A recent study by the Stress Management Society found that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the Covid-19 restrictions began due to feelings of disconnection, uncertainty and loss of control. Throughout April the Society will be focussing on these three areas of concern as part of their annual Stress Awareness Month.
Stress is the body’s instinctive reaction to something it perceives as a threat or likely to cause harm. It is a hormonal process that is designed to induce a fight or flight response; an innate survival mechanism that can be seen throughout the natural world. This can manifest itself physically, causing the heart to beat faster, breathing to quicken and muscles to tense. Once the stressor is removed these effects begin to recede.
In some circumstances this response can be immensely helpful, by pushing us to tackle difficult challenges, step outside of our comfort zone, or avoid dangerous situations. In others, where the trigger is such that it prolongs the stress response, it can cause serious long-term mental and physical health issues.
Being overwhelmed by a situation and feeling as if you have no control is usually the catalyst for stress and there are lots of things that can be a trigger. Illness, divorce, money worries, difficulties at work or job loss, bereavement, and now the threat caused by the pandemic, are some of the most common causes. Stress can elicit physical symptoms such as headaches, high blood pressure and panic attacks, and can cause you to feel emotionally distressed, irritable or afraid. Stress can be all-consuming and, if left unmanaged, can develop into depression or anxiety and even lead to cardiovascular disease or stomach ulcers.
People react to and cope with stress in different ways. Some recognise the signs early on and seek help, whilst others just carry on unaware. Some people turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism, but these are more likely to exacerbate the problem than help it. Excessive alcohol or drug consumption also has the potential to put a strain on relationships and can result in problems at work, as well as the risk of developing serious long-term health conditions.
According to mental health charity Mind, there are a number of things that you can do to deal with stress and develop resilience.
Identifying and acknowledging the triggers that cause you stress is the first step.
Make changes to your life to remove or reduce these triggers where possible, and accept the things you can’t change.
Looking after your physical and mental wellbeing will go a long way to alleviating stress and boosting your mood. Eating well, taking regular exercise and getting plenty of sleep will make you feel more alert and better able to cope with pressure.
Making time for yourself, enjoying hobbies and spending time with the people you care about will also give you something to focus on and help you to relax and stay positive.
There are no specific treatments for stress as it isn’t classed as a medical condition, but there are a number of medications, talking therapies and complementary therapies that can help to manage both the signs and the symptoms.