We all use the term ‘stress’ but what actually is it? When life is going well, and we feel like we are managing and coping with our day to day lives, we could say we are feeling well balanced. This shows that we are managing the general ‘ups and downs’ of daily life.

However, there are times in life when we no longer feel able to cope. It may be that something unexpected comes along or that the little things have just started to build up too much and in response we are not taking enough care of ourselves. There are lots of things in life that can cause ongoing stress at varying levels, such as financial struggles, work, relationships and general family life.

How do we know when we are stressed or that our stress levels are starting to rise?

We need to take notice of what our body is telling us and how it feels. You may have heard about the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is our body’s way of physically responding to a stressful situation. This is how we try to survive under stress and getting ourselves ready to either run away from the situation or fight for our lives!

You will notice your heart rate will increase, you will have raised blood pressure; your digestive system starts to shut down (maybe you feel like you can’t or don’t want to eat), which is your body’s way of using all the energy possible to fight for your life. If you feel that this is happening more often and maybe more often in situations that you think may not warrant this response, then this could be a sign of stress building up over time. This means that it is now time to slow down and take care of you!

Stress can actually help us get through certain situations and so in small amounts and for short periods of time, doesn’t do us any harm. It helps us increase adrenaline and cortisol levels (stress hormone) in order to help us manage when increased demands are placed on us, such as a job interview, funerals and so on. It is when this stress stays around for longer periods of time that it can then build up and potentially cause more physical stresses on your body, and possibly cause more long-term health problems.

How can you reduce your stress levels?

*Listen to your body as the physical reactions are there for a reason, a warning!

*Try and identify the possible causes of the stress to avoid further stressful situations.

*Ensure you make time to relax. If you were not very good at relaxing then now would be a good time to learn.

*Exercise. You may find that you do not feel like going to a gym but even a walk around the block or ten minutes on a bike can make a huge difference to how you feel.

*Eat regularly. Even if you do not feel like eating, you need to consider food like you would medication, you must take it, as your body needs it.

*Be kind to yourself and allow others to support you.