When we encounter a stressful situation in our daily lives, our natural ‘fight or flight’ reaction kicks in automatically, flooding our bodies with adrenaline to allow us to cope with the threat.
But after the moment has passed, our bodies can stay in a state of heightened alert – resulting in physical and mental health issues.
For our ancestors, it meant that they were better able to deal with threats and had more chance of surviving. Today, most of the time we don’t need to face down a predator or escape an enemy, but we still have to cope with the same stress response.
The consequences of long-term stress include an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There are consequences for our mental health too, as being stressed for a long period of time can lead to anxiety or even depression.
Read on to discover some tips for coping with stress and take our stress quiz to find out how stressed you are.
How does stress affect our bodies?
Stress can have a negative effect on our health because our bodies react to stressful situations physically as well as mentally.
Physical symptoms can include headaches, muscle pain, sleep problems, dizziness, feeling tired all the time or eating too much or too little.
When we feel stressed, our bodies release the stress hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol plays an important role in the body as it stimulates the liver to increase blood sugar production. This gives your body a burst of energy when you feel stressed to help you cope with the situation at hand.
When we feel stressed for a long period of time, we’re stuck in a permanent state of fight-or-flight and this can lead to feelings of anxiety. You’re left feeling on edge all the time.
You may also notice that your behaviour changes – you feel overwhelmed, irritable, anxious and lacking in self-esteem. Your thoughts race and you find it hard to concentrate or make decisions.
Read more about the symptoms of stress on the NHS website.
What are the long-term effects of stress?
When we’re stressed over a long period of time, it’s inevitable that there will be consequences for our physical health.
In the long-run, stress can lead to a variety of health conditions including depression, anxiety, heart disease and high blood pressure.
If you’re concerned that stress may be affecting your health or wellbeing, it’s worth speaking to your doctor or seek support from a qualified medical professional.
How stressed are you? Take our personality test to find out
9 ways to reduce your stress levels
Manage your external pressures
Are you taking on too much responsibility? Are there any commitments you can drop? Don’t worry about letting people down, your health is the most important thing
Develop your emotional resilience
Building this essential skill will help you cope with stressful situations when they come up. You can find some great tips for this on the Mind website.
Use mindfulness techniques
You can learn to accept your thoughts without judging them by living in the moment.
Get regular exercise
Exercise can help to reduce your stress levels and help you keep your anxiety in check.
Address your anxiety
Stress and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, so it’s worth taking time to work on your anxiety. This anxiety control video is a good starting point.
Identify your stressors
Stressors are essentially any situation that causes us to feel stressed, so it’s a good idea to jot down what you think your stressors are. Once you’ve done that, you can work out how to address them.
Find your most productive time of day
Identify when you get the most done and get your most important tasks out of the way then.
Organise your tasks
Write a list of everything you know you need to do that day and number them from most important to least important. Getting the most important work done will help you feel more in control.
Accept the things you can’t change
This is a tricky one, but it helps to accept the things you can’t change in your life and concentrate on those you can.
How to cope with stress podcast with Dr Rangan Chatterjee
Struggling with stress? We caught up with Dr Rangan Chatterjee on the In The Moment Magazine podcast to find out how to cope with stress and live calmer lives.