We’ve all experienced stress at some point in our lives, but new stats reveal three quarters of Brits have got to the point where they feel overwhelmed by it.
While anyone can be susceptible, the latest statistics from YouGov and the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) suggest women may be more likely to experience it, with four in five (81%) women saying they’ve felt stressed compared to two thirds (67%) of men.
In light of the findings, we spoke to health experts to find out when to tell you’re stressed and what to do about it.
What are the signs of stress?
Stress can impact people in different ways. According to Rethink Mental Illness, it can cause physical issues such as: headaches, stomach problems, sweating, tiredness, dizziness, sexual problems, muscle tension or pain, bowel or bladder problems, shortness of breath and a dry mouth.
It can also cause changes such as making a person irritable, depressed, forgetful, more prone to making mistakes, and anxious about the future. One third (32%) of people surveyed by YouGov said they had experienced suicidal feelings as a result of their stress.
Crying, eating more or less, nail-biting, avoiding others, having problems sleeping, rushing things at work, or increased drinking or smoking are also telltale signs.
If you experience any of these symptoms - and it’s related to work pressures, family problems, money worries or anything else that might be making you stressed - you should take action.
Neil Shah, chief de-stressing officer at The Stress Management Society and author of the 10-Step Stress Solution, tells HuffPost: “It is vital to remember that it is not always possible to prevent stress from occurring; it is a completely natural physical and mental reaction to everyday demands. A vital action in order to minimise risk is to identify stress-related problems as early as possible, so that action can be taken before serious stress-related illness occurs.”
If you’re unsure of what’s making you stressed, try keeping a stress diary where you write down when you feel stressed. “You should include what happens just before or after you feel stressed,” Rethink Mental Illness advises.
How to get help
Shah says the best way to deal with stress will depend on the stressor in question and the change you are experiencing. “Your reaction should be tailored to the individual symptom.”
So, for example, if you find it hard to sleep, “ensure you have developed a thoroughly well-planned wind down routine, avoid stimulating foods and drinks (like caffeine, sugar and chocolate) after 4pm”. Instead, swap coffee for chamomile, exercise in the mornings rather than the evenings, and take a warm soothing bath before bed. “Lastly, avoid bright lights in the evenings and swap TV for a book,” Shah adds.
Studies have found mindfulness can help reduce stress and improve mood. Calming breathing exercises might help if you’re feeling particularly anxious. Shah advises to sit or stand in a relaxed position and slowly inhale through your nose, counting to five, and breathe out from your mouth, counting to eight. Repeat this several times.
Exercise doesn’t stop feelings of stress, however it might help boost your mood if you’re feeling low and it can also help you think more clearly. There’s also evidence to suggest volunteering or helping others can boost a person’s resilience.
Chatting to friends, family members or even colleagues about your stresses may help, as they can offer support or ways to help ease the burden of workload.
Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster, advises people who are stressed at work to “work smarter, not harder” - in other words, prioritise your work, concentrating on the tasks that make a real difference. Shah agrees: “Make a list of the things you need to do each day and prioritise them in order of urgency and importance.” Here are his recommendations:
:: Do now – these are both urgent and important.
:: Plan to do – these are important but not urgent.
:: Reject diplomatically – these might be urgent but are not important.
:: Resist and cease – these are both non-urgent and non-important list.
If none of this helps, it’s time to talk to your GP, who may sign you off from work for a short while or offer cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Stress management courses are also available - ask your GP to refer you.