Stress and anxiety are a part of life. How you deal with them can make a massive difference to tackling life’s challenges and making the most of every day.
The stress response is essential for our wellbeing. It’s our body’s way of preparing to fight or flee danger, passed down from our distant ancestors.
But now, instead of being chased by a woolly mammoth, our ‘threat’ is something like a work deadline. And stress is a physical and emotional reaction to feeling unable to cope with it.
If you feel you may have stress
We all react to stress in different ways. You may have become so accustomed to feeling a certain way that you don’t even realise it’s linked to being stressed.
Some symptoms include:
Coping with stress starts with understanding your triggers, the parts of your life that cause you to feel the symptoms of stress.
Money keeps many of us awake at night. When bills mount up, it’s tempting to try and ignore the problem. But that may only make things worse.
Prioritising your bills will make you feel more in control. Plan a realistic budget. If you’re having problem paying bills, talk to the companies concerned. You might be surprised to discover how they can help you out. And the Citizen’s Advice Bureau have people trained to help.
Every job has pressures and responsibilities that can lead to feelings of stress, or finding it hard to cope and do your job well.
Start by taking the time to think about which aspects of your job seem to be the most stressful. For example, if you find time management challenging, try to write down your day’s tasks and do a difficult one first. You may feel a lot better about the rest of them.
Some family stress is almost inevitable. The best advice is not to bottle things up. The brief stress of resolving a problem is much better than the lasting stress of a dispute that goes on and on beneath the surface.
When you find yourself dwelling on a stressful situation, try instead to focus on a time when you were more relaxed and happy.
When life is causing you stress, it can be hard to see things in a balanced way. If you can, walk away from the situation, take ten minutes to get some fresh air and help put things in perspective.
The fear of being late is a common cause of stress. When you know you have a place to be, plan ahead to be good and ready and leave earlier if you can.
Your diet can have a huge effect on the way you feel. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet (but you can still have some feel-good treats). For more advice of health eating, visit nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/the-eatwell-guide.aspx
All kinds of exercise are good for stress, to take your mind off your problems and make you feel better. You don’t need a gym membership – hop on a bike, swim, go for walks ... every little helps.
When you have general feelings of apprehension and worry without a particular trigger or cause – or once the original source of stress has passed or disappeared - that’s probably anxiety. Although it can sometimes be easy to confuse the symptoms with the hectic pace of modern life, long term anxiety can have a big effect on your life and can result in a feeling of being uncertain and ‘out of balance’.
If you feel you may have anxiety
Symptoms can be both psychological and physical, and may encompass one or a number of symptoms.
Some symptoms include:
It’s difficult to make anxiety just ‘go away’, but there are lots of things you can do to cope with it, feel better and get on with life.
Avoid caffeine, which can raise your heart rate and make you feel more anxious. Smoking and alcohol have also been shown to make anxiety worse.
Anxiety UK is a registered charity that can provide support and help if you’ve been diagnosed with, or you suspect you may have, an anxiety condition. http://www.anxietyuk.org.uk. Mind, the mental health charity, provides advice and support to help empower anyone experiencing mental health problems, including anxiety. http://www.mind.org.uk
Physical exercise can certainly help to reduce tension, stress and mental fatigue. You don’t need to join a gym or sports team; simply walking instead of taking the bus, or taking the stairs instead of the lift, can make a difference.
Activities like yoga and pilates can help you stay both calmer and more energised, and keep your mind focused.
Anxious feelings can make you feel short of breath. So try taking a few deep breaths, breathing out slowly. Studies show that practising a breathing technique can stimulate the part of the nervous system responsible for relaxation.
Mindfulness – the practice of being present in the moment and noticing our feelings, body, thoughts, and environment – has been found to improve mental wellbeing. Visit NHS Choices for an introduction to Mindfulness. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/pages/mindfulness.aspx
Sharing your feelings with a trusted family member or friend can make them seem less daunting. You can also turn to anxiety support groups for advice in times of need. https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/our-services/self-help-groups/
Try taking time at the end of each day to write down how you feel. Offloading thoughts in this way can help slow down your thinking and clear your mind.
However you feel today, you may not feel the same way tomorrow. Sometimes, thinking too far ahead can amplify your worries. Take each day as it comes and focus on the here and now as much as possible.
Self-care is really important. Be kind to yourself, try to take time away from what is making you feel anxious. If it is not one thing in particular find an enjoyable activity to get absorbed in. Watching a film, go for a walk, go for dinner with friends, listen to your favourite music, book yourself a massage… whatever makes you happy.
If you are feeling tired or have not had as much sleep as usual, try and go to bed earlier to relax and recharge your mind and body.
Fuel your body with vibrant, colourful, fresh food as much as possible. It’s amazing how feeling more energised and alert can lift your mood.
It really is better to say no to someone than to promise something that you can’t deliver or will be unhappy doing. Just be honest; people will understand.
*These tips are for feelings of mild anxiety. For severe anxiety symptoms or those lasting over two weeks, talk to your GP for further guidance.
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