Stress is a normal part of our lives. Work deadlines, study deadlines, the school run, preparing for a holiday, juggling lots of pans on the hob, traffic jams when you’re in a rush… Most days have some element of stress in them. At it’s most basic level, stress is simply the body’s reaction to anything that needs you to respond to it.
Stress can be positive: remember those sabre-toothed tigers we’ve mentioned before? The stress response kept our ancestors alert and able to avoid being mauled by large and aggressive cats. These days, the stress response still helps us in potentially harmful situations, such as when we’re driving or chasing toddlers around the park.
So, if it’s a normal everyday occurrence, and it’s designed to keep us safe, why do we speak of stress as a bad thing? Stress can start to have a negative effect, both physically and mentally, when it becomes relentless. When it feels like there’s no let-up between stressful situations, our “stress bucket” starts to fill up and even overflow. Feeling stressed can be caused by a series of minor stressors or one great big worry: we’re all different, and so different things press our stress overload buttons.
However, there are some pretty universal factors that impact on most of us. It’s often easy to identify the causes of stress: problems at work, family issues, health worries, finances – all those things that we can deal with in moderation but not in excess.
How do we know when stress stops being a normal part of life and becomes something we need to address? Here are the signs of stress that we all need to be aware of.
Physical symptoms of stress
Our bodies are designed to cope with stress. However if there is too much relentless stress, we can experience physical symptoms due to the extra hormones (such as adrenaline) that our bodies start producing. Common symptoms can include headaches, upset tummies, feeling faint, chest pains, panic attacks or raised blood pressure. There are also other physical effects such as sweating more, feeling tired, having bad dreams, or grinding your teeth.
Emotional responses to stress
If you’re experiencing too much stress, you may be feeling overwhelmed, weepy, or even depressed. There could be a feeling of life spiralling out of control or of losing self-esteem. It’s hard to relax or switch off from your thoughts. Sometimes, stressed people avoid their friends or dong things that usually make them happy, a bit like having depression. Some people say that when they lose their sense of humour, that’s a sign that things “aren’t right”. If you already experience depression or anxiety, stress can make you feel much worse.
Stress affects your relationships
Stressed people often find their sex drive is affected, and they stop turning to their partners for comfort. Because there’s so much spinning around in their heads, they may be snappier at the kids or their colleagues, and avoid friends altogether. This can be one of the most conflicting symptoms, as you feel simultaneously irritated by people, but also lonely.
You may not be sleeping well, either because your thoughts won’t switch off, or because you’re having disturbing dreams. The knock-on effect of poor sleep, as I’ve discussed before, is that we need quality REM sleep to process the day’s events. This naturally empties our stress buckets overnight. If you can’t sleep, this doesn’t happen, allowing the stress to build up. When we were children, our mums used to say “you’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.” It’s true: it’s much harder to deal with life when you’re tired.
Changes in behaviour
There can be small indicators that all is not well: starting to bite your nails for the first time in years, not bothering with your hair or make-up or ironing your work clothes. Your appetite can change, eating more or less than you typically would. Usually-decisive people can find it hard to make decisions.
Turning to unhelpful stress relievers
A large glass of wine, a deep drag on a cigarette, or a slab of chocolate cake may make your feelings of stress feel better. They do – but on a very, very short term basis. For example, turning to alcohol to relieve stress can lead to greater problems. So, if you find yourself reaching for the fags or a bottle of wine when you’re feeling stressed, stop and think.
How can solution focused hypnotherapy help you with stress?
It can help you take that essential step back and regain control. You can’t be relaxed and stressed at the same time, so I work with my clients to help them find ways to remain calm and manage their feelings when things begin to overwhelm them. You will learn how our brain works to create anxiety and stress, and what we can do about it.
I’m Debbie Daltrey, the founder of Great Minds Clinic. My clinics are in Timperley, Altrincham, and Manchester City Centre. If you feel that everything is getting too much, please get in touch for a confidential chat. We can work together to help you feel in control again, and replace feelings of excessive stress with ones of calm, in-control and confidence.