Feeling stressed out and how to get help

You know what stress is. But what causes stress, and how can you better manage it?

You’ve had a bad day at work. You’re under pressure from all sides, with deadlines closing in. Both kids are sick or won’t stop screaming. The car broke down (or maybe it hasn’t yet, but you fear it may do so at any moment). You are feeling irritable more than usual.

You might have noticed that you’ve been smoking or drinking more during this difficult time. Compounding the situation may be that you’ve not been sleeping well. Maybe you’ve sensed the pressure in physical form: it may have come across as a vague and general tension or a headache. You might even have gotten ill.

To add to the worry, you may be feeling anxious or just down and depressed about the whole situation.

 

What is stress?

If you haven’t guessed, the above situation describes some of the causes, effects and outcomes of stress. The feeling of being stressed out is not pleasant, yet it’s something that everyone deals with. While stress can actually play an important role in things like alertness and motivation, it can also cause long-term harm if left unaddressed for too long.

Thankfully, advances in mental health and wellbeing mean we have an excellent understanding of the physical and psychological causes of stress, its symptoms, and its effects — along with a good understanding of how to manage and cope with stress.

 

What is a stressor?

You probably know that prolonged or intensely stressful situations can make you feel irritable and overwhelmed. Indeed, even the calmest of people can get into an agitated state if they find themselves feeling under intense pressure.

So, what exactly is going on when we’re stressed?

In the broadest sense, to be in a state of stress (i.e. to be stressed) means your body is responding to what is known as a stressor. A stressor is a situation that is causing you to feel stressed. When responding to a stressor, our bodies activate the nervous system and release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormonal changes help us deal with the immediate challenge. However, if the stress lingers, these changes can become a burden, and we may feel overwhelmed and struggle to cope effectively.

Examples of common stressors include:

  • Relationship issues or breakups
  • Work pressures and deadlines
  • Unemployment
  • Money problems
  • Illness or health problems
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Significant life changes
  • Traumatic events
  • Natural disasters
  • Uncertainty or lack of control.

 

Healthdirect Australia, the Government’s public health information service, puts it as follows:

Stress is an expected human response to challenging or dangerous situations. Humans have evolved over time to be able to experience a range of stressors and recover from them… Experiencing stress is part of being alive. A small amount of stress, such as meeting a challenge or deadline, can actually be helpful. It can lead to increased alertness, energy and productivity… A complete lack of stress can lead to reduced motivation and performance.”

 

Stress signs and symptoms

Stress can affect you in many ways, both physical and psychological. Pay attention to warning signs that might reveal stress is taking a toll on your wellbeing.

Below are some signs and symptoms of stress:

  • Physical symptoms – headaches, upset stomach, quicker breathing, tense muscles, sweating, fatigue
  • Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
  • Feeling irritable, frustrated, or angry
  • Feeling anxious or worried
  • Feeling restless or unable to concentrate
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • A lack of motivation
  • Forgetfulness
  • No longer interested in doing things you once enjoyed
  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Changes in sleep patterns or appetite
  • Engaging in unhealthy coping behaviours.

 

Stress relief and stress management

One aspect of stress (particularly if it results from multiple sources) is how it can make you feel like you’re not in control. This, in turn, can leave you feeling like you can’t cope because you cannot move on from your situation.

The good news is there are things you can do to manage your stress. Effective solutions to stress management need not be overly complex.

Here are some common things that people do to relieve stress:

  • Acknowledge your stress and identify the cause. Take time to reflect and write down what is causing you to feel overwhelmed. It could be a single significant issue or a combination of smaller ones contributing to your current state. Once you have a clearer picture, prioritise the most pressing concerns and address these first.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can reduce our emotional responses to stressors and can improve our wellbeing. Find something you like to do – cycling, walking, swimming, strength training – and make it part of your routine.
  • Take care of yourself. Eating well, getting enough sleep, connecting with people, and finding time to do activities you enjoy will help build up your resilience and make stress easier to manage.
  • Spend time in nature. Going for a walk in your local park, taking a hike, sitting on a beach, gardening, or tending to your indoor plants can help relieve stress.
  • Try to relax. You can try relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga. If you find it hard to relax, start by allowing yourself to take a short break.
  • Notice your thinking. We often burden ourselves with unrealistic expectations, creating a cycle of negative thinking. When self-criticism dominates our minds, we can become overwhelmed, hindering our ability to address the stress effectively. Be kind to yourself and practise self-compassion and positive self-talk.
  • Accept what you can control. Acknowledge the limitations of what you can actually control. Try to stop worrying about situations and events you cannot control.
  • Speak to someone you trust. The extent of the stress that we feel is often due to several things piling up. Consider opening up to a trusted family member, friend or work colleague who can help you work through your current situation and come up with possible solutions.
  • Speak to a health professional. If your stress is overwhelming, you can reach out to a free helpline like SuicideLine Victoria (call 1300 651 251) or make an appointment to see your GP, psychologist or psychiatrist.

 

 

If you are struggling and want to speak to a professional counsellor, SuicideLine Victoria is available 24/7. Call us on 1300 651 251 or click on the floating chat button on the right for online counselling. Our service is free.

If it is an emergency, call 000.

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