April is Stress Awareness Month
We all at one time or another will experience feelings of stress. Being able to recognise the signs of stress and knowing how to cope with are very important in order to keep both physically and mentally healthy.
Feelings of stress or anxiety are caused by an overload of adrenalin in the body bringing our primal human instincts of fight or flight to the fore. Repeated or prolonged periods of stress mean that the body and mind are constantly in a state of alarm, fear and possible danger and can therefore be detrimental to both physical and mental well-being.
Irritability, low mood and unhappiness, worrying and feeling anxious, problems with sleep, feeling dissatisfied, feeling indecisive and panicky, losing temper easily, poor concentration and motivation are all signs of stress.
We all experience stress in different ways and how we each cope or manage stress will vary from person to person. What is stressful to one person may not be at all stressful for another. Some people may have found coping mechanisms which enable them to manage their feelings and to continue to function even though underneath an apparently tough exterior their stress levels are running high. Others are able to harness these heightened feelings and use them as a motivator and driver to do things they would otherwise never have thought possible.
For some though, stress can be an overwhelming sensation which causes anxiety, exhaustion, depression and loss of confidence. In extreme cases, stress levels can be so high that it can mean they are unable to function normally and may develop a severe stress disorder or even PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). PTSD is caused by a severe traumatic or life-threatening event. Flashbacks to the event and deep-seated feelings of fear, panic and depression make coping with normal life and relationships with this condition difficult and specialist treatment may be required to overcome its effects.
There is no doubt that the last year has been a challenging time for all and at times extremely stressful. The unfamiliarity and uncertainty of the pandemic are alone stressful, especially as it is still unclear how long it might last and what the long-term effects on all our day-to-day lives will be. In a recent YouGov survey, 82% of respondents said they had felt stressed during the pandemic.
There are some simple things however that we can all do to try and manage feelings of stress:
Breathe – taking several deep breaths when feeling stressed or anxious can give some immediate relief in some situations and slow the heartbeat down.
Taking time out – when things become too much it can be helpful to take a few moments to calm down and to do something else – be it going for a walk, enjoying a cup of tea or taking a relaxing hot bath. This can give time to regain perspective on a stressful problem or situation.
Mindfulness – is a technique which involves concentrating on the here and now, taking in what is around you now without thinking ahead or dwelling on what has gone before and can be useful in regaining perspective on stressful situations.
Meditation – there are many sources available online to learn this useful relaxation technique.
Talking – to a trusted friend or family member is always good. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.
Fresh air and exercise – getting outside and getting some fresh air, especially if it is combined with exercise can raise endorphin levels, making us feel happier and better placed to cope with life’s stresses.
If things become really out of hand, it is important to seek professional support. In the first instance, talk to your GP who may refer you to a therapist or suggest counselling. For severe cases, it may be necessary to seek professional mental health treatment where further techniques for managing stress can be developed sometimes combined with appropriate medication.
Consultant psychiatrist, Dr Adrian Winbow explains the symptoms or stress and how stress can be treated in his series of videos.
At Private Psychiatry, we treat a number of stress-related conditions including depression, anxiety and PTSD. If you or someone close to you would like our help, please get in touch for an appointment.