How to manage stress

The modern world often moves at a million miles-per-hour, and if you’re experiencing stress symptoms – you’re definitely not alone.

A 2018 Mental Health Foundation Study found that in a 12-month period, 74% of people felt “so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope”. But what is stress, how does it affect the body, and are there any stress management techniques that can help?

We’ll explore all that and more in this guide.

What is stress?

Stress is the way your body reacts to a challenging situation, such as feeling pressured or threatened. Some people might refer to this as ‘burnout’. We can all feel stressed at different times in our lives, so knowing how to manage stress can help you ride out these difficult moments.

10 stress symptoms

Everyone experiences stress differently, and stress symptoms can manifest in any number of ways. Here are 10 signs of stress that you may want to look out for:

  1. You feel overwhelmed
  2. You're irritable around others
  3. You're often worried and anxious
  4. Your confidence has deteriorated
  5. You struggle to focus on one task
  6. You feel fatigued
  7. You're struggling to sleep
  8. You're eating, drinking or smoking more than usual
  9. You're avoiding others
  10. You're experiencing headaches

Ways to manage stress

Learning how to manage your stress could alleviate tension and leave you feeling happier and healthier. Below are some pointers on ways to manage stress.

  • Stay active. Regular exercise can release endorphins which enhance your mood and boost your self-esteem. It can also cut your risk of developing an illness like type 2 diabetes by 50%, according to the NHS.
  • Express your feelings. If life is getting on top of you, talking to someone could be a helpful way of letting off steam.
  • Create a to-do list. If life seems overwhelming, splitting up tasks into small chunks may make big events and worries feel more manageable. Planning ahead and keeping a diary of major dates may also be beneficial.
  • Reduce any unhealthy habits. While unhealthy activities like smoking, or excessive drinking, may feel like a respite from stress, any subsequent health problems could make life more challenging in the long-run.
  • Embrace mindfulness. Many people practice mindfulness, which the NHS describes as “paying more attention to the present moment”. Mindfulness techniques such as meditation, sitting silently, or engaging in activity such as yoga, have many advocates as a way of reducing stress.
  • Positive thinking. When we’re feeling stressed, it can be easy to focus on the lows. But even at a difficult time, it can be beneficial to reflect on things that have gone well in any given day, whether it’s a friendly conversation with a neighbour, or receiving good news about a family member.
  • Help others. Getting involved in the community – for example, by volunteering – could raise your spirits and reduce your stress levels. Helping those who are less fortunate could help put your own challenges into perspective.
  • Take a break. A busy work life can get on top of anyone, so it’s important that you reward yourself with a little ‘me time’. If you’re able to take time off for a holiday, or a bit of socialising, your stress levels may be alleviated.

Can stress cause high blood pressure?

Stress can cause an increase in blood pressure, which should return to normal levels once the stress has subsided. But if high blood pressure persists over the long-term, it can increase your risk of developing heart disease and other illnesses.

We know that regular physical activity can reduce your risk of illnesses like colon cancer, heart disease and strokes, so keeping fit is an important tool in your stress management armoury.