Is stress something we need to worry about?

A person saying they are stressed is, I am sure, something that most people have heard from those around them before, and it is something they have probably said themselves on many occasions. However, is stress something we need to worry about? Everyone experiences stress and copes with it in their own way, but I think it is important to be aware of the negative effects it has the potential to have on various areas of our lives.

What is stress?

Stress is something that can be experienced in a variety of ways. The NHS describes stress as being something that affects how people feel emotionally, mentally, and physically, and also how we behave:

Emotionally, the symptoms people can feel are feelings of being:

  • overwhelmed
  • fearful or anxious
  • irritable and “wound up”
  • lacking in self-esteem.

Mentally, these feelings may include:

  • racing thoughts
  • difficultly in concentrating
  • constant worrying
  • difficulty in making decisions.

Physical symptoms include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • muscle tension or pain
  • sleep problems
  • feeling tired all of the time
  • eating too little or too much.

Signs of stress in people’s behaviour include:

  • drinking or smoking more
  • avoiding things or people they are having problems with
  • snapping at others.

What are the consequences of stress?

Stress is not an illness, but can cause serious illness if it is ignored. High blood pressure can be a consequence of it, and managing stress levels can help to prevent and treat it. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) does not always have symptoms that are noticeable, but if it is left untreated, it can increase a person’s risk of having serious problems such as strokes and heart attacks.
Medical consequences are important to understand and deal with because of the impact they can have on our health as a whole. However, if you read through the lists above of what stress can look like, you can further understand just how debilitating the impact of it can be. Those different types of symptoms will differ from person to person, but any one of them has the potential to seriously affect a person’s life, whether that be in the way they socialise, the way they feel, and/or the way they think.

How do you deal with stress?

By recognising the signs and symptoms of stress, you can then have the ability to out ways of coping with it, which will also help to ensure that unhealthy ways of coping are not implemented, such as smoking and drinking. Recognising what actually triggers stress can be a good way of working out how to deal with it. Keeping some sort of diary can help to work out what the situations are like when signs of stress appear; these can be things such as what the person was doing, who they were with, and how they then felt. Realising the causes of stress can then allow a person to work out how to deal with it. For example, if a work environment or the pressures of being busy with lots of things to do for a work role is a trigger for stress, then creating time management techniques could help alleviate it.
Exercise, or physical activity, is commonly thought of as being a good way to deal with and reduce stress. Depending on the type of exercise, it is usually free, which can itself be a positive thing if a person’s lack of money is a cause of their stress. There is also strong scientific evidence that being physically active can lead people to having healthier and happier lives, which of course can lead to better stress levels.
Practicing mindfulness is also another technique which is growing in terms of people’s awareness of the benefits it can have. It is the process of paying more attention to the present, be that a person’s own thoughts and feelings, and the world that surrounds them. By carrying this out, it can improve a person’s mental wellbeing because they become more alert to how they are feeling. If a person is feeling stressed, it can then allow them to be more alert in preparing to do something to combat it.

I think that stress is definitely something to worry about, but only when it isn’t being dealt with in the first place. I also think it is important to contemplate that it is only worth worrying about something if it is something that can be controlled. Therefore, it is a good thing that stress levels can be controlled, but only if people are aware of them in the first place. Being armed with the information of what to look out for can only help with dealing with it. Understanding what the symptoms of stress are and the potential ways of dealing with them can help to manage it, and more importantly stopping it from leading to creating serious illnesses. Stress is something that needs to be worried about, but only for a brief time before a plan can be put together to target, reduce, and eradicate this obstacle to a happier and easier life.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach