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Stress and Mental Health

Everyone experiences feelings of stress – feeling under pressure or worried, having responsibilities that feel overwhelming, or just feeling unable to relax. Stress is something that we all experience quite often, with statistics finding that 7% of UK adults feel stressed every single day, and 79% feel stressed at least one day a month [1]. Stress can arise for a variety of reasons and can reach debilitating levels if not dealt with appropriately, with the majority of UK adults stating that they have been so stressed that they feel unable to cope [2].

While it has been described as “one of the great public health challenges of our time” [3], stress should not always be a bad thing. Primarily, stress is a physical response that we evolved to protect us from our surrounding environments. It does this by triggering a response known as fight-or-flight, where the body releases a complex mix of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol [4], which can help us to tackle potential threats in our surrounding environments. These hormones cause increased heart rate and breathing rate, and a boost in energy that allows us to focus our attention to quickly respond to situations, typically by facing it (fight) or escaping it (flight). The ability to feel stress has therefore enabled our survival throughout evolution, and still comes in handy today in potentially dangerous situations. Some people also find that stress in small amounts can be helpful or even motivating to get things done [5].

However, the stress response can cause problems for us when it is triggered in situations where it is not needed. There are a number of stressors in today’s environment, a few of which may include relationship difficulties [2], having problems with money, housing, or work [6], or experiencing discrimination or harassment [7]. Sometimes the cause of stress may not be so clear, as it can come from a number of underlying factors that build up over time. Much like how the causes of stress are different for everyone, so are the ways it can manifest. Stress can affect us physically, cognitively, emotionally, or behaviourally, and often it can present as a combination. There is no ‘one size fits all’ way in which to identify stress in any one person, but there are a few common signs that may be helpful in understanding if you or someone you know may be under a lot of stress.

Common signs of stress:

Being able to observe when we are stressed helps us to be able to manage it. When stress goes unnoticed it can cause even more problems for us in the long run and contribute to a range of health problems. Chronic long-term stress can lead to issues with the heart and circulation, weaken the immune system, and contribute to gastrointestinal issues in the gut [8].

However, there are a few ways that we can manage and relieve stress. One way is by looking after your social wellbeing and maintaining a healthy social support network. Connecting with other people can provide comfort when stress feels unmanageable and can help mediate the negative effects of stress and burnout. If you are feeling stressed, try reaching out to a loved one to check in with them and catch up – and remember that it’s okay to ask for help if you need it! Friends and loved ones can often provide insight and help us feel understood, give us a stronger sense of meaning and purpose in life, and can influence and reinforce healthy habits [9].

Another way to reduce stress is through self-care. Taking time for ourselves can help us to feel more relaxed and build resilience to better handle stress. This might mean taking time to get enough sleep, prioritizing healthy meals, or engaging in exercise such as walking or yoga. Self-care allows us to take well deserved time for ourselves, maybe while soaking in a bubble bath or reconnecting through meditation. There are a number of ways to care for yourself, so there is opportunity to find a way that best suits you.

For some people, stress levels may become too difficult to manage independently, and may be contributing to mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. In this case, it may be helpful to consider professional support through therapy. One type of therapy that can be helpful in managing stress is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Working with a CBT therapist can help with identifying stressors and working together to come up with healthier responses to reduce the impact of stress.

Here at Surrey Therapy Practice, we have a team of experienced professionals trained in a range of therapies that can help with managing and overcoming stress. Many of our therapists take an integrative approach to tailor their treatments to individual needs. If you feel you or someone you know is having problems with stress and may benefit from therapy, please get in touch and make an enquiry here.



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