This week is Mental Health Awareness week (www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/mentalhealthawarenessweek). One cause of mental health problems can be too much stress. Stress can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. Finding ways to cope with stress is an important part of looking after our mental health. Stress is an essential bodily function, which used positively can help improve our performance, keep us motivated and help us survive when faced with threats. However, it can become overwhelming and damaging when experienced too often or over a prolonged period of time.
What is stress?
Stress is a feeling of being under too much mental, emotional or physical pressure. When it becomes overwhelming is when it can become negative. At this time the demands we place on our bodies and our mental capacity are outweighed by our ability to cope with them. Stress can come from many different places and different people respond in different ways. Some of us find certain things stressful while others perceive enjoyment and pleasure. Common stress factors for many people include work, relationships, children, money and health.
What happens to the body under stress?
When we are feeling stressed our body responds by increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients to our muscles, heart and brain through the release of hormones. This ensures that you are primed to think and act quickly. This is the “fight or flight” response; your body is ready to fight off the threat or run away from it. Once the emergency is over, your body returns to a state of calm. This is a natural, normal and appropriate response to stress.
However, if the feelings of being stressed are prolonged or you have frequent bouts, your body will find it harder and harder to recover and it becomes more difficult to switch off the flight or fight. In this situation, the body can become stuck in a hyper-sensitive alert phase. This can then begin to affect your mental, physical and emotional health.
Mental problems can include:
• Mood swings
• Feelings of being unable to cope
• Obsessive thinking
• Difficulty concentrating
Physical problems can include:
• Muscles aches and pains
• Heart palpitations
• Almost any physical symptoms could be put down to stress or at the least made worse with stress
So how do we deal with stress and reduce it? We can’t change many of the common triggers for stress and there is little we can do to prevent it. However, we can find ways to deal with it better and feel more in control over the stressful areas of our lives.
5 Ways to beat stress
1. Practice mindfulness. Studies have shown that mindfulness can have a dramatic effect on improving people’s mental well-being. Mindfulness can help people to change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful ones and it’s therefore recommended as a useful treatment and tool to be able to cope. There are many great online courses and apps. These are my favourite:
2. Take control. Look at what you can take control of and use practical skills to help manage stressful situations better. This includes writing lists, using time management, prioritizing what’s important and delegating wherever possible.
3. Avoid too many stimulants: mostly alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. These can all increase the release of hormones, which put our bodies into the fight-or-flight response. Therefore they can exacerbate the out-of-control feeling, sending us crashing further on the swings between highs and lows and ultimately making us feel worse.
4. Take up exercise. Exercise can be a great way to channel that extra energy released by the fight or fight reaction and stop us from getting stuck in a state of high arousal. It is recommended that we exercise at a moderate intensity for a minimum of 30 minutes, most days of the week. Exercise not only improves health and reduces stress; it also relaxes tense muscles and helps you to sleep. It also causes the release of endorphins into your bloodstream, making you feel relaxed and happy.
5. Find time to relax and have fun. Easier said than done when you’re feeling stressed. Many people have to learn or relearn to relax, it does not always come easy. Experts recommend many tools to aid relaxation, these include taking up a hobby, spending time outside, doing yoga or Tai qi, trying complementary therapies or simply factoring time daily or weekly when you just simply be and do nothing.
If you want to find out more information about stress and ways to deal with it see:
For more information about using acupuncture to beat stress see: