Stress & Wellbeing Explained

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What do I do if I feel Stressed?

Stress & Wellbeing Explained

Stress is an inevitable, but uncomfortable, part of life. Everyone feels stressed from time-to-time, whether we’re facing big life decisions, a busy uni workload, a difficult relationship, a health crisis, or any number of day-to-day frustrations. While some stress is normal, too much stress can impact our wellbeing, which is our sense of health, security, contentment, and social connection. In fact, excessive or chronic stress can lead to anxiety and depression, damage our physical health, impact our cognition, and hurt our relationships with other people.

If you find yourself feeling constantly stressed and on edge, and you’re worried that stress is impacting your wellbeing, then you might benefit from learning more about stress management.

What is Stress?

Stress is a natural psychological and biological response to a situation that a person sees as challenging or threatening. Some examples of these kinds of situations include public speaking, exams, debt, an awkward work exchange, fighting with a loved one, or meeting new people.

 When we encounter a threatening situation like this, our brain releases chemicals that trigger changes in our body to help us cope. For example, these chemicals can help us focus during an exam, push harder in a soccer match, or run away from danger. So, some stress is healthy and unhelpful!

Chronic or excessive stress, however, can significantly impact your mental and physical health. Too much stress can make you feel nauseous, tense, and tried, interfere with your sleep, cognition, and concentration, and impact your mood and ability to enjoy life.

What is Wellbeing?

While wellbeing can be hard to define, you know when you don’t have it! Wellbeing isn’t just the absence of sickness or stress, it’s your overall physical, emotional, social, and spiritual health. It’s when you feel comfortable, secure, and content, connected with other people, in touch with your own values and beliefs, and as though your life has meaning. For many people, this can sound appealing but unachievable. However, learning to effectively manage stress can be one very important step towards boosting your wellbeing, and the wellbeing of those around you.

What Are The Signs of Stress?

Physical

  • Muscle aches and tension.
  • Headaches.
  • Nausea.
  • Change in appetite.
  • Feeling unusually tired.
  • Difficulty falling asleep.
  • Getting sick more easily than normal.

Psychological

  • Feeling persistently irritable.
  • Feeling worried and overwhelmed.
  • Having a short temper.
  • Difficulty remembering things.
  • Procrastinating more than normal.
  • Having trouble concentrating.
  • Being unable to enjoy the things you used to.

Not Sure Whether to Seek Help?

Take a Test to See How You Feel

If you’re unsure about the way you feel, take our anonymous online test to check whether your levels of stress, anxiety, or depression are within a healthy range, and see if one of our online courses could help.

What Causes Stress?

Stress generally develops when our demands outweigh our resources; that is, when we’ve got too much on our plate. This normally happens when we’re going through a big change, facing unfixable problems, or juggling problems than we can comfortably manage. These problems are generally called stressors. Some examples of stressors include:

  • Financial difficulties, such as debt or an unexpected loss of income.
  • Moving homes or schools.
  • Relationship changes, like a divorce or a separation.
  • Getting married.
  • Workplace stressors, like a heavy workload, difficult colleagues, or unsatisfying work.
  • Health problems, including a new diagnosis or a chronic illness.
  • Getting a new family member (e.g. having a baby, adopting).
  • Major lifestyle change, like retirement, starting a new job, or stopping a hobby.

You may have noticed that not all of these stressors would be considered ‘bad’ or ‘sad’. Getting married, having a baby, or retiring are generally seen as events worth celebrating. However, research indicates that some ‘happy’ life changes can be as stressful as changes we’d normally consider ‘sad’. Generally, any major life change that triggers some emotion can also cause stress.

How To Deal With Stress

Relaxation strategies can counteract some of the physical and cognitive impacts of stress, like irritability, muscle tension, and difficulty concentrating. Relaxation strategies can vary greatly, depending on your needs and preferences. Some examples include:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Gentle muscle relaxation exercises
  • Intense physical exercise that increases your heart rate (this can reduce the build-up of lactic acid that causes muscle tension).
  • Physical exercise that boosts feelings of relaxation, like yoga or tai chi
  • Self-care activities, like massage or aromatherapy
  • Taking time out to rest
  • Scheduling activities that you enjoy into your day-to-day life

If you’re not in the habit of relaxing, it can feel a little strange at first. People often worry that they aren’t using their time effectively. However, learning to switch off and unwind is very beneficial for your mental and physical health.

Using relaxation strategies to de-stress can:

  • Improve your memory and concentration
  • Improve your problem-solving ability
  • Improve sleep and energy
  • Reduce muscle tension
  • Reduce irritability and frustration
  • Prevent anxiety and depression

Stress is often the result of feeling like you’ve got more problems than you can handle. Structured problem-solving skills can help you manage during these difficult times.

Structured problem-solving helps people to:

  • Identify what problems may be contributing to stress.
  • Generate and evaluate creative solutions to these problems.
  • Implement and learn from these solutions.

Although not every problem will have a solution, using these skills tends to make people feel empowered and in control, rather than overwhelmed, which can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Sometimes, stress is caused by the past or the future. People tend to ruminate about things they could have done differently or worry about things that might happen later. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is focusing on the here-and-now in an open-minded and non-judgemental manner. Developing a mindfulness practice can help people:

  • Focus on the present, rather than getting caught up in the past or future.
  • Focus on what they can control and let go of things they can’t control.
  • Feel more in control of their physical stress response.
  • Improve their sense of well-being.
  • Develop greater self-compassion and counteract negative thinking and self-criticism.

Mindfulness practice can range from using a few mindfulness-based strategies every day, to completing a mindfulness-based therapy course, to practicing a mindful lifestyle.

Although stress is not a mental health disorder, those dealing with a significant amount of stress may benefit from cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). CBT aims to help people:

  • Address stressors that can be changed
  • Cope with stressors that can’t be changed
  • Challenge any unhelpful thoughts or behaviours that might worsening feelings of stress and anxiety

CBT may be recommended when:

  • The person’s stress levels are causing feelings of anxiety or depression
  • The person has a history of anxiety or depression and wants to prevent relapse
  • The person wants to learn lifelong skills for managing stress
  • The person has found CBT helpful in the past

A competent, trained clinician who has expertise in CBT is available, or the person is prepared to use internet CBT (iCBT)

Strategies for Coping With Stress​

Managing Muscle Tension

  • Inactivity can make muscle tension worse. Try to stand up and move around a little throughout your day.
  • Do some gentle stretches in the evening, to release tension and increase feelings of relaxation.
  • Take some time out of your day to breathe deeply and purposefully relax your muscles, from your head to your toes. You might be surprised at how much tension you hold during the day without even realising.
  • If your muscle pain is intense or persistent, see your doctor or a physio for further advice.

Boosting Balance

  • Schedule time into your week to relax and have fun to restore energy and wellbeing and reduce feelings of tension. Make sure to do at least once fun or relaxing activity every day.
  • Take regular breaks (at least 10 minutes every hour) to boost concentration.
  • Delegate tasks (at work and home) where you can.
  • Pause and evaluate your current capacity before you take on new tasks and responsibilities.
  • Refuel by eating healthy and trying to sleep well.

Tackling Sleep Difficulties

  • Get up at the same time every morning.
  • Avoid sleeping during the day.
  • Reduce tea and coffee intake if excessive (no more than two or three cups per day and none after about 4:00 p.m.).
  • Do not lie awake for more than about thirty minutes—get up and find a relaxing activity.

 


Interested in learning more?

Courses for Stress and Wellbeing

Check out the course cards below to learn more about our two practical, self-paced online courses that teaches step-by-step strategies for tackling symptoms of stress and ways of improving your wellbeing.

Coping with Stress Course

Coping with Stress Course

This 4-lesson course is about helping you tackle chronic feelings of stress and overwhelm, by teaching strategies for tackling your problems and managing how you feel.  

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Student Wellbeing Course

Student Wellbeing Course

This 8-module course for university students teaches practical strategies for healthy thinking, smart studying, maintaining helpful routines and connections, and tools for coping when things feel tough.

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