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A Spotlight on Stress (and 8 ways to manage it better)

This week (1st - 5th November) is International Stress Awareness Week - an annual event sponsored by ISMA (International Stress Management Association), and a time dedicated to helping people recognise, manage, and reduce their stress levels. This blogpost aims to contribute to this goal by looking into the impact that stress has on our bodies and our minds, and by sharing some practical ways to manage and reduce our stress levels.

What Is Stress?

According to the Mental Health Foundation, stress is 'the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure'. More specifically, stress is the way that our bodies respond to a perceived pressure or threat. Certain hormones are released to enable a 'fight or flight' response - this can be very helpful in the moment. It can allow you to push through exhaustion, make decisions quickly, or improve focus for a limited period of time.

Stress often feels like an inevitable part of modern life, and to an extent, it is. One 2018 study revealed that 74% of adults have been so stressed that they have felt unable to cope, with 32% saying that they have experienced suicidal feelings as a direct result of stress. It is perfectly normal to go through periods of stress- when a deadline is coming up or big life changes are happening. What is not normal is for that stress to be constant, or for it to get to a point where it feels unbearable.

Orange mind-map on a pale grey background with the title 'causes of stress'
Your experience of stress is also determined by personal factors - like your resilience or past experiences.

Short-Term Consequences of Stress

  • Muscle tension

  • Stress headaches

  • Breathing harder and faster, can trigger hyperventilation and panic attacks

  • Heart beats harder and faster, pushing more blood into your muscles so that you can run if necessary

  • Racing thoughts

  • Tummy trouble: stomach-aches, nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, heartburn, constipation

  • Difficulty sleeping

Long-Term Consequences of Stress

  • Increased risk of anxiety and depression

  • Diminished immune response (getting sick more easily)

  • Tension headaches and migraines

  • Muscle tension and pain

  • Increased risk of heart disease

  • Difficulties with eating and weight management

  • Acid reflux and chronic stomach issues

  • Trouble with memory, mental processing, and focus

  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes and thyroid problems

I recognise the irony of sharing the consequences of stress - I'm sure there are at least some people reading this post thinking... 'well now I am stressed about my stress levels'. But the point of today is to get people thinking seriously about stress, and to get them to get serious about self-care. Self-care is stress management and stress management is self-care.

Young man in blue sweatshirt, sitting on a sofa. looking stressed with his head in his hands.
Most people experience periods in their lives when they feel overwhelmed.

Ways To Manage And Reduce Stress Levels

Identify The Root Of Your Stress (And Address It If Possible)

Sometimes it can be hard to realise that you are stressed, let alone recognise where your stress is coming from - and it can be many different places at once. Take a moment to reflect on what you have going on in your life. Once you've identified the main cause(s) of your stress, think about whether it is something that will go away on its own, like a one-off work deadline, or something that needs to be addressed, like a strained relationship.

One of the best ways to reduce your stress levels is to attend to your stressors - even if that means temporarily increasing your stress levels, for example, by having a difficult conversation.

Write It Out

When you're stressed, it can feel like you don't even have the time to stop for five minutes - I promise you do. Just writing about your stress can help you identify the main source of your stress, and clarify exactly what you need to do. Even if it just takes the form of a to-do list, writing things out can make a huge difference, and help you manage your stress more effectively.

Blonde woman in a black, pink, and leopard print top, sitting on a bed and writing in a notebook.
Many people find that a daily journaling practice helps keep their stress levels within a manageable range.

Learn To Say No If You're Getting Overwhelmed

To do this, you also need to be able to recognise when you are getting overwhelmed - establishing a daily journaling or mindfulness practice (even if it's just 5 minutes a day) can help with this.

Saying no can be difficult, especially if you have people-pleasing tendencies. To work up to it, practice pausing, or asking for more details before responding to a request. Remember that your time is your own and you do not owe it to anyone. It can also be handy to have a script of ways to say 'no' while still being polite:

  • 'Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I can't make it this time'.

  • 'I'm afraid I'm super swamped with work at the moment'.

  • 'I really can't add anything else to my plate right now'.

  • 'It sounds like a great opportunity, but I'm currently not in a position to give it my all'.

Build In A Break (And Do Something Fun)

It's always good to give yourself a little bit of time off, although when you're dealing with a lot of stress, it can be tempting to use that time to just catch up on sleep that you might be missing. However, studies suggest that stress, and stress-related procrastination can be reduced by using that break to actively do something fun, that takes up all of your attention. For example, some time playing a video game that you really enjoy or having a catch up with a friend will be far more beneficial than spending an hour or two lying in bed and scrolling aimlessly on Instagram.


This is another stress-busting way to spend a break or wind down before bed. Take it as self-care, focused around the five senses. Do one thing to soothe each of them:

  • Touch - e.g. Stroke a pet; wrap up in a fluffy blanket; get in a nice hot bath

  • Taste - Eat or drink something you enjoy - whatever it is, take your time and savour it

  • Smell - e.g. Light a scented candle; put on your favourite perfume or aftershave; go to a bakery or restaurant and pay attention to the aromas

  • Sound - e.g. Listen to some calming music, ocean sounds, or even an audiobook or podcast

  • Sight - Look at something that makes you feel happy or hopeful e.g. photographs of your friends, family, or pets; google images of beautiful places around the world; watch a comfort movie or tv show

A bath with a bath tray containing a candle, cup of tea, some flowers, a chocolate bar, and a book.
Taking time for yourself can make a big difference to overall stress levels, and also help you get a good night's sleep.

Talk To Someone

Whether it be a colleague or someone who understands exactly what is stressing you out; someone that cares about you; or a total stranger via a helpline, giving yourself a space to vent can be really important. A listening ear or some words of reassurance might be just what you need. Sharing what you're going through can also foster stronger and more authentic social connections.

Do Some Exercise

That's not to say you need to go out and run a 10k or take up powerlifting. But changing up your scenery by going for a 10 minute walk, or taking 5 minutes to stretch can help reduce your stress levels, boost your mood, and allow you to return to the task at hand feeling refreshed and ready to go.

One Thing At A Time

When your to-do list is piled high with competing projects and priorities, multitasking might feel like the natural approach. However, most of the time, it actually less efficient and your performance may suffer as no one thing is getting your full attention. Furthermore, by taking a longer time to get multiple things at once, you are foregoing the natural boost of satisfaction that you get from getting something done.

Writing in white chalk on a road reads 'YOU GOT THIS'
If you are struggling with your stress levels right now, know that they will not last forever.

Did you find this blog post helpful? Share it with your friends and family to help us overcome stress together!

What do you do to manage your stress levels? What topics do you want us to cover next? Let us know in the comments and help us start an open discussion about mental health and wellbeing.

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