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Cheshire's Mental Health Hub

Understanding Stress

Stress can affect people in many different ways from mild irritability to depression, anxiety and sleeplessness. According to The Mental Health Foundation “74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope”1. In addition to this, stress is one of the biggest contributing factors to ill health as it inhibits the body's ability to function properly. 

Sometimes stress on the body can be useful, back in the days of the sabre-toothed tigers if humans weren’t equipped with a stress response or ‘fight or flight’ we would surely have been wiped out very quickly. We are equipped to deal with a small portion of stress but too much stress on the body for any prolonged period can have not-so-positive effects, including our mental and physical health. 

In stress state we tend to have more shallow breathing, experience sweating, increased heart rate and even physical symptoms of pain and sickness. All of which sends a constant signal to our brains that something isn’t right. 

When operating in this state it’s easy to see how we can become overwhelmed and unable to function as perhaps we once would have. We find rational decisions pretty difficult because our brain loses the capacity to think creatively and communicate (it’s why we always seem to think of the witty thing to say AFTER we’ve walked away from the argument). Our sleep may be the first thing to be interrupted because we just can’t seem to ‘switch off’ at night. We can become lacking in energy or experience ‘brain fog’, and our eating habits might change, either overeating or not eating enough. Some may turn to increased alcohol use or smoking. 

Stress can show up in many, many different ways, almost anything can be a trigger. And it can be something that slowly emerges as circumstances unfold. It's very common also, not to understand that you were in stress state until after the events have passed. That has certainly been a reality for me at various times in my life. It’s not until I made a decision to let something go, or have that conversation with someone that was making my life very uncomfortable that I realised how much pressure I was under and the relief was tangible. 

Very often when we are in stress state one of the last things we actually feel like doing is taking time out to look after ourselves. We either completely lack the motivation to show up for ourselves OR we feel like we’ve got to keep pushing stronger and harder to get that project finished or hit that deadline at work. 

But here are some top tips to support you take a step to de-stress: