Stress – Causes, symptoms and management 0

January 13th, 2012 by Sheila

What is Stress?

Stress is a feeling of being overwhelmed with too many demands and too few supports to deal with what we are encountering. People are experiencing more stress than ever before – resulting in sleeplessness, feeling anxious or nervous about what is ahead and unsure what to do. Stress symptoms constitute one of the most obvious ways that the individual expresses threats to their well being. The person creates the stress symptom in order to draw attention to what it is we need to do for themselves.

Initially, the symptoms manifest physically i.e. aches, pains etc but if not dealt with; symptoms will escalate to more serious manifestations i.e. ulcers, heart disease etc. Therefore, see the stress symptom as an opportunity to uncover the real issue.

Stress Symptoms

  • Tension headaches
  • Migraine
  • Back pain
  • Chest pain
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Dizziness/excessive perspiration
  • Dry mouth
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Nervousness.

Consequences of Stress:

We respond to stress in a number of different ways

  • Behavioural: Reaching for a cigarette or alcohol, drug use may be to block or numb, emotional eating to ‘fill a void’ or in extreme cases becoming violent when we feel no longer in control
  • Psychological: Sleep issues, which can be inability to sleep due to having too many worries or oversleeping, feelings of anxiety or a panic attack, suppressed feelings can lead to a depression, or simply feeling overwhelmed in meeting life’s challenges
  • Medical Consequences: Frequent headaches, back pain, ulcers, stomach & skin conditions, heart disease & stroke.

Types of Stress

Stress at Work There are a number of things that can make a difference:

  • In the moment, practice deep breathing, and focus all your attention on that. When you breathe in, silently say the word ‘In’ to yourself, when you breathe out, consciously say silently ‘Out’ as you do. This means as your mind focuses on your breath; your mind slows down a little
  • Focus on letting go of tension in your body
  • Use your coffee/lunch breaks to Relax, Refocus, Reenergise, Refresh
  • Ensure you take your breaks and enjoy lunch with a friend and a stroll outside before returning to work, otherwise enjoy some quiet time and consciously relax, having eaten healthily
  • List making, breaking down tasks into manageable chunks, tick them off at the end of the day and prioritise the list for the following day
  • Driving home, turn the radio off and enjoy the silence and the opportunity to recharge
  • Delegate some of the work if you are overloaded
  • Talk to someone when you are having problems
  • Ask for help/support
  • Learn to say No
  • Close your office door and sit and breathe deeply
  • Know your limits and work within them as far as possible
  • Incorporate time management.

Personal Stress

The ability to cope with all that life throws at an individual is entirely dependent on how they are in themselves. If their relationship with self is one where they take care of themselves, valuing and not abuse themselves physically, emotionally, or intellectually and where they treat themselves well, they are more resilient and things do not ‘get on top of them’.


When an individual experiences anxiety, the challenge for them is to ‘hold’ themselves in it and do whatever they need to do in order to feel more solid and secure. To remember that it is only a thought or feeling and that their response to the event is enhanced when they do not succumb to fear.
My experience is that when I look at thoughts as just thoughts, I detach from them and feel a little freer and am less likely to get sucked into the feeling. Seeing them as ‘just thoughts’ and no longer as ‘reality’ or ‘the truth’ means there is less of a need to get caught up in their content. This means instead of ‘catastrophic thinking’ the chain is broken and my mind returns to calmness. Rather than saying ‘I am worried’ it is more accurate to say ‘I am having a lot of worrying thoughts’ means I no longer identify with their content.

Internal causes of stress:

  • Self critical
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fear of failure
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear
  • Worrying about the future

External causes of stress:

  • Death
  • Life change/Trauma
  • Marital problems/relationship breakdown
  • Financial pressures
  • Work overload
  • Children/Family problems
  • Relationship difficulties at work/home

Relieving Stress

  • Exercise
  • Sleep/Relaxation
  • Time management
  • Role Management
  • Support Groups
  • Work/Life balance

Physical Exercise – a great stress reliever!

We are living a more sedentary life that in the past and it is now necessary to build in exercise into your daily routine to keep stress levels at bay. The number one tip to manage the stress in your life is to exercise for thirty minutes a day. Time management is essential here and it will not happen without planning. Taking the time out to exercise can make the rest of the day seem more manageable and you will notice that ‘things don’t get on top of you’. Once you try incorporating exercise into your daily routine you will find that it is a great way to reduce stress. Your mind will be clearer, you will be in better form and you will find you have more energy. Exercise promotes serotonin and endorphins into your system and both will give you more of a ‘feel good’ factor.
Build exercise into your workday
Companies are recognising the importance of supporting staff in getting exercise and there are Cycle to Work schemes, many companies offer shower facilities, employee exercise programmes, but if not, park the car further away so you get a walk, take the stairs instead of the lift, incorporate a twenty minute walk during your lunch to feel refreshed and more energetic. Join a gym with a friend or arrange an evening walk with someone and you will find you sleep more soundly.

Dangers of a sedentary lifestyle:

A sedentary lifestyle where we are at a PC most of the day, in the car or watching TV is linked to an increase in weight and obesity which bring many problems:

  • Diabetes (type 2)
  • Cancer
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Sleep apnea
  • Heart Disease and Strokes.

Easy ways to exercise:

  • Meet for a walk, not a coffee
  • Arrange with a friend to exercise (gym/class)
  • Join a club (tennis/swimming/golf etc)
  • Exercise in ten minute chunks, to/from work & at lunchtime.

Why exercise?

  • Improve mood state
  • Prevent weight gain
  • Reduces stress levels
  • Energises
  • Sleep better
  • Reduces risk of disease
  • Improve immunity.


  • 30mins, five days a week recommended
  • Reduces bad cholesterol
  • Lowers heart rate
  • Lowers blood pressure.

Sleep and Stress

However, ironically it can be one of the earliest symptoms of stress is difficulty sleeping. Yet, we all know that to be healthy in mind and body the benefits of a good nights’ rest cannot be over estimated.
When we do not get enough sleep we are irritable, cranky and we need to find ways of getting the rest to restore body and mind. Adults need seven or eight hours of sleep that is uninterrupted each night. That is the theory, but what can you do if you cannot sleep or wake in the night? Usually this is a sign that you are going through a stressful period in your life and you need to prioritise sleep to help you deal with the stress you are experiencing.

Are you getting enough exercise?

If you are not, if may be the reason you are having difficulty sleeping so prioritise getting fresh air and exercise and build into your everyday routines. Resolve to walk instead of driving or taking public transportation. Cycling to work is a great stress buster and means you start the day fresher. Take the stairs instead of the lift and build in a walk during lunch to recharge and reenergise.

Create a bedtime routine
Just like when you were a child support yourself in relaxing before bedtime with a warm bath, lavender, no screen time, a short read of a book instead or a short meditation and deep breathing.

Do a brain dump
Write out everything you need to do the following day before retiring for the day, so you can switch off afterwards.

Avoid heavy meals
Close to bedtime, caffeine and Screen time also are stimulants and to be avoided if you wish to relax easily

If you cannot sleep
Make a list if you are thinking of all you need to do, read a while or try some deep abdominal breathing and try to focus on your breathe. It can be helpful to get up for a while, a hot drink, a hot water bottle and do something for a while till you feel a little tired and return to bed.

Other useful Stress Management Habits

Time Management
Time management is often recommended for managing stress. Many daily pressures can be reduced or eliminated if a person does a better job of managing their time. Make a daily ‘To do’ list and prioritise them, tick them off as you complete the tasks and delegate where possible. Break tasks into manageable chunks and reward when complete.

Role Management
Strive to avoid overload and conflict. If you do not know what is expected of you, seek clarification from your boss. Another strategy is to learn to say no. A lot of people create problems for themselves by always saying yes. Besides working in their regular jobs, they volunteer on committees, for extra duties and accept extra assignments. Sometimes, we have no choice, in many cases however, saying no is an option.

Seek Support
Develop and maintain support groups, whether a family member or a friend. Support from others can make a great difference in dealing with stress on an ongoing basis. We all need to express how to feel to another, and accessing this kind of support means we can handle ourselves in times of crisis.

Top Tips to be Stress free:

  • Take time for self (downtime)
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Drink in moderation
  • Take time as a couple
  • Don’t push yourself too hard
  • Ask for help/support and express your worries
  • Learn to say No, by knowing your limits
  • Have a balance between work & home life
  • Rest when you are tired
  • Allow adequate time
  • Affirm self/Believe in self/Encourage self/Reward self/ Treat self
  • Take time to see friends
  • Take time for a walk/hobby/join a club
  • Time to relax means you reenergise and feel refreshed.



This article was written by Sheila O’Malley, Practical Parenting, web:


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