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How to reduce stress

Four ways to reduce stress and anxiety

At some point in our lives, we may have experienced stress to the point that we have been unable to cope. There are many different situations or life events that cause stress, often triggered when we experience something new or unexpected that can threaten our sense of self or when you have little control over a certain situation.

Read on to discover some tips on how to cope with stress:

What is stress?

If you’re under too much mental or emotional pressure, or if you feel threatened, you’re more likely to react with stress. Cortisol and adrenaline are stress hormones which your body releases when you experience stress.

Being overworked and having too many unmanageable responsibilities, experiencing bereavement, financial problems, disaster, trauma or isolation can all result in feelings of stress. Everyone experiences stress differently and it’s your body’s reaction to help you deal with pressure or threats. This is sometimes called a "fight or flight" response. Your stress hormone levels usually return to normal once the pressure or threat has passed.

If you’re stressed due to the menopause, your environment, an issue in your personal life or something else, the first step you can take to feeling better is to identify the cause of your concern. As soon as you're able to understand the root of your worries, making a change to address the situation can be quick and easy.

A small amount of stress can be useful. It can motivate you to take action and get tasks completed. It can also make you feel alive and excited. But too much stress can negatively impact your physical and mental health, causing a rise in your cortisol levels. Get to know your cortisol levels: the good, the bad and how to reduce them.

How does stress impact your physical health?

If you’re experiencing feelings of prolonged stress, your body will have released stress-response hormones which can physically manifest in your body. According to Mind, the following are the common symptoms of stress:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and headaches
  • Feeling sick, dizzy or fainting
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Developing rashes or itchy skin
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Panic attacks
  • Blurred eyesight or sore eyes
  • Sleep problems
  • Chest pains and high blood pressure
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Constipation or diarrhoea

Stress may also cause more severe or long-term health problems or worsen pre-existing physical problems.

These might include:

How does stress impact your mental health?

Although stress is not normally considered a mental health problem, too much stress can cause negative effects such as a change in your mood or your relationships and consequently, impact your mental health. You may experience heightened feelings of:

  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Anger or aggression
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Irritability

If you experience lots of stress, this might lead you to develop a mental health problem like anxiety or depression. A particularly traumatic period of stress might lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, mental health problems can also cause stress, so you might find coping with the day-to-day symptoms of your mental health problem is stressful.

Some people use unhealthy habits, such as recreational drugs or alcohol, to cope with stress, which can also affect your mind and cause further stress. It is important you speak to someone if you are struggling to cope.

How to look after your mental health and reduce stress

One: Do some exercise

Being active is not only good for health and fitness, but evidence shows it can improve mental wellbeing by:

  • Causing a release of chemicals in the brain, which can positively change your mood
  • Clearing negative thoughts and letting you deal with problems more calmly
  • Helping you to set goals and targets
  • Giving you an achievable goal; low to moderate intensity exercise can work as well as high intensity to reduce stress and anxiety

Two: Avoid unhealthy habits

Alcohol, smoking, caffeine, fast food and sweet treats (when consumed above the recommended levels) are poor coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety.

  • Government guidelines recommend no more than 14 units of alcohol a week for men and women. This is equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine. Lowering or removing alcohol entirely from your diet can directly reduce your stress and anxiety
  • Cut down or stop smoking if you do
  • It’s recommended that you reduce your caffeine intake if you’re stressed or anxious. Try de-caffeinated drinks, or abstain from caffeine after midday, to help improve relaxation closer to bedtime
  • We’ve put together a guide filled with top tips to grow habits for your wellbeing

Three: Take time out

  • Take time to relax
  • Explore relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, yoga or breathing exercises
  • Tell yourself that it’s okay to prioritise self-care. Take a break from stressful situations where and when you can
  • Take regular breaks from work
  • Eat lunch away from your desk while at work

Four: Get some restful sleep

  • Improve your sleeping environment by removing distractions, such as the TV and electronic gadgets with continuous light, from the bedroom
  • Switch off electronic screens at least an hour before going to sleep; the earlier the better
  • Adjust your sleeping environment if it’s too hot or cold, or if there’s too much light or noise – eye masks and ear plugs can help
  • Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine and sugary snacks close to bedtime

Further support

If you’re finding things hard right now, it's ok to ask for help.

For further support, the Mental Health Foundation has created an article around how to reduce and manage stress, or you can read our own top tips on how to relax and recover.

Help for your mental health at Benenden Hospital

If you've been affected by anything mentioned in this article, or would like to discuss your mental health, our fast access GP services can help. Book your appointment online today or contact our Private Patient team via LiveChat or on 01580 363158.

Published on 28 March 2024