Five signs you're stressed and how to relieve it

With the problem causing misery for millions in the UK, we look at the symptoms of stress and the different ways to combat it.

Stress has become a relatively normal part of modern life with most of us experiencing symptoms at one point or another.

But a major study of more than 10,000 people carried out in the UK in 2013, revealed 27 per cent felt 'close to breaking point' and 44 per cent believed they were currently suffering from stress.

The same research, found the main cause of anxiety was financial concerns, followed by worries about work and family.

Stress can affect every aspect of your life, from how you feel emotionally and physically to how you behave.

But how do we know if what we’re experiencing amounts to a condition that needs to be treated, or if it’s a temporary situation that will likely pass?

According to experts, there are several symptoms of stress to look out for.

The signs of stress

  1. You feel overwhelmed. When we’re suffering from severe anxiety, then it affects our thinking and can make even simple tasks seem like a mountain to climb. Stress itself is sometimes described as the feelings people experience when the demands made on them seem greater than their ability to cope.
  2. You are fearful, constantly worrying and/or feeling a sense of impending doom. Stress and the related anxiety makes it difficult to relax, quiet the mind and concentrate.
  3. You feel irritable and can be easily angered. When your emotions are heightened and you’re producing more adrenalin because of stress, you become tense and it’s easier for frustration to tip over.
  4. You have physical symptoms such as muscle pain and fatigue. When your body is in fight-or-flight mode, the stress hormones released will tighten muscles to make the body more resilient. When that happens infrequently it’s not usually problematic, but when this becomes a more regular state then physical symptoms can appear.
  5. You may be drinking alcohol more frequently, smoking more or avoiding certain situations. People who drink heavily are more likely to suffer from mental health problems and self-medicate with alcohol. But while alcohol can relieve anxiety, the effect is temporary and could exacerbate the problem longer term. Similarly, while smoking can create an immediate sense of relaxation, it can actually increase overall anxiety.

Ways to combat stress

Exercise

Physical activity produces endorphins (feel-good hormones) that act as natural painkillers, can help improve sleep and promote a sense of wellbeing.

Deep breathing

Taking just a few minutes to control your breathing – which accelerates when we’re stressed – can help reduce tension and heart rate. Try breathing in deeply and slowly through your nose and out through your mouth. Keep doing this for between three and five minutes.

Mindfulness

A relatively recent approach to stress-reduction, numerous studies have shown that mindfulness can reduce psychological distress. It’s based on meditation techniques and the idea of noting what is happening in our own mind and body without emotion, and allowing thoughts and feelings to float by.

Take a break

Whether it’s taking a walk at lunchtime, or going for a swim or to a class after work, having a time-out can be a really useful way of unwinding and creating distance between yourself and your sources of stress.

Plenty of rest

Stress can cause insomnia which in turn affects your ability to deal with your thoughts and emotions. On the flip side, if you can improve your sleep during periods of stress it will be easier to deal with. Most sleep experts say it’s vital to spend some time winding down before switching the bedside lamp off, ideally reading or listening to music for an hour beforehand.

If you've tried these self-help techniques and they aren't working, it’s probably worth seeing your GP.