How to reduce stress, according to a counsellor

·4-min read
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Stress can manifest itself in a myriad of different ways (Getty)

Stress, unfortunately, is a common part of life. Everyone feels stressed at one point or another, whether it’s due to jobs, kids, money or other personal issues.

In fact, according to a 2018 study from the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been “overwhelmed or unable to cope”.

“Some of the main causes of stress in everyday life can be child or eldercare issues, financial worries, isolation and loneliness, mental and/or physical health problems, relationships with family, friends and significant others, and work-related stress, perhaps one of the most common," counsellor Laurele Mitchell tells Yahoo UK.

"But just about anything can be a cause of stress depending on our individual circumstances and life history.”

Read more: How to overcome anxiety about seeing people again once lockdown lifts

The pandemic has only amplified these feelings, with Office for National Statistics (ONS) data from 2020 finding that coronavirus has “significantly increased” the percentage of people who reported high levels of anxiety.

“After over a year of living through several lockdowns, often with no end in sight, many of the main causes of stress will undoubtedly have been amplified, directly or indirectly, by the pandemic," says Mitchell.

"Some people are struggling with being made redundant, others are navigating working from home now that the novelty of working in pyjamas has worn off, the parents amongst us have had a crash course in home schooling and those of us who live alone are experiencing a lack of social interaction like never before.

“And we’re doing all of this while many of our usual coping strategies have been taken off the table and our fellow human beings have to be assessed as a potential risk to our lives. 

"The places where we blew off steam, be that at the gym or in a pub with friends, have been, for the most part, closed, denying us some much needed playtime to burn off the stress. 

"It has perhaps also exacerbated underlying or unrelated issues that some of us were managing well until the pandemic tipped the balance into unmanageable.”

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74% of people have felt so stressed they have been 'overwhelmed or unable to cope' (Getty)

What are the signs and symptoms of stress?

Stress can manifest itself in a myriad of ways. 

According to the NHS, physical symptoms include headaches or dizziness, muscle tension or pain, stomach problems, chest pain or a faster heartbeat and sexual problems.

Mental symptoms include difficulty concentrating, struggling to make decisions, feeling overwhelmed, constantly worrying and being forgetful. 

Other signs can include being irritable and “snappy”, sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or too little, avoiding certain places or people, and drinking or smoking more.

Read more: What to do if the news cycle is taking a toll on your mental health

What are the long term effects of stress?

While it's not pleasant to feel stressed the majority of the time, Mitchell says stress doesn’t always have to be a negative.

“Think of the gentle pressure that an impending deadline or exam exerts on us and, in just the right quantity, it can be motivating and enhance our productivity,” Mitchell explains.

“However, when left unchecked, stress can be anything but helpful. If you find yourself lacking concentration and motivation, if you are feeling more irritable or worried than usual, or you are easily overwhelmed or permanently tired, then you may be experiencing stress.

“Left unchecked, stress can tip into mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It also takes its toll on us physically, from digestive issues and headaches, to muscle tension and even high blood pressure.”

Watch: 5 top tips to boost your mental health

How can you reduce stress?

If you have noticed any of the signs and symptoms of stress, the first thing to do is to assess the various areas of your life to figure out the source of your stress.

“Work either to accept and manage the stress, or to break down the potentially challenging but necessary changes into bite-sized chunks,” Mitchell advises.

“It can be helpful to keep a journal so that you can identify what triggers your stress in order to take remedial action sooner rather than later.”

Read more: Are you suffering from pandemic posture? Here's what to do about it

Mitchell recommends breathing exercises as one of the more simple and powerful stress management techniques.

“Diaphragmatic breathing for a few minutes most days isn’t only curative but, with practice, it can be preventative, too,” Mitchell adds.

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as “belly breathing” is when you fully engage your stomach and diaphragm when breathing. Basically, it’s long, slow deep breaths which can help to soften your stress.

“There are, of course, the basics, too,” Mitchell continues. “Aim to eat a healthy diet, get enough exercise and sleep, and watch your consumption of stimulants, such as alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and even sugar. 

"And don’t be afraid to ask for help from loved ones and, if required, employers or medical professionals.”

To find out more about managing stress, visit the NHS website.

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