‘I’m a bit stressed out.’

We’ve all been there, all said it, and you may have even said it this week or today, depending on how your day is going. But feeling a little stressed and suffering from chronic stress are two very different things and, like any mental health issue, the triggers are different for everyone. Perhaps a big life event (a bereavement, a wedding, a house move), perhaps work is particularly hectic, maybe your family is taking up all your time, or maybe none of the above and you’re just feeling the pressure of day-to-day life. Any and all reasons for suffering with stress are valid; the impact on your mind and body can be extensive and is often overlooked.

I’ve compiled a short list of suggestions which can help take the pressure off, but ultimately it does depend on the cause of your current situation. But first let’s look at what stress actually is and the impact it can have.

I attended a workshop on Monday which discussed stress at length, and the effects it can have on the body which can, believe it or not, go unnoticed or be chalked up to the general feeling of ‘being under the weather’. Let’s list a few:

  • Headaches – caused by cranial and neck tension, a lot of the time
  • Irritability – short temper, moodiness, general short-fuse, withdrawal from family and friends
  • Digestive issues – this encompasses a lot, but if you’re suffering from stress then your body isn’t absorbing nutrients as well as it could do. Cramps, constipation, nausea and diarrhoea are all very common
  • Hair loss – both men and women can suffer this, although it can be more noticeable in men
  • Chest pains – ranging from mild to very serious, from palpitations (that fluttering feeling, like a bird behind your ribcage) to genuine heart trouble. Persistent chest pains should not be taken lightly
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms – alcohol, smoking, drugs, over- or under-socialising, gambling, all of these are forms of escapism yet can be very problematic if abused
  • Muscle aches – tremors, tension, spasms, needing to ‘get off your feet’, all very common
  • Dry mouth and skin – not nice symptoms, and can be distressing especially if excema or psoriasis flares up
  • Sleep disturbances – insomnia, oversleeping, and a general feeling of exhaustion
  • This is not an exhaustive list, nor am I a doctor. If you’re suffering from any health concerns I implore you to see a primary care physician. /disclaimer

Stress can be extremely serious and, for those fact-and-figure orientated folk like me, loss to the UK economy is estimated at 6.5billion due to stress-related absence. And that’s just people who have been signed off specifically with stress – not with any of the above which may be symptoms of a larger problem. But as important as work is, your health is paramount and if stress is making you so unwell you can’t go to work then it needs addressing and sharpish.

Step away.

If you can identify your stressor and it’s something you can take time out from, then that would be my first piece of advice and I don’t give it lightly. I don’t want to encourage time off work or time away from family or friends, however I firmly believe that you need to take care of you before anyone else. If you can’t function or are struggling, those around you will notice. So take that step back, speak to your partner or your boss, and get that much-needed space.

Speak to a professional.

If your physical and mental health is suffering due to stress, it’s time to talk to someone. Speak to your doctor, or speak to a mental health professional who will be able to help. If neither of those options work for you, or if they aren’t available, then talk to someone close to you who can offer an unbiased opinion, or seek local volunteer-led support groups.

Eat and drink.

Easy one, right? Not so easy when you feel deeply stressed. Your stomach may be in so many knots that eating anything feels impossible, or you might be overeating yet feel hungry and miserable all the time. The key is balance, and preparing balanced, healthy meals which keep your nutrient levels high. I have a few go-tos for healthy eating if I’m feeling low and uninspired, the main one being Hemsley & Hemsley because their food is nutrient-packed but delicious and interesting. And drink, drink, drink. Stay hydrated. Your skin, hair, eyes, mouth, internal organs and, well, your entire body will thank you for it.

Little things, big impact.

Adjust your daily routine so that you have mini breaks to decompress. Taking five minutes to make a coffee or to do some deep breathing exercises can break up long periods of tension. Keeping yourself moving rather than sitting hunched at a desk is a way to avoid sore shoulders and a tight neck. Run a bath at night, particularly if you’re struggling to sleep or have muscular aches. Try and keep to a sleep schedule, and wake up early enough so that you can take a moment to look ahead at your day. Plan your meals and make sure you drink regularly – I mentioned nutrition above, and it’s vital to keep you going.

Stress doesn’t go away on its own, usually. It takes time, effort, and sometimes medical help. But in today’s world, it affects more and more people – young and old. The most common age for people to be affected by stress is 35-45, however this gap is rapidly expanding. We need to try our best to take care of ourselves and each other, and to take the strain off wherever possible.

Do you suffer from stress, or stress-related issues? What do you do to combat them?

Originally published at louisehudson.net