Mental Health Monday – Stress Awareness Month

April is stress awareness month and so todays MHM is all about stress – causes, signs and symptoms and what you can do if you are struggling with stress.

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Stress can have a number of causes. Sometimes it can be a big event or situation such as a break up or moving house and sometimes, it is a build up of lots of smaller things. Chronically ill people can face stress for a number of reasons from the financial instability you face, the uncertainty that chronic conditions can biting and the changes a diagnosis can bring to your life.

The Science Behind Stress

So what is stress? Stress is a reaction to us being under pressure or feeling threatened. Stress can be helpful when it comes in small doses – helping to motivate us to complete tasks for example, but when it lasts a long time or is due to a massive life event it can cause both physical and mental symptoms that impact on your every day life.

A stressful event will create a release of a hormone called cortisol, by the hypothalamus, through the adrenal glands, into the blood stream. Your blood sugar increases and adrenaline causes a more rapid heart rate. It takes your body’s metabolism around an hour and a half to return to it’s normal state following a stressful event. However, when you have chronic stress, at a lower level, but over a longer period of time, this can have life-long health implications. Chronic stress is more challenging than acute stress, as the continual source of stress does
not allow the body a chance to correct itself and return to normal functioning.

What Are The Symptoms of Stress?

You might feel:

  • Irritable, angry, impatient or wound up
  • Over-burdened or overwhelmed
  • Anxious, nervous or afraid
  • Like your thoughts are racing and you can’t switch off
  • Unable to enjoy yourself
  • Depressed
  • Uninterested in life
  • Like you’ve lost your sense of humour
  • A sense of dread
  • Worried or tense
  • Neglected or lonely
  • Existing mental health problems getting worse

Physical manifestations include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Panic attacks
  • Blurred eyesight or sore eyes
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and headaches
  • Chest pains and high blood pressure
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Feeling sick, dizzy or fainting
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Developing rashes or itchy skin
  • Sweating
  • Changes to your period or menstrual cycle
  • Existing physical health problems getting worse

How stress can make you behave:

  • Find it hard to make decisions
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Unable to remember things, or make your memory feel slower than usual
  • Constantly worry or have feelings of dread
  • Snap at people
  • Bite your nails
  • Pick at or itch your skin
  • Grind your teeth or clench your jaw
  • Experience sexual problems, such as losing interest in sex or being unable to enjoy sex
  • Eat too much or too little
  • Smoke, use recreational drugs or drink alcohol more than you usually would
  • Restless, like you can’t sit still
  • Cry or feel tearful
  • Spend or shop too much
  • Not exercise as much as you usually would, or exercise too much
  • Withdraw from people around you

From Mind

Tips For Managing Stress


Be kind ton yourself and take time to rest. Try out different relaxation techniques such as meditation – I love the Headspace app for this. Get out into nature and take a walk. Spend time on your hobbies – doing things you enjoy can give you a break from a stressful situation.

Take care of your physical health

For a long time, it was believed that sleep deprivation was a symptom of stress.
Recently, studies are showing that perhaps it is the opposite: sleep deprivation causes stress. During REM sleep, the stage of sleep where dreams happen, it’s been found that levels of norepinephrine and cortisol decrease. Essentially, more time spent in the REM stage of sleep will reduce stress. Develop good sleep habits that include a routine bedtime with tranquil, meditative exercises to increase REM sleep. From The Science Behind Stress and How to Relieve the Symptoms

Exercising regularly and eating a healthy, balanced diet can be hard to do when you are under stress but both will help the symptoms easier to manage.

Build your support network

Talking to friends and family can make a huge difference – whether they can help with the situation, or just be someone you can talk to, both can help ease your stress.

Workplaces, universities, colleges and schools can also provide support for your mental health and stress. Reach out to your manager, tutor, HR or student services.

You can also seek out support from charities like Mind and Young Minds.

Work out your triggers

Knowing what your triggers are can help you be prepared. You may be able to avoid these situations, but even if you can’t – being prepared may make them easier to deal with.

Tae some time to think about what your triggers might be – situations that arise often (such as medical appointments), situations you are worried you will find yourself in again and one-off events that can bring about huge levels of stress (such as moving house).

As always, if you are struggling with your mental health, please speak to a professional. My post – Where Can I Find Support For My Mental Health – lists a huge range of different places you can seek help.

Have a great week,

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