Stress is a condition or a feeling which is experienced when you feel that the demands placed on you are too great.
The effects of stress can lead to physical symptoms of ill health, such as heart disease, as well as longer term psychological damage
Early outward signs of stress include changes in behaviour, unusual tearfulness, irritability or aggression, indecisiveness, inability to concentrate, lack of self-confidence, and excessive smoking or drinking.
In a stressful situation, your body releases chemicals such as cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These chemicals will invoke the 'fight or flight' feelings that help us to deal with the situation. However, if you are in a situation where you cannot fight or flight, then these chemicals will not be used, and can accumulate so that their effects are felt by the body.
A build-up of adrenaline and noradrenaline increases blood pressure, heart rate, and the amount that you sweat. Cortisol prevents your immune system from functioning properly, as well as releasing fat and sugar into your blood stream.
The following are the sort of feelings that people who are stressed often feel. If you can identify with some or all of the following feelings, please seek help and talk to someone:
Finding it hard to cope with everyday things
- Finding it hard to make simple decisions
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Finding it hard to get the motivation to get up in the mornings
- Feeling tearful at something which would not normally affect you that way
- Lacking energy and feeling very tired
- Not wanting to talk to or be with people, and conversation can be a struggle
- Eating, drinking or sleeping more or less than usual
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings
- Feeling restless and agitated
- Not taking care of yourself or feeling you don’t matter
- Having recurring thoughts of death and/or suicidal impulses, where suicide seems like a welcome relief
The following are the sort of physical reactions that people who are stressed often feel. If you can identify with some or all of the following reactions, please seek help and talk to someone:
- chest pains
- nervous twitches
- feeling of restlessness
- nail biting
- constipation or diarrhoea
- muscle spams or aches
- sexual difficulties
- difficult sleeping
Treatment for stress usually involves a combination of drugs, talking therapies and self help, and it will depend on the severity of the stress.
Talking treatments for depression:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - CBT is based on the principle that the way we feel is partly dependent on the way we think about things. It teaches you to behave in ways that challenge negative thoughts - for example, being active to challenge feelings of hopelessness.
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT) - IPT focuses on your relationships with other people and on problems, such as difficulties with communication or coping with bereavement. There is some evidence that IPT can be as effective as medication or CBT, but more research is needed.
- Counselling - Counselling is a form of therapy that helps you to think about the problems you are experiencing in your life, in order to find new ways of dealing with them. Counsellors support you in finding solutions to problems, but do not tell you what to do.
Antidepressants may also be prescribed and can take 2-4 weeks to take effect. You should continue taking the antidepressants for at least four weeks (six weeks if you are elderly) to see how well they are working. If your antidepressants are working, treatment should be continued at the same dose for at least four to six months after your symptoms have eased. If you have a history of depression, you may continue to receive antidepressants for up to five years, or longer. Antidepressants are not addictive but withdrawal symptoms are quite common if you stop taking them suddenly, or you miss a dose.
Stress management techiques may also help. Your GP should be able to recommend various stress management techniques for you to practice when you feel yourself getting stressed. Stress management is designed to help you take control of your stress triggers before they cause any further health problems.
If stress is causing you to feel angry, there are various anger management techniques that are available or specific anger management.
There are also a number of independent support groups that are designed to help people to recognise and overcome stress. Your GP may be able to provide you with details of support groups in your local area.