A certain amount of pressure is good for us. But if stress levels start running too high, our mind and body pay the price.

While a degree of stress can be motivating and can help us get things done, if levels are excessive, we risk reaching stress overload or burnout, and that’s bad news for our health. Stress causes our adrenal glands to produce the hormone cortisol – and too much of it in our system puts us at increased risk of impaired cognitive performance, high blood pressure and heart disease. So while a certain amount of stress may be part and parcel of modern life, it’s important to keep an eye out for the early warning signs that things are getting too much.

The following statements can help you to get a handle on whether stress might be becoming an issue. Do any of these apply to you?

  • You’ve been feeling more irritable, short tempered, overwhelmed or anxious recently
  • You find yourself always focusing on the negative or being constantly worried about things
  • It’s hard for you to relax
  • You’re sleeping a lot more or less than usual
  • You’ve been having some physical symptoms (such as nausea, dizziness, aches and pains, diarrhoea, constipation, frequent colds, chest pain or a rapid heartbeat)
  • You don’t really want to mix with people or socialise that much
  • Loss of sexual appetite
  • You’re eating much more or less than normal
  • You find yourself procrastinating or neglecting your responsibilities

Take steps to manage stress

If you answered yes to any of these, it could be a sign that stress is becoming a problem. If you’re worried that may be the case, the first step is to take some action, and not just hope it will go away on its own. Talk to your GP or call the CABA helpline on 0800 107 6163, and then start looking at how you can alleviate excessive stress in your life (see the panel opposite for some ideas on how to do this).

Wendy Saunders, Head of Development at CABA, comments:

“It is not always possible to change a stressful situation, but you can usually change your reaction to it. Stress management is really about taking charge and looking at what changes you need to make to reduce your stress levels. This could mean changing the way you think about a situation, making changes to your schedule or your environment, or looking at how you can handle problems differently. And at stressful times, it’s even more important to take care of yourself, and set time aside for rest and relaxation.”

Visit our training page for a full list of stress management courses in your area.

Top five stress-busters

Be active. If you’re feeling stressed, physical activity can help to clear your mind, so that you can identify the cause of your stress and deal with your problems more calmly. 

Make connections. A problem shared is a problem halved. Having a good support network is a cornerstone of wellbeing in times of stress.

Make some ‘me time’. Carving out some time for yourself is essential. Try to set aside some time at least a couple of nights a week for socialising, relaxation or exercise. 

Challenge yourself. Pushing yourself to learn something new, such as a new language or sport, builds confidence – which in turn helps you to become more emotionally resilient and better able to deal with stress. 

Be positive. Try to be ‘glass half full’ instead of ‘glass half empty’. You can train yourself to be more positive, even if you’re a natural pessimist. Start by writing down three things at the end of each day that went well, or that you’re grateful for. You should find it helps you to look at your situation from a more positive viewpoint.

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