Millions of people in the UK are dealing with mental illnesses, including stress

Stress is widely regarded as a common part of fast-paced modern life, but if left ignored it can trigger debilitating illnesses and take over a person’s life.

Some 12 million people visit their GP with mental health problems annually, many of whom are dealing with stress, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

National Stress Awareness Day – which this year falls on 4 November – is an annual campaign to raise awareness about the effects of the condition, and how people can tackle it.

From what causes stress to how to cope, here is everything you need to know.

What causes the feeling of stress?

When a person is under pressure, their body goes into “fight or flight” mode and adrenaline and noradrenaline are pumped into the body – causing sweating and reducing stomach activity. A range of things including work and relationships can trigger feelings of stress.

Chronic stress can cause major illnesses, including high blood pressure, heart attack, strokes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, heart burn, obesity, and can make people prone to infections by weakening their immune system.

Stress also affects mental health, and can spark feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, frustration and depression.

Relationships can also suffer, as a person dealing with stress can become withdrawn, indecisive and inflexible.

How can I avoid and deal with stress?

Take breaks: As the brain struggles to concentrate after 90 minutes of work, simply taking a break can reduce stress, according to Dr Joan Kingsley, a consultant clinical and organisational therapist.

Be active… Physical exercise releases endorphins, which can reduce the emotional intensity of stress, and can help you tackle the causes, Professor Cary Cooper advised in an NHS article. And you don’t need a pricey gym membership to exercise: cycling, walking, gardening, sports, and even housework can help.

…but also know when to slow down:

By meditating – which essentially involves concentrating on inward thoughts in a controlled manner while breathing deeply – a person can reduce their blood pressure, according to a study cited by Harvard University. Relaxing forms of yoga and prayer also have similar effects.

Reduce the amount of caffeine you drink

Coffee and tea are the obvious examples of caffeinated substances, but food and drunk associated with relaxation – like chocolate – can also contain the stimulant. The Mental Health charity recommends cutting down on caffeine as way to aid sleep.


Eat a balanced diet

Food is most commonly linked to physical health, but evidence shows that good nutrition can help maintain mental health, too. Food is key in developing, managing and preventing a range of mental illnesses.

Dont be afraid to seek help

If you can’t cope at work or in a relationship, Mind recommend telling someone – be it a colleague or friend – and being assertive towards those who are giving you extra demands.

If you feel uncomfrotably overwhelmed, be sure to visit a doctor. They can refer you to counselling, for cognitive behavioural therapy, anger management support sessions, stress support groups and classes, and can prescribe medication if your stress has become debilitating.


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