline and cortisol and lots of other things that may cause those familiar physical symptoms, such as, a pounding heart, sweaty palms and faster breathing.

These are the kinds of responses which cause us to take action when we feel under attack – whether this is real or perceived.

Causes of stress

A little stress from time to time can help to motivate us and isn’t such a bad thing (eg. meeting deadlines, getting to places on time, finishing that presentation or preparing for an exam) but when the stress becomes overwhelming it can be pretty problematic.

Perhaps you are feeling stressed about your job security, working from home, not working at all, how to pay bills this month, managing family life, children, health, relationships, worrying about the pandemic and seeing people you love? Or maybe a combination of those things? Either way, stress can become really overwhelming and you are definitely not alone if you are feeling this way. In many ways, the pandemic has thrown us all a few extra stressful plates to spin.

Signs of stress

When we feel stressed, it can start to take its toll on our whole body. Here’s just some of the indicators to look out for:

  • Memory issues/brain fog
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of focus (starting things and not being able to finish)
  • Changes in your mood
  • Lack of motivation
  • Fatigue
  • Changes to your appetite
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, increased heart rate
  • Changes to your sleep pattern

‘I normally have no trouble sleeping but I’ve not seen my mum for months because of COVID and the thought of her being alone for Christmas is keeping me awake at night’ ~ Hana

How to manage stress

Because we understand that feeling stressed can have such an impact on your life, here’s a few things you might find useful:

  • Don’t take too much on – It can sometimes feel easier to get everything done yourself but this can become overwhelming. Of course sometimes it can feel like we have no choice. But if you do have a choice, think carefully about what feels manageable for you.
  • Take breaks – Breaks are so important, so whether you can take 10 minutes to grab a cuppa at work, or you’re a parent that needs to put on some cartoons for your child so you can BOTH zone out for a while (let’s face it, we’ve all done this), or you take an extra long bath by yourself in the evening, you deserve and NEED those breaks.
  • Organise your time – Sometimes timetabling or making to-do lists can help you prioritise and reduce any increased overwhelm.
  • Ask for help – Often we feel like we have to do everything ourselves so if it feels right and it’s something you are able to do, asking for help can reduce your load as well as your stress levels.
  • Make some time for you – Taking time to do something you enjoy. Chat with a friend, read a book, watch your favourite TV programme, or even sit and do nothing for a while. This can help you to relax and recharge .
  • Practice good sleep hygiene – A good night’s sleep can help prepare you for the day. A good tip is to turn off any technology (eg. laptop, phone or TV) at least half an hour before bed. This is because the lights on screens can activate the brain, which isn’t helpful when you’re trying to switch off.
  • Get your body moving – moving your body is a great stress reliever and can also help to boost your mood. What you do depends on what you feel is manageable – this could be anything from some gentle stretches, a walk around the block, or even dancing in your living room if the mood takes you! Please remember to only take part in physical activity if it feels right and you feel able to.
  • Avoiding or cutting down on possible stress increasing stimulants – these may include caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Many people use these to manage stress at times but actually, as stimulants (products that increase activity in the body), they can actually increase your stress levels.

For further help and information, try our podcasts:

Getting Grounded: The importance of taking a moment (listen on Apple Music or Spotify)

By Gemma Campbell