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Reactions to Stress

Life is stressful. What matters is that you recognise when you are under so much stress that it may be harmful.

  • Half a million people in the UK experience work-related stress at a level they believe is making them ill.
  • Twelve million adults see their GP with mental health problems each year, much of it stress related.

(Statistics courtesy of the Health and Safety Executive and the Mental Health Foundation).

Are you under too much stress?

How your body may react:

  • breathlessness
  • feeling sick or dizzy
  • headaches
  • constant tiredness
  • fainting spells
  • restlessness
  • chest pains
  • sleeping problems
  • tendency to sweat
  • constipation or diarrhoea
  • nervous twitches
  • craving for food
  • cramps or muscle spasms
  • indigestion or heartburn
  • pins and needles
  • lack of appetite
  • high blood pressure
  • sexual difficulties.

How you may feel:

  • aggressive
  • depressed
  • irritable
  • neglected
  • fearing you are ill
  • dreading the future
  • dreading failure
  • taking no interest in life
  • believing you are bad or ugly
  • lacking interest in others
  • losing your sense of humour
  • having no-one to confide in.

How you may behave:

  • difficulty making decisions
  • inability to show true feelings
  • problems concentrating
  • avoiding difficult situations
  • denying there's a problem
  • frequently crying.

Ten tips to tackle stress

  • Make the connection. Could the fact that you're feeling under-the-weather be a response to too much pressure?
  • Take a regular break. Give yourself a brief break whenever you feel things are getting on top of you - get a soft drink or take a brief stroll.
  • Learn to relax. Follow a simple routine to relax your muscles and slow your breathing.
  • Get better organised. Make a list of jobs; tackle one task at a time; alternate dull tasks with interesting ones .
  • Sort out your worries. Divide them into those that you can do something about (either now or soon) and those that you can't. There's no point in worrying about things that you can't change.
  • Change what you can. Look at the problems that can be resolved, and get whatever help is necessary to sort them out. Learn to say 'no'.
  • Look at your long-term priorities. Step back and examine what it is about your life that's giving you too much stress. What can you off-load, or change? How can you introduce a better balance between work, social life and home life? Is it time to reassess your priorities?
  • Improve your lifestyle. Find time to eat properly, get plenty of exercise and enough sleep. Avoid drinking and smoking too much. However much you believe they can help you to relax, they'll have the opposite effect.
  • Confide in someone. Don't keep emotions bottled up.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your life.

Learn to relax

  • Close your eyes and breath slowly and deeply.
  • Locate any areas of tension and try to relax those muscles; imagine the tension disappearing.
  • Relax each part of the body, in turn, from your feet to the top of your head.  As you focus on each part of your body, think of warmth, heaviness and relaxation.
  • After 20 minutes, take some deep breaths and stretch your body.

How to find out more

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
tel. 0870 443 5252

British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies
tel. 01254 875 277

 No Panic - information about anxiety and panic
helpline: No Panic 0808 808 0545

Further reading

  • How to assert yourself (Mind 2006)
  • How to cope with exam stress (Mind 2006)
  • How to cope with sleep problems (Mind 2005)
  • How to cope with the stress of student life (Mind 2006)
  • How to improve your mental wellbeing (Mind 2006)
  • How to stop worrying (Mind 2006)
  • The Mind guide to managing stress (Mind 2005)
  • The Mind guide to relaxation (Mind 2004)
  • Mind troubleshooters: panic attacks (Mind 2004)
  • Understanding anxiety (Mind 2005)