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Understanding Stress

By 13th February 2018News

Work, relationships, money worries – life is full of things that can cause stress, which can affect the way we think, feel and behave. Stress can have a serious impact on both physical and mental health, which is why it’s so important that we’re able to recognise the symptoms of stress, so we can take steps to start managing it.

In this guide, we take a look at stress, some common causes and symptoms, and what you can do to get help if you feel unable to cope.

What is stress?

Put simply, stress is the feeling of being under too much emotional or mental pressure, and usually occurs when people:

• Have a lot on their minds
• Are subject to significant change
• Feel they have too much to do
• Are subjected to unreasonable demands
• Are put in situations they have no or limited control over

When we feel stress, our bodies release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol – it’s an evolutionary trait designed to help our bodies to react to danger, and also known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. In early human history, these hormones gave us additional energy and strength to fight off physical threats.

In the modern world, where stress is mostly emotional, these hormones aren’t quite as useful, and can have negative effects, which form the symptoms of stress. Whilst not always considered a medical problem in itself, extended periods of stress can lead to more serious mental health problems, like depression and anxiety.

What are some common causes of stress?

Everyone is different, and things that are stressful for some may not be so stressful for others. Stress can be caused by single, life-changing events, or extended periods of difficult or challenging circumstances.

Common causes of stress include:


• Death or serious illness of a loved one, friend or family member
• Getting married
• Having a baby
• Moving house
• Changing jobs
• Divorce/Relationship breakdown

Challenging circumstances

• Work difficulties
• Relationship problems and family disputes
• Money worries, unemployment, poverty or bankruptcy
• Problems with housing or neighbours
• Lack of direction or achievement

Symptoms of stress

Stress affects everyone differently, but there are a few common, tell tale physical, mental, behavioural and emotional symptoms, including:

Physical symptoms

• Insomnia
• Restlessness
• Low energy levels
• Headaches
• Upset stomach, diarrhoea, nausea or constipation
• Low immune system (frequent colds, bugs or infections)
• Muscle tension, grinding teeth and clenching the jaw
• Shaking
• Ringing in the ear
• Cold or sweaty hands/feet
• Reduced sex drive/ability
• Rapid heart-rate and chest pains

Mental symptoms

• Mood swings, agitation or frustration
• Difficulty relaxing or unwinding
• Low self esteem
• Wanting to withdraw from social contact
• Reduced enjoyment from hobbies
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Worrying constantly
• Being forgetful or disorganised
• An inability to focus
• A pessimistic outlook on life
• Impaired judgement

Behavioural symptoms

• Reduced commitment to unfavourable tasks
• Avoidance of responsibility and procrastination
• Nervous behaviour, including biting nails, pacing, fidgeting or tapping
• Over eating or drinking more alcohol
• Missing meals/reduced appetite

By being mindful and aware of the symptoms of stress, it’s much easier to know when you need to take steps to manage it.

How to get help

Whilst it is very difficult to avoid stress, how you reacting to stress and the steps you take to combat it has a huge impact on how effectively it is managed.

Short-term management

There are plenty of things you can do to hep reduce the symptoms of stress in the short term, including relaxation, deep breathing and mindfulness exercises – check out our Stress Busting Tips for some ideas.

Looking after yourself

Mental health and physical health are intrinsically linked, and there is overwhelming evidence that eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, keeping active and making time for hobbies and friends can provide great stress busting and release.

Getting support

Talking about your problems is an integral part of managing stress – so don’t be afraid to speak up to family, loved ones, friends and colleagues when you feel you can’t cope. If things don’t improve, talk to your GP, who will be able to provide you with support, and suggest any local stress management groups, alternative therapies and therapists who will provide you with the support you need.

How Mindworks can help

At Mindworks, we’re here to help business of all sizes, working in all industries to optimise their mental health management, through a range of tailored mental health training and consultancy services.

For further information, contact 01482 240134, or email [email protected]