Stress can feel like a baseline condition for many of us, but as Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub explores, there are ways to alleviate the strain whether through support, self-care or addressing anxiety.
International Stress Awareness Week takes place from 1-5 November 2021 with a view to raising awareness about stress prevention across the world. Within the Week, International Stress Awareness Day falls on Wednesday 3 November 2021.
The subject of stress is particularly pertinent at a time when all life’s challenges have been amplified by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For some people, these periods of pressure pass relatively quickly, but it is not always the case and stress can be the root of so many problems.
Countless people across Greater Cumbernauld experience high levels of stress every day and it is damaging their health. Stress is one of the great public health challenges of our time, but it still isn’t being taken as seriously as physical health concerns.
Stress is a significant factor in mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. It is also linked to physical health problems like heart disease, problems with our immune system, insomnia and digestive problems. Individually we need to understand what is causing us personal stress and learn what steps we can take to reduce it for ourselves and those around us.
Common stressors include experiencing something new or surprising, something that you perceive to threaten your capabilities or character and lack of control over a situation. We come across these stressors in many different environments. Examples of areas of life that can affect our stress levels include work, family, health and finances, to name a few.
Currently, we are battling new stressors as we try to navigate our new normal in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It is natural to feel worried about becoming ill or our job security, especially when surrounded by news regarding death tolls and economic recession.
Each person will have a different resistance to stress. Our bodies produce stress hormones (cortisol and catecholamines) that trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response. This can be both positive and negative; sometimes stress motivates us and helps us achieve our goals, but there are times when exposure to stressors becomes too frequent or too intense to deal with. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Characteristically, we respond to these stressors with physical, emotional and behavioural responses. Physical responses can often manifest through symptoms like headaches, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, sexual dysfunction and sleeping problems. Emotionally, stress can cause depression, panic attacks, anxiety and other forms of worry. Behaviourally, stress can become harmful when people respond with unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive drinking or comfort eating.
Nobody is immune to stress, yet we don’t always notice when it is happening to us. Since stress is a normal part of human existence, it is important to arm ourselves with knowledge so that we recognise when stress rears its ugly head. If you are someone who feels stressed a lot of the time, learning some simple coping strategies can make a huge difference to your quality of life.
Whilst stress is normal, it can be quite challenging to overcome. When stress goes beyond manageable levels, anxiety can occur. Anxiety disorders can affect a person’s quality of life significantly and are associated with impaired social and occupational functioning, feeling overwhelmed and an increased risk of suicide.
There are a number of self-help techniques which can be applied by individuals to help cope with anxiety, build resilience and lead a happier life. In the section below, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub answers some key questions on the topic.
STRESS GONE TOO FAR: EXPLORING ANXIETY AND HOW TO OVERCOME IT
How Does Anxiety Manifest?
Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. These are natural reactions we all feel at some stage, and they can be a good thing.
But constant anxiety feels like fear which doesn’t go away, and if it becomes too intense it can take over your life and stop you doing normal everyday things. Anxiety makes you feel worried all the time, tired and unable to concentrate. This can cause sleeping problems and leave you feeling depressed.
There are often physical symptoms which affect the body too, such as a rapid heartbeat, breathing difficulties, trembling, sweating, dizziness, diarrhoea and feeling sick. Anxiety can come in different forms and range from being mild to severe.
People with anxiety often struggle to relax. They often find that as soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue.
What Causes Anxiety?
Anything from worries about health and money to changes at work, school or relationships can cause deep-seated anxiety.
During the pandemic, there have been many potential anxiety triggers, including fears over the virus, concerns about going outdoors, panic about infecting other people, worries over wearing masks and uncertainties as to what the future holds.
Organisations such as Anxiety UK and Samaritans Scotland have received a huge rise in calls since lockdown rules were relaxed. Such charities have reported that callers tend to have more complex problems than normal and that calls are lasting longer.
There are also concerns that people aren’t seeking help for their mental health because of fears over the virus, and that this is leading to a rise in emergency cases.
Who Does Anxiety Affect?
Stress can affect anyone, and any big life change or traumatic event can make you prone to anxiety. Having a mental health problem can make you feel more anxious, as can having another illness, but how anxious you feel could also be down to the genes you inherit too.
Although early exposure to stress and the experience of trauma are important risk factors for anxiety disorders, evidence also highlights biological causes, such as issues with regulation of the body’s central nervous system, as having a role to play.
While anxiety is widespread across all population groups, it is twice as common in women as in men. Reasons for this have been attributed to women being exposed to more stressful life experiences, such as pregnancy and higher rates than men of domestic and sexual abuse.
Teenagers and young people often feel anxious, and those with special educational needs or from low income families are usually most vulnerable.
Younger children can be affected by anxiety too. A University of Oxford study recently found that primary school children experienced an increase in feelings of unhappiness, anxiety and low mood during the first month of lockdown.
How Can I Overcome Anxiety?
Self-help methods can be adopted by people experiencing anxiety, including talking to a friend or relative, joining self-help or online support groups and learning relaxation techniques.
If your anxiety persists and is negatively impacting upon your daily life, it is often wise to book an appointment with a GP to explain your systems. NHS Lanarkshire coordinates a number of support and treatment options for those living with severe anxiety.
Participating in the personal development programme Living Life to the Full is another option for those with anxiety issues. This is a 12-hour course, delivered locally and free of charge by Cornerstone House Centre. It involves Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a talking therapy which helps people deal with problems by breaking them down into smaller chunks.
The course aims to help individuals manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave. The sessions focus on the concept that a person’s thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can cause a vicious cycle.
What Can I Do To Help Someone Experiencing Anxiety?
It can be difficult to understand and know how to help others going anxiety if you have never experienced it yourself. Here are some tips from Cumbernauld Family Hub for supporting children and young people affected by anxiety:
Be there to listen; ask them how they are regularly, so they get used to speaking about their feelings.
Stay involved in their life; show interest in it and the things that are important to them.
Support positive routines; be a positive role model and support regular bedtime routines, healthy eating and getting active.
Encourage their interests; being active, creative, learning things and being a part of a team are all good for mental health.
Take what they say seriously; help them feel valued in what they say, and help them work through difficult emotions.
Short-term bursts of stress can be weathered without a negative impact and can even be productive, but if stress is really intense, frequent or chronic, it’s important to address it early and seek help.
For those requiring assistance, NHS 24 can be contacted at any time of the day or night by telephoning 111 free of charge. Meanwhile, signposting to a suitable local service can be gained by contacting Well-informed on 0800 073 0918 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.