What is stress?
Stress and anxiety are the body and mind's way of communicating that it is feeling overwhelmed. Stressors can include problems with work, family, finances, life events, illness, loss and sometimes even perfectionism. Usually this reaction builds up over time and if you are used to coping with a lot of stress and demand you may not recognise what the limit is until it overflows. This is why it is important to recognise your early signs of stress.
What is good and bad stress?
Everyone is different and can cope with varying levels of pressure and demand. Some people even thrive on it. In fact, not all levels of stress are harmful. Athletes, for example, need a good level of excitement and adrenalin to perform optimally.
Stress and anxiety are our innate reactions designed to keep us safe. During the primitive hunter gatherer times our bodies evolved to cope with the dangers they faced. Today's stressors are somewhat different but the body can still react in the same way as it did back then which can leave us feeling demoralised, frustrated and exhausted.
Understanding your own stress levels and how they impact your energy and performance will help you to manage it better and use it to your advantage.
Stress and physical health
If stress is ignored it can lead to physical health problems such as headaches, backaches, sleep problems or an impaired immune system. Links have also been found between stress and coronary heart disease. Psychologically it can potentially, but not in all cases, lead to more severe forms of anxiety, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic attacks, social anxiety or health anxiety for which professional help is advised.
How can you reduce stress?
Sometimes people turn to unhelpful strategies such as drink or drugs to cope with high demands. These are quick fixes but can exacerbate and maintain the stress or anxiety in the longer term. Here are a few healthful tips to combat stress and anxiety:
- The first step is recognising you are becoming stressed and taking a step back to identify its causes.
- Write a stress diary logging your stressors, how you coped with these, and how you would prefer to cope in the future.
- Enlist support from others - it can be lonely with stress as your companion.
- It is important to find time to relax and unwind. Balance stress with relaxation and pleasurable activities - without the guilt!