Stress

Stress is a much-used word today but it means different things to us as individuals. What might stress one of us may, to another person, be exciting and a challenge.

A simple way of looking at stress is to consider demand and capacity. If the demands upon us are greater than the capacity we feel we have, then we may feel stressed. To tackle stress, therefore, we need to either reduce the demand or increase our capacity for dealing with it. Capacity can be increased by learning new skills and by changing our expectations and attitudes.

How stress affects us is very variable. Some of the sensations are very similar to those of anxiety but are often less obvious and more insidious. Stress also tends to build up gradually rather than occurring overnight. In fact it is frequently those around us who notice the changes before we see them ourselves.

Unless it is tackled, stress can lead to a host of physical and mental problems. These problems can affect people in the short and long-term so it is important that people know how to recognise when they are stressed, and learn how to cope with it in a healthy way. For example, longer term stress is known to be a cause of depression.

Steps for Stress

The Scottish Government launched the Steps for Stress campaign in 2009. It encourages individuals to take simple steps to tackle everyday stress, to help avoid more serious problems. The website Steps for Stress aims to help people recognise the signs of everyday stress, and offers advice and information on how to take action, such as being more active, talking to someone or helping other people.

Stress in the workplace

In a recent Health and Safety Executive survey, one in six of all working individuals in the UK reported that their job is very or extremely stressful. Work-related stress is also one of the biggest causes of sick leave.

According to a study by The Work Foundation, nearly a third of working men say that the stressful demands of their job interfere with their private lives and nearly a quarter feel that their work has caused them to neglect their children. A survey conducted by the Health and Safety Executive and Personnel Today magazine survey suggested that stress increases staff absence by 1.5 million working days at a cost to British industry of around £1.24bn each year. The poll of 700 managers indicated that stress was lowering productivity. Two out of three blamed it for higher rates of staff turnover.

Steps for Stress The Scottish Government launched the Steps for Stress campaign in 2009. It encourages individuals to take simple steps to tackle everyday stress, to help avoid more serious problems. Steps for Stress aims to help people recognise the signs of everyday stress, and offers advice and information on how to take action, such as being more active, talking to someone or helping other people.

 
Recommendations

Self-help Self-help approaches such as Living Life to the Full are aimed at improving our general life skills. They are tailored to people experiencing depression or anxiety but the content is also relevant to stress. An interactive (supported) version of this course is available from the Action on Depression website.

 

Taking time to understand the demands we face and coping with problems better are important steps in tackling stress. It is important to use support from those close to us and outside help when needed.

Taking time out Stress often results from a feeling that life is in control of us, rather than the other way round. We cannot control all aspects of our lives but people often have a choice as to how they spend their time and what actions they take. If people feel that they never get around to those things they value and cherish they can feel cheated and unsatisfied.

People experiencing stress should take some time, even five minutes, to make time for things that they enjoy. Going for a walk, listening to a favourite piece of music, coffee with a friend or reading a good book can all help.

Learning to relax and wind down When life and work are busy we pick up the pace to deal with it. It is important to slow down again so we can rest and restore our strength and resilience.

Some people choose to use a formal method of relaxing such as meditation, yoga or progressive relaxation training. However, there are many ways of slowing down, such as going for a walk, taking part in sport, working in the garden or just sitting quietly resting.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that many people find very helpful in dealing with the stresses of life. It has a good evidence base, particularly when combined with aspects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Feeling useful and valued Everyone needs to feel a sense of purpose or value. Sometimes we get this from our day to day work and home life but sometimes we also need something more. This can be gained by setting achievable challenges such as learning a new skill, completing a task or taking part in an activity.

These types of actions help to develop:

  • a sense of value and worth
  • increased confidence as a result of learning something new
  • distraction from personal issues

Taking control The feeling of stress can often be related to lacking the confidence or skills to control some of the pressures around us. Learning to become more assertive allows people to resist unreasonable demands on their time from others and to take more control over their choices.

For example, stress at work can be worsened by being asked to do tasks for which you are not trained or do not have time to do. Learning the skill of assertion to resist and challenge these demands allows people to have more of a role in decisions that affect them.

Healthy living When suffering from stress it is tempting to turn to unhealthy habits for short term relief of uncomfortable feelings.

Too much alcohol or caffeine, smoking and junk food actually make us feel worse in the longer term. They interfere with sleep patterns, increase the heart rate and levels of agitation and reduce our ability to problem solve, and concentrate.

Acceptance Sometimes stress comes from trying to change things in ourselves or our life. Certain aspects of our jobs, beliefs, family, or our health may not be changeable. Once this has been accepted it is possible to focus on other more resolvable issues.