People experiencing stress should share their concerns and seek support, a doctor has said ahead of National Stress Awareness Day (NSAD) on November 7.
Stress levels have doubled in the UK over the past four years, according to a recent survey by AXA Insurance.
The theme of this year's 14th annual NSAD is 'Defining outcomes for wellbeing at work' but Dr Steve Eccles, from Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, said that any area of a person’s life can be a source of stress.
“People experience stress when the demands that life places on them exceeds their ability or perceived ability to cope,” he said.
“We all experience stress to varying degrees throughout our lives and generally this isn’t a problem. However, it can become a problem and affect our mental and physical health when it is excessive and/or lasts for prolonged periods of time.
"The possible causes of stress can stem from any aspect of life, whether financial difficulties, worries about health, work-related pressures, or relationship problems.
"It is well known that particular life events that involve great change such as bereavements, getting divorced and moving house are associated with high levels of stress. It is also important to recognise that people may also experience stress due to a build-up of lots of smaller contributory factors."
When people are experiencing stress they may exhibit a range of signs and symptoms including poor concentration, changes in sleep pattern and an increase in smoking, drinking and drug use.
"Unfortunately, once stress develops it can become a vicious cycle in which our ability to cope is further undermined," Dr Eccles added.
"For example, stress can lead to tiredness and increased alcohol use which reduces the ability to cope and thus leads to more stress. The fundamental things to remember are to focus on reducing the things that cause you stress, develop skills to manage stress and ensure you have access to activities or situations where you are able to relax."
Dr Eccles has compiled his top 10 tips for managing stress:
* Organise your life - develop a balanced and structured routine to your day or week that allows time for work, sleep and undertaking activities you enjoy.
* Identify your stressors - allocate time to think about which parts of your life are making you feel stressed. It can help to make a list of the key stressors in your life and identify those that you have some control over. The key is to be specific about what it is that you are finding stressful. The more specific you can be, the more likely you can identify them and make changes.
* Learn to say “no” - being able to say “no” to people and have some control over the demands that are placed on you is invaluable in managing stress. So, before you say “yes” to people, ask yourself “do I want to do it?” and “do I have the time/energy to do it?”
* Improve your diet - ensure that you are eating a balanced diet of three meals a day. Also, make sure you are not drinking too much alcohol (21 units for men and 14 units for women per week).
* Maintain a healthy balance - undertake regular physical activity as this can provide a vent for excessive nervous energy and help you to relax. This doesn’t mean you have to join a gym, as you can incorporate a little more physical activity into your day, such as walking.
* Catch up on your sleep - a common sign that people are stressed is waking during the night or early morning and then lying in bed, worrying about whatever is stressing you. Dealing with your stressors in the daytime should help with this.
* Learn to relax - being able to relax is a skill that requires regular practice. Make space in each day to take regular short breaks. Listening to music, watching TV or reading can be relaxing if you can concentrate. There are many simple relaxation exercises available in books and on the internet that can be used to practice relaxation.
* Get some perspective - when we feel stressed and overwhelmed we tend to underestimate our ability to cope. This leads to feeling even more overwhelmed, meaning more stress. A useful technique can be to take each stressor in turn and think about how a friend might react and deal with the problem.
* Share your concerns - people generally experience less stress if they feel they have the support of other people. An essential buffer against stress is a good support network of family and friends. It can be really helpful to talk to our family and friends about how we are feeling. They may be able to offer practical support and solutions, but their emotional support by offering a friendly ear can be just as valuable.
* Seek professional advice/support - if stress continues for lengthy periods of time it can have a profound effect on a person’s mental and physical health. This can be particularly problematic if a person starts to feel hopeless about their future and feels unable to manage his or her way out of the situation. In these instances, professional help from your GP and wider health services is an essential way forward and the key to managing your recovery.
For more on NSAD visit www.isma.org.uk/national-stress-awareness-day/