Are you stressed?

Stress is the main reason for long-term sickness absence from work according to the 2011 survey by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development).  Around 13.4 million working days a year are lost because of stress and stress-related illness. With the current financial crisis more and more people will become stressed as jobs go and people lose their homes.

There’s no doubt about it that many people feel stressed these days and there are plenty of external factors that contribute. Aside from divorce, bereavement, and illness we have traffic jams, overcrowded trains, financial pressures, job insecurity and when you want to ring up your bank you have to spend half an hour pressing keys or listening to ‘soothing’ music.

Does this mean that in the past Britons’ lives were easier? It’s unlikely – as you go back in time you encountered world wars, fighting or early deaths from childbirth or ghastly diseases? So is it that we just think we’re more stressed than ever today?

The pace of life doesn’t help. If we compare ourselves with our mothers and grandmothers we pack much more into 24 hours than they ever did. We think nothing of racing across two counties to meet someone for lunch or have a business appointment. Computers enable us to churn out far more work than manual typewriters did, and washing machines let us to do washing at any time of the day or night instead of spending an entire Monday doing it.

Therefore the pressure to perform, produce and simply do more is much greater than it ever was before and it’s hard sometimes to get off the treadmill and become laid back.

Read also: Relax, Relax, Relax

What is stress?

Stress is not an emotion in itself but it is often linked to depression, anxiety, anger, grief, frustration, guilt or sadness. It makes you feel as if you can’t cope and that everything is overwhelming you.

Unfortunately stress can lead to ill health and already accounts for 70 per cent of visitors to doctors. It is also the cause of 13 million lost working days every year. There are many illnesses or ailments that can result from being stressed including:

• Depression
• Stomach problems
• Headaches and migraine
• Insomnia
• Ulcers
• Skin problems
• High blood pressure
• Heart disease
• Strokes
• Cancer
• Nervous breakdown

What causes your stress?

Everyone reacts differently to specific situations – while one person may love travelling, the next person can find flying scary, or another may enjoy speaking in public and someone else will find it very stressful.

These are the common stressors that affect most people:

• Death of someone close
• Divorce or separation
• Redundancy or loss of job
• Loneliness
• Financial worries
• Having a baby
• Caring for an elderly or sick person (one in eight British adults)
• Conflict of any kind
• Serious illness or injury
• Moving home
• Retirement
• Criminal conviction

The workplace is a great source of stress for many, either because of internal politics, bullying, too much pressure, too much work, the volume of emails to contend with, or poor conditions and pay. There are also pleasant events that end up becoming stressful such as getting married.

There are many other day to day stress triggers which don’t compare with those listed above, but can seem too much when everything else is going wrong – traffic jams, overcrowded commuter trains, being left hanging on the phone for long spells, and busy supermarkets.

How to cope in a crisis situation

Everyone has crises in their life whether they are big or small. You may have a dreadful row with someone, or someone upsets you, or you receive some shocking news about a relative, a friend or a pet. You may be in a car accident, your house could be burgled, or you witness someone being attacked. These are some of the things you can do immediately:

• Walk away if it is appropriate
• Breathe deeply through your nose, into your chest and stomach
• Be still – try to find a quiet place and close your eyes
• Drink water – to hydrate the brain and body
• Cry as much as you possibly can to release pent up feelings
• Talk to someone who is understanding and helps to calm you down
• Avoid decisions until you have calmed down or you may do something rash
• Beat up your cushions instead of taking your anger out on someone else
• Take Rescue Remedy – a blend of Bach Flower essences calms you instantly

Your own worst enemy

Having established that life is stressful the only solution open to us is to learn to deal with stress better. Some people do get more stressed than others, but no-one seems to be immune to it. Allowing yourself to accept things more readily arms you for the tough times when everything seems to go wrong.

See how many ways you might be imposing stress on yourself:

Feeling guilty – how often do you do things because of guilt, when you feel you ought to do something that you don’t want to do?

Perfectionism – are you forever cleaning and clearing up or redoing things to meet your own high standards?

Judging – do you feel dictated to by what you feel you should be doing and concerned about what others ‘should’ do for the best?

Saying no – do you accept invitations when you’d rather not go, or are you always being asked to do things for people that you don’t want to do?

Taking on too much – do you think that you do work or household tasks better than anyone else, so you always end up doing them?

Procrastinating – do you put off what you need to do until it becomes urgent and causes you extra stress?

Worrying – do you lie awake at night worrying about what might happen to you or your family?

So what can you do about it?

Making changes to the way you are is not an easy thing to do if you have always been that way. Just reading the list above can make you more aware and able to try to stop yourself. Maybe you need some help to improve your self-esteem and to change the way you look at life, so that you have the tools to cope.

In the long term there is much that you can do to improve your own lot, so that when you have to encounter serious stress such as illness or the death of someone close you have a better philosophy of life which helps you cope better.

Change your mindset

Counselling can be very helpful and enables you to unburden your feelings to someone who is not emotionally involved or judgemental about what you say. CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) has been recognised by medical experts and the government as a preferred treatment for depression, but there are precious few therapists available on the NHS. CBT therapists help you to examine unwanted and negative thoughts and beliefs, and look at ways of changing behaviour or reactions to them.

Life coaching is different from counselling and is often undertaken on the phone. It is less involved with deep feelings but gives you guidance about particular areas of your life that are making you feel stressed. Hypnotherapy and NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) also enable you to make deep changes in the way you react to situations.

Stay healthy

To make our bodies more resistant to stress it is important to eat and drink healthily. Poor diet, too much alcohol, caffeine, or cigarettes make you more likely to suffer from mood highs and lows.

If you don’t sleep well and find it hard to stay calm at any time, you could try relaxation techniques such as meditation, which is simply a method of getting the mind to shut off and calm down. It is as important to put time aside for relaxation as often as you can, as it is to make time to exercise.

Regular exercise keeps the body healthy and releases endorphins, the ‘happy’ hormones. Yoga and t’ai chi are excellent choices of exercise if you regularly suffer from stress as they provide both physical exercise and are mentally calming.

When you are going through a period of anxiety herbal remedies (check with a doctor if you are on medication) such as Valerian or Passiflora have calming properties and are not addictive like anti-depressants. Complementary therapies such as massage, reflexology and healing give you time and space to wind down and enjoy some nurturing.

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The British Association of Psychotherapy and Counselling, BACP British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy website: 0870 443 5252
The British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, 01254 875277
The Lifecoaching Company gives free half hour sessions to anyone who calls them on 07044 042768 or through their website:
General Hypnotherapy Register, Lymington, Hampshire, 01590 683770,
For a list of NLP practitioners look at 023 925 88887
To find a yoga teacher: British Wheel of Yoga,, 01529 306851

To find t’ai chi classes: Tai Chi Finder,

Frances Ive has written a book entitled Stress – The Essential Guide published by Need-2-Know, £8.99,

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