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Stress - causes of stress and how it can impact on you

Some of the advice on this page may be difficult to follow during the coronavirus outbreak. Read more about minding your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak.

Stress can become a problem when it starts to affect how you cope with day-to-day stuff.

How stress affects the body

The human body responds to events that provoke stress by activating the nervous system and specific hormones.

These hormones speed up heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. The physical changes prepare you to react quickly to handle the pressure of the moment.

This natural reaction is known as the stress response. This response improves your ability to perform well under pressure.

Causes of over-stress

Stress affects everybody in a different way. What causes one person to become over-stressed may not have the same effect on someone else.

Many things may cause people to become over-stressed, including:

  • exams
  • problems at school or work
  • sexual, physical or emotional abuse
  • relationships
  • new responsibilities
  • moving to a new place
  • a traumatic event – such as the death of a loved one
  • new or chronic illness or disability
  • peer pressure, being bullied
  • unrealistic expectations placed on you by yourself, friend, family or culture

How stress can impact on you

Stress can affect how you feel emotionally, mentally and physically. Stress can also affect how you behave.

You may feel emotionally overwhelmed, irritable and wound up. You can also feel anxious or fearful and lacking in self-esteem.

You may have difficulty concentrating and in making decisions. You may also experience racing thoughts and constant worrying.

Stress can affect you physically. You might have headaches and experience dizziness. Although you may feel tired all the time, you could have problems sleeping. Some people eat too much or too little when they are under stress. A common symptom of stress is having muscle tension or pain.

When you are under stress you may find yourself drinking or smoking more than you usually do. You might snap at people for very little reason or no reason at all. Stress can make you avoid things or people you are having problems with.

If you're having any of these problems you should talk to your GP.

    Relationships and stress

    Maintaining relationships can be tough at times. Relationships with friends, family, colleagues and partners can make you stressed. This might be because you have different values or expectations from each other.

    There are times when situations can be helped, or conflict avoided by expressing how we feel. This is something we need to learn and doesn't come naturally to all of us.

    If the relationship still causes you stress, talk to someone about what's upsetting you. Talking to someone you trust helps you to work out why you're stressed by the relationship and what you can do about it.

    Managing stress

    It's not usually possible to completely remove the stress from your life. But, managing it is definitely possible and lets you get on with things.

    Here are some ideas for managing stress for you to try:

    Go for a walk or run

    Exercise can be a really good way of relieving stress. It helps to get rid of all that pent up energy and can leave you feeling much calmer. Any sort of exercise can be good.

    Hang out with friends

    You might need to take your mind off things for a while. Hanging out with friends is one way of doing that. You might find that similar things stress you all out. Talking about your problems with them may be helpful.

    Take some deep breaths

    Deep breathing can help to relax the body and calm you down. Taking deep breaths can help you to focus on what you are about to do. You should try deep breathing before an exam, game, job interview or before going on stage.

    Set realistic goals

    Becoming over-stressed may make it harder to keep things in perspective. Setting realistic goals can be a really useful way of managing stress.

    Have multiple options to achieve your goals

    There's never just one way to achieve something. It's important not to put all your eggs in one basket. Investigate and plan other ways to get to where you want to go. This could be working towards a college degree, job, or holiday.

    Try to avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeine

    It may be tempting to use smoking and alcohol as a means of managing your stress. Try to avoid using these things as a way of coping. In the long run, they could make you more stressed out.

    Watch what you're thinking

    Your outlook, attitude, and thoughts influence the way you see things. Is your cup half full or half empty? A healthy dose of optimism can help you make the best out of stressful circumstances. Even if you tend to be a bit of a pessimist, everyone can learn to think more optimistically and reap the benefits.

    Speak to someone

    It may be helpful to talk to someone if you're finding you're always stressed and it's hard to carry on with day-to-day stuff. Parents, teachers, a school counsellor or youth worker are people that may be able to help you cope.

    Try a breathing exercise

    Breathing exercise:

    1. Put your hands on your stomach
    2. Breathe in and then out, counting how long it takes each way.
    3. On the next breath, breathe in for 5 seconds and out for 5 seconds. Do this for 10 breaths, making a conscious decision to try and relax as much as possible.
    4. For 10 more breaths, breathe in for 7 seconds and out for 7 seconds.
    5. Your pulse rate should be lower. The exercise will bring your breathing and your heart rate to its ideal level.
    6. When you notice you're stressed, try breathing in for 5 seconds and out for 5 seconds for just 3 breaths.

    At the end of each day, no matter how stressed you feel, do the breathing exercises. Like any kind of skill, practice makes perfect.

    page last reviewed: 23/09/2018
    next review due: 23/09/2021

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