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 stress 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.”
Stress symptoms 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 stress 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.
However, stress could be sparked by many, many other things, such as home worries, health concerns, or perhaps recently, concerns about the world and the environment.
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 stress 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.
Stress symptoms: Identifying stress in children
Even young tots and children feel stressed to some degree. Signs of stress in children, according to Kids Health, may be picking up new habits and behavioural changes such as thumb sucking, hair twirling, and bedwetting. Older children may start to lie, become aggressive and have mood swings.
Sources of stress for kids usually come from nursery, school, homework and peer groups. Kids own stress may be intensified by things happening in their family lives such as family arguments, financial worries, or a relatives illness or death.
Parents should try not to argue with their partners or discuss their worries in front of their children as they can pick up on your anxieties and start to worry themselves. Separated and divorced parents should not make their children pick sides or talk negatively about their ex-partners in front of their children.
If your child is exposed to a worrying piece of world news or an inappropriate movie talk to them about their safety as they may have concerns over natural disasters and terrorism. Monitor what your children watch on TV and talk to them about things their friends at school may have shown them online.
Also be aware that kids tend to get stressed over the tiny things that often don’t worry adults. Let your kids know that you understand their stress and talk to them about their emotions and feelings as often as possible.