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Stressed?

What is stress?

Stress is a normal, unavoidable and essential part of life. It describes physical and mental changes that occur when we are forced to adapt to change, whether this is avoiding imminent physical danger or falling in love. We are stressed by changes in our environment; social interaction; biological changes in our bodies and by our mental behaviours. The environment can throw all sorts of things at us: snow, lightning, insects, noise, pollution, pollens. People we live and work with demand our attention, time, skills etc. Developmental changes such as adolescence and menopause, and other factors such as poor diet, insufficient exercise, insomnia and so on, produce physiological stresses in the body; we can develop backache, muscle tension and so on.

Finally, our thoughts play a key role in initiating and maintaining a stress response. If my boss looks off-colour and I interpret that she dissatisfied with me, I will be more stressed than if I interpreted her look as the result of preoccupation with her personal problems. Stress, then, is the result of feeling in a dangerous or unmanageable situation without the resources to manage. The body responds with the ‘fight or flight’ response, releasing powerful hormones that help us to regain balance. For example, facing physical danger, the hormones released increase the heart rate and make us breathe faster, muscles become tense, blood pressure increases. Blood is directed away from the extremities and digestive system to the thighs, calves and large muscle groups. The pupils dilate to sharpen the vision and hearing becomes more acute. The result is that we are more equipped to fight our way out of trouble or to run to safety.

Unfortunately the trigger for this cascade of events doesn’t necessarily have to be real. Imagining we are under attack can have precisely the same effects. We are stuck with one mechanism to deal with real or imagined danger; whether we are faced with physical assault or the prospect of a presentation to our peers, our interpretation of the threat is a key factor in deciding the result level of stress we feel. Looked at this way, we have two options. We can reduce the stressors – and clearly there is a limit to what we may be able to achieve here - and we can find better ways of coping with the stress. Here are some things to consider:

Food: how and what we eat and drink can affect our ability to cope with stress;

Sleep: getting enough good quality sleep is important for developing resilience to stress;

Relaxation: luckily we have the perfect antidote to the stress response, which is the relaxation response. Learn how to relax.

Manage your time more efficiently: thinking about your projects and what they require, planning them and sticking to the plan can help to reduce stress.

There is a much that you can do to counter stress on your own. Have a look at our Self-help resources especially Silvercloud, an online therapeutic programme which has a module dedicated to understanding and dealing with stress.

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