Published: 20 July, 2012
STRESS is something we all live with but all manage differently.
Certainly in my surgery in Islington stress is never far away.
What causes stress for one person may not for another and vice versa.
For many people, triggers to stressful symptoms are ongoing issues related to work, relationships, money, health and family.
Obviously, certain events can be stressful for anyone. For example, a family death, divorce, a new job, loss of a job, a bad accident or bad health news.
It is okay to feel stressed around these times and often the stressful feelings are part of our way of dealing with things.
Feeling stressed in itself is not harmful. However, over time stress can contribute to a wide range of health issues.
Stress can also be linked with more severe signs of anxiety and depression.
How can we avoid or manage stress?
The most important first step is to recognise that you may be suffering from signs of stress.
Common symptoms can be physical and emotional, and can affect your behaviour.
Physical symptoms include headaches, muscular tension, heart racing, stomach problems and tiredness.
Emotional effects include feeling low, anxious, tense and irritable.
You may notice that you find difficulty focusing on one thing as your mind is racing or you have difficulty making decisions.
Other signs are a lack of patience, temper outbursts, being unable to relax, poor sleep, a change in eating habits and smoking and drinking more.
If you think that stress is having an impact on your life, then consider the tips below.
Talk to someone. The saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” is certainly true with stress.
Someone who knows you well may be able to help you think through what is causing your stress and how it is affecting you.
Identify the problem.
Try making a list of when you feel stressed.
A pattern may become obvious as to what is triggering your feelings. If this does happen you can try to address it and, if it is not possible to avoid the situation, then use it as a cue to try some stress management techniques (see below).
Relaxation tips. Try some controlled deep breathing. Focus on breathing in for a count of four, and out-two-three-four. Do some simple neck-stretching exercises.
Turn or twist your neck as far as it will go and hold it for a few seconds. Repeat in different directions.
These may sound simple but can be very effective. If you wandered into my consulting room between appointments on a busy Friday evening you may well find me doing them!
Take some time out.
This can be looking at changing your working patterns more long-term, taking a holiday or just setting aside a few minutes every day.
A few minutes to yourself away from work and family pressures can really help.
Plan relaxation time and look forward to it. Try not to feel guilty about taking some time to yourself; it is likely to help in the long term.
People relax in different ways; you can have a bath, read a book, listen to music or take a walk.
Set realistic and achievable goals.
If you have found some areas that you know are causing you stress, try to develop goals to help address them.
It is important to take small steps at a time.
The sense of achieving a goal can make you feel much more positive.
Setting large goals and not meeting them can cause a sense of failure and make issues worse.
Exercise. Many people find exercise helps reduce tension and relieves stress.
Remember that exercise is good for you in many others ways, including reducing your weight and helping to stave off the development of high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
If you are not used to exercising then start with a brisk walk for 20 minutes every day and build up slowly.
If these tips don’t help or you feel your symptoms are severe then speak to your GP. Other options available are counselling, psychological therapy and sometimes medication.
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