Contrary to popular belief—stress in itself is not a mental health problem. We all need a certain level of stress in our lives to help us function. Without any pressure or a slight feeling of anxiety it is hard to learn a new skill or be open to change or personal / professional development. In fact some people who have too little to do become introspective and may complain of low mood or feeling depressed. Anyone who has ever had time on their hands—for whatever reason will understand this feeling.
What needs to concern us is too much ongoing long term stress or chronic stress/pressure in our lives. Incidentally the word Stress comes from the field of physics:
“Stress — hardship or strain, a constraining influence of physical, emotional or mental pressure—a system of forces applied to a body”
The Chambers Dictionary definition
Too much ongoing and relentless stress could start to seriously affect how we think, function and could lead to feelings of depression, panic or anxiety. We can also get used to it and some people seem to “thrive” on stress so that working too hard or having lots of dramas can become quite addictive and for the short term and when we are young can be manageable but the long term side effects of chronic stress are not healthy.
Many issues in our lives can be affected—and the impact of too much adrenaline and cortisone (the powerful hormones fired up by flight or fight reactions) can lead to physical as well as emotional health problems. We then have to find ways to combat this and sometimes people manage this by an over dependence on other substances such as alcohol, caffeine or other drugs.
Physical health problems from chronic stress might include for example: gastro digestive problems, weight gain or loss, headaches, insomnia, back pain, high blood pressure and heart & stroke disorders. Emotional problems might include irritability, addictions. anxiety, depression which might lead to family and relationship problems as our behaviour under stress may impact on those around us.
I guess we all need to work if we can and work can be absorbing, distracting and of course enjoyable! But over working or working to the extent we neglect ourselves, our health and our relationships is not a good experience. Equally being in the wrong job where are bored, over worked or simply “don’t fit” can cause stress. We might have “grown out” of a role we used to enjoy or are trying to force ourselves to do work we think we “ought” to do rather than actually want to. What we used to enjoy doing in our twenties might not be what we want to do later on in life, so we might need to be adaptable, resilient and look for a different job or career as we age or our personal circumstances change.
Some people describe major “turn arounds” in their lives where they might for example give up being a city lawyer and move away to the country and set up a small business doing something completely different! It takes insight, bravery and initiative to do such things and the support of others, family. friends or a coach is vital to success. Equally being in a role where we feel “bullied” or have little control or chances to “get on” might lead to stress and a decision to change—again a coach or a counsellor might assist here.
Step 1 — you need to recognise that you are stressed. What symptoms do you have? Then sit down and think—what is causing it? or you might have known for a long time what is causing it but have now decided to change your circumstances, or you approach to this problem.
Step 2 — What choices do you have? Explore what you could do to help yourself and who can help you with this? Once you have made a decision to do something differently it’s amazing who is out there who can help you.
Step 3 — Who can help? Seeing your G.P. is free and then can discuss various medical options with you, taking time off work or they might refer you to free NHS services for some counselling or support. You could search online for charities or councils that offer free support with various issues like coping with addictions or with personal well – being.
Step 4 — if you have an income you might consider buying in some private counselling or coaching to help support you, and guide you through a process of change and self development either personally or in your career.
All of the following are known to help reduce stress and help your body produce more healthy and calming natural substances that make you feel better and calmer. Some people enjoy exercise, music, hobbies, pets, talking to friends, dancing—even walking outside in the fresh air in a park or by the sea as much as you can is helpful. Walking or running is therapeutic, rhythmic and can take us out (literally) from our environment where we feel stressed.
You need to choose to do something you like doing and do it regularly for it to make a difference. Holidays and breaks away can help too—but only if you really get away by not taking the laptop, the phone or the person causing you the stress with you! Even small practical changes—like better time management can help—where you allow or find yourself some space and time to do something you like, for you and you alone.
All of the above originate from ancient practices and beliefs and can benefit you with learning to calm down and recognise the importance of living in the present. In fact mindfulness has recently been recognised as helping people with serious illnesses cope with their lives better and even helped people with managing hearing voices, which is a distressing experience.
Various martial arts (such as Tai Chi) and yoga classes can be beneficial as they incorporate meditative activities and may help you calm down and re-assess what is happening in your hectic life! Equally you might like to consider alternatives to traditional medicine such as acupuncture or herbal medicine.
Wendy Budd, Medical Herbalist buddsherbalmedicine.co.uk
Christian Lopez, Tai Chi Instructor and Massage firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Morton, Naturopathic Medical Herbalist salixhealthandwellbeing.com Portsmouth Yoga portsmouthyoga.co.uk