Stress is a term that we throw around in everyday conversation – but when does it become a health condition that you need to address?
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with stress or are struggling with the symptoms, here’s everything you need to know.
What is stress?
Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or under too much pressure. It can affect you physically, mentally or emotionally.
Stress can be caused by anything from work to home life, relationships to financial troubles, and affects various aspects of daily life, including appetite, sleeping patterns and mood.
Everyone experiences stress to some degree. The key difference between average day-to-day stresses and stress that may need addressing is the feeling of being unable to cope.
Am I stressed?
Anxiety UK CEO, Nicky Lidbetter, explains: ‘We often use the analogy of a ‘leaky bucket’ when talking about stress and anxiety to people who call our helpline.
‘Everyday stresses and strains (such as getting the kids ready for school, sitting in traffic on the way to work, grocery shopping in a busy supermarket, etc) are like little drops of water in a bucket. They may not be hugely stressful individually but over time, they all add up. If you do not have ‘holes in your bucket’ to let the water flow out (such as taking regular exercise, talking with friends, or enjoying a hobby), eventually it will overflow and become overwhelming.’
Symptoms of stress
Symptoms of stress can vary from person to person, but often include:
- Feeling anxious or irritable
- Low self-esteem
- Constant worrying
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle pain
- Stomach upsets
- Sleep problems
- Loss of appetite
If you experience any of these symptoms, or feel that the symptoms above are particularly extreme in your case, it may be time to seek medical advice. As Anxiety UK advises, dealing with stress is important in order to prevent it from escalating into anxiety.
Triggers of stress
The triggers of stress vary from person to person, but often centre on money or relationship troubles or difficulties at work.
The NHS suggests keeping a diary of moments when you feel stressed, to see if you can identify a pattern in your triggers. Record factors such as the date, time and place, who was present, what you were doing, and how you felt, and rate your stress levels from 1-10. After 2-4 weeks, the cause of your stress may be more obvious, giving you a better opportunity to tackle the root of the problem.
Identifying stress in others
Identifying stress in a friend, partner or loved one isn’t always easy, but the symptoms are often similar to those you may recognise in yourself.
They can manifest behaviourally (appearing distracted, struggling to make decisions, thinking negatively), emotionally (severe mood swings, anger or frustration, lacking motivation, increased sensitivity) or physically (frequent illness, notable weight loss/gain, tiredness, digestive problems, changes in sex drive).
It is generally easier to notice behavioural symptoms, but most people with stress experience a combination of the three.
If you are concerned about someone who you think is stressed and needs help, there are two key ways that you can help: listening to how they are feeling without judgement or interruption, and letting them know you want to help, whether they need general reassurance, support identifying their symptoms, or assistance seeking medical intervention.