Feeling like you're close to breaking point once in a while is perfectly human, but feeling like that all the time certainly isn't.
In an extensive study of 10,000 people, Bupa have found that not only do 1 in 4 of us feel like this constantly. but that a shocking 44% of us suffer from stress.
Let's be clear here, however, this sort of stress isn't the beneficial kind that helps us meet deadlines or pushes us the extra mile, this is the sort of long term condition that inevitably leads to anxiety and/or depression.
Out of the 44% who say they feel stressed, 28% say they have been feeling that way for over a year. This works out to around million people.
But what is the difference between good and bad stress? HuffPost UK Lifestyle spoke to Dr Martin Baggaley of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust who fronted the campaign.
"We’ve all experienced brief periods of stress which include symptoms of anxiety. You might have a day when you can’t think straight and might be a bit snappy. But, on the whole you’ll have a break and the next day won’t be so bad.
"Long term stress however, is that continual state which will turn into an anxiety disorder or depression. Stress once in a while isn't bad - it gets us out of bed in the morning, helps us meet a deadline.
"But, what sometimes happens is that you can slip into a chronic state without noticing, and sometimes you make things worse by not doing helpful things. Some people who get stressed at work stop going out, or take their computer to bed or don't go to the gym. Others make it worse by drinking too much, or bizarrely, if they are short of money they'll then splurge on retail therapy."
Let's take a quick look at the facts. In the summer, it was revealed that stress and anxiety are the two biggest causes of sick leave, and that it costs Britain about £6 billion a year. More recently, it was revealed that GPs may be over-prescribing anti-depressants to deal with a growing number of unhappy people.
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So what if we started the conversation now? Focussed the spotlight on how important it is to tackle stress before it develops into mental illness?
Dr Baggaley adds: "People get stuck because they are worrying about their jobs and the truth is, if people are fit and mentally well they are much more likely to survive. Employers don’t want high levels of absenteeism and people who are over-stressed don’t work well. So if we don't tackle stress, everybody loses. Similarly, you don't want to over-medicalise it and start prescribing anti-depressants for people who have chronic stress."
Dr Michelle K Nielsen, wellness expert, says that modern living has created this perfect storm for stress. "With modern day technology, the borders of our work-life have blurred and turned our previous 40 hour work week into 24/7 ordeal. Not to mention that the dream for most women of getting a career and “having it all” has turned into the nightmare of “doing it all."
Maite Baron, CEO of The Corporate Escape, echoes what a lot of us believe is the cause of stress, which is worrying about losing your job and about money.
"Because many are trapped in demanding jobs they no longer like," she says, "and which require them to spend much of their ‘waking week’ spent either commuting or stuck in an office trying to cope with relentless pressure.
"Worse still for those in corporate organisations, continuing waves of redundancies mean those still in their posts are expected to pick up the slack and achieve more with less. For others, tight finances mean that traditional ways of releasing tension – holidays and enjoying nights out – are currently an unaffordable option. The pressure becomes even worse when you don’t feel any light at the end of the tunnel."
But one thing the experts are all agreed on, is that being stressed out - long term - is a choice. We'd like to add something to that, however, which is that employers have to start taking responsibility for how much pressure they place on their employees.
Dr Baggaley says that although he was surprised by how many people were chronically stressed, he added that "theoretically people can do self management and self prevention. We need to move away from treating mental illness to maintaining mental health.
"People say they have no control over it – sometimes they don’t, sometimes they do. What is important is trying to control what you can control, and manage it sensibly. Often, it's also all the things you know like not checking emails late at night, or while on holiday."
A good way of looking at it is to figure out where your stress is coming from. If it's work, and you're working for a bad company or a tyrant employer, you may not have the luxury of quitting your job but you can start to think outside the box in terms of your career.
Maite advises: "Consider self-employment. While giving up a monthly salary, may seem a risky option, however, going into business, setting up as a freelance, or independent contractor actually puts you in more control as you control your own destiny and that’s one of the most powerful ways in which to ‘de-stress’ your life."
Dr Nielsen adds that it's important to learn some stress-busting strategies. "By incorporating them into your daily routine, you will change the way you face stress and can transform your life in an instant."
DR NIELSEN'S TIPS:
1) Daily exercise
By doing just 15 minutes a day of exercise your body will start to create more “feel good hormones” called endorphins giving you a Natural high and decreasing your damaging stress related hormones.
2) Avoid caffeine
Caffeine injects adrenaline into your system, giving you a temporary boost, but possibly making you fatigued and depressed later. Additionally, it can increase the body’s levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone”, which can lead to other health consequences ranging from weight gain and moodiness to heart disease and diabetes. Additionally, caffeine can raise your blood pressure and stimulate MORE feelings of stress and panic.
3) Daily meditation
Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional well-being and your overall health. And these benefits don't end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and can even improve certain medical conditions. Believe me, as a mother, a short meditation feels like a “mini-vacation!”.
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