Stress is not a new phenomenon, our ancestors felt stress, even in the days of cavemen. Their stress was triggered by coming face to face with a tiger or other wild beast whilst out hunting. Their reaction though was similar to ours. When faced with stressful situations, our bodies are programmed to release a powerful mix of chemicals including adrenaline and cortisol. This rush of hormones means that unnecessary body functions shut down for a short while and allow us to get into ‘fight or flight’ mode.
It’s important to note, at this stage, that not all stress is bad. It’s the rush of energy you feel when you suddenly have to brake in a car or move to avoid a falling object. Stress can also help us get through situations we feel uncomfortable with or nervous about. For example, driving tests, interviews, or accountancy exams. It can make you feel more motivated and feel like you can get things done. Ever noticed that as a deadline approaches you can become more focused to get a task done?
When stress isn’t positive.
Unfortunately, the stress we tend to talk about on the whole is the type that has a negative impact on us. In today’s society, we can experience stress in almost every aspect of our lives. At home, at work, or at college, and increasingly online. The same events can happen to different people but the degree to which they find them stressful will vary. We all react differently. Common stresses in our personal lives include bereavement, relationships breaking down, moving home, sitting exams, and being responsible for children or elderly relatives. Our reaction to these will be personal. For example, some people will thrive on sitting exams but this doesn’t mean others will find them any less stressful.
Workplace stress has become an increasing problem in the UK with over 13 million work days lost every year to stress. The expectation to work longer hours, and be connected to devices while at home or away has turned this into a modern-day issue and resulted in having a poorer balance between work and our personal lives. The Stress Management Society cites these as some of the signs that someone is suffering from workplace stress:
- An increase in absenteeism (sick leave)
- Presenteeism (attending work while sick)
- Arguments and disputes with colleagues
- A tendency to work late and not take breaks
- A loss of sense of humour, replaced by irritability
- A decrease in work standards
- A tendency to suffer from headaches, nausea, aches and pains, tiredness, and poor sleeping patterns
How we react to stress. Fight, flight, or freeze.
Fight or flight is a commonly used term when talking about stress but we know another reaction we can experience is to freeze. In fight mode, we can feel agitated and aggressive toward other people which may have been helpful when faced with predators but in everyday life, can have an impact on our relationships. We may find an overwhelming desire when faced with stress to avoid the situation causing it. This is flight mode and is useful in saving our lives when faced with danger. The downside is that sometimes situations don’t go away and we need to deal with them at some point. Freeze is also a reaction to stress and can see us not doing anything. We might hold our breath or our breathing will become shallow.
How stress affects us.
Stress is individual and we all respond differently to it. The Stress Management Society breaks down the symptoms into four categories; cognitive, emotional, physical, and behavioural.
- Cognitive symptoms may include the inability to concentrate, brain fog, self-doubt, and starting tasks we then don’t complete.
- The emotional symptoms of stress can make us irritable, depressed, anxious, or feeling overwhelmed.
- Physical reactions to stress can often go undetected as they can include frequently catching a cold, aches, pains, or indigestion.
- Finally, the behavioural symptoms of stress could see you drinking more than usual, sleeping too much or too little, or avoiding others.
What we can do to manage stress.
Sleep well – practice good sleep hygiene. You can read more about this in an article by our tutor, Ian Thoroughgood, a keen advocate of sleep hygiene. The Stress Management Society recommends trying a relaxing bath, breathing exercises, and keeping a notepad beside your bed to write down anything that’s on your mind as you try to drift off.
Music – a powerful tool for relaxation. Classical music in particular can help you to focus without getting distracted. Music can also help you to drift off to sleep if you choose calm, relaxing music and there are plenty of free playlists on many of the well-known streaming services.
Time Management – making lists, ranking tasks in importance, and flexing your tasks around how you feel can help you to feel more in control. Taking regular breaks also helps with productivity.
Exercise – This doesn’t have to be heart-pounding, high-energy activities. Walking, yoga or any activity you really enjoy doing can help to release good mood chemicals in the brain.
Breathe – the simplest thing that anyone can do is to take slow, deep breaths even if it’s just for a few minutes on a regular basis. It allows oxygen to reach the brain which helps you to become calmer and more relaxed.
To create this article we took information from the NHS website and that of the Stress Management Society. You can find further detailed advice on their sites:
Where to get help
You can talk to one of our safeguarding officers. You can find all of their details on this page FI Safeguarding.
They will be able to point you in the right direction of organisations that offer support. The advice from the NHS website is to contact the Samaritans or Mind. They also suggest you contact your GP, call 111 if you need help urgently but are not in a life-threatening situation, or 999 if you or someone else needs immediate help.