At one stage or another in our lives, most of us will be affected by stress to some degree. It can be brought on by things like divorce, bereavement, money worries, workplace problems or family conflicts, or it can simply build up as a result of many smaller issues in our lives. With HSE figures indicating that up to 500,000 people suffered from stress in the workplace between 2015 and 2016, and 37% of all sick days being attributed to stress, it’s clear that this is a major issue for employers and employees alike. Left untreated, stress will undoubtedly impact on a person’s personal relationships and performance at work, and could also affect their overall health and well-being.
How stress affects our health
As well as limiting our ability to remain calm and rational, stress can have some quite significant effects on our general health. Stress can cause panic attacks, headaches, chest pains, high blood pressure, insomnia and extreme tiredness. Many of these symptoms can have a circular effect, adding to the stress levels that the person is already experiencing, and making things seem even worse. Panic attacks, in particular, can be extremely distressing for anyone who experiences them.
When left untreated, stress can become a major concern and can have a serious and long-term effect on a person’s health. Chronic stress can cause significant problems with immunity, leaving you vulnerable to infections and diseases. It can also impact on your digestive system, and can even cause infertility. Aside from these health issues, a person suffering from chronic stress is likely to become extremely irritable and emotional, with irrational and angry outbursts happening increasingly frequently.
Managing your stress levels
Whilst it has become more acceptable to discuss mental health issues with friends and family, many people still find it difficult to acknowledge that they are suffering from stress. Yet, unless you accept that you are stressed, you cannot take steps to address the problem. Stress might seem insurmountable, but there are, in fact, some very simple steps that you can take, to help combat it:
Speak to your GP or a health professional. This is vital, in order to receive a full diagnosis of your symptoms, and a sensible course of treatment.
Take time to understand what effect stress is having on you personally. Your sleep may be disturbed, for example, or you may be depressed or often angry for no reason. You may find that you are drinking too much alcohol, or even being tempted by substance abuse. You may find that there is a lot of tension in your body. Whatever symptoms you have, recognising them fully is the first step on the road to recovery.
Try to get into a regular exercise routine. Grab your rain jacket for a lunchtime walk and be prepared for all types of weather. Even if you can only manage 30 minutes of brisk walking each day, this will make a material difference to how you feel.
If you are a smoker, you may be under the belief that cigarettes help you to manage your stress levels. However, scientists have now found that the reverse is actually true and that long-term stress levels can actually be increased by smoking. If you do smoke and would like to quit as part of your efforts to tackle stress, try using patches or e-cigarettes to work towards quitting.
Don’t try to tackle your stress alone. There is a great deal of useful information available online on how to cope with stress, and learning some simple relaxation techniques can be really helpful. Signing up for a regular class of yoga or tai chi may also help, and it will provide a welcome break from the routine of the week.
Take a good look at what needs to change in your life, in order to get on top of your stress levels. By focusing on what is causing the stress, and breaking down your plans for tackling it into achievable goals, you stand a much better chance of succeeding. If you feel you are overloaded at work, don’t be afraid of talking about it with your boss.
Stress can make you feel very unsociable but do try hard to meet and socialise with friends and family on a regular basis. We all need friends to support us when we’re having a tough time, and good friends will always be happy to do whatever they can to support you.
Stress has a habit of creeping up on us and snowballing into what seems like a major problem. For most of us, though, stress can be beaten, with a little time spent understanding its causes, managing its symptoms and working towards achievable changes to reduce its effect on us.
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About the Author
Matthew Finch | Digital PR Executive