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  • Writer's pictureDafiny Alves

What I wished I had known before about Stress and Anxiety

Updated: Apr 30

 April is the stress awareness month for 2024. This year’s campaign theme is #LittleByLittle to highlight the importance of self-care to our overall well-being. It emphasises that even small, manageable changes can lead to significant improvements in stress reduction and mental health over time. Implementing small self-care changes in our day-to-day lives can prevent burnout and help us reduce stress relatively. I am afraid we cannot entirely erase stress from our lives.  

 

 I know this topic well enough to write an article about it, maybe because I am a counsellor or because conversations around wellbeing and mental health have become accessible nowadays. Still, I really wish someone had told me this before. It would have been great to know this before the IBS or the fibromyalgia, but hey! As they say, better late than never, and as it seems, I am sticking with the latter.

 

Check next:



What is stress?

What is burnout?

Tips for self-care

Burnout test

 

 

What is stress?

 

Firstly, I must say it took me years to figure out what it means to be stressed - I used to think that it was a state of mind one gets when they have some mental health problem. Oh boy! I am glad I became a therapist as I was so wrong!

 

Stress is a body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It's very common, and it can happen quite often when you have a busy and fast-paced life; it can motivate us to help us achieve things in our daily lives and help us meet the demands of work, home, and family life. Do you remember that feeling “I have to do something!”  you have when you are feeling pressured? That is stress. But too much stress can affect our mood, body, and relationships – especially when it feels out of our control. It can make us feel anxious and irritable and affect our self-esteem.


 This quote from Mental Health.org mentions what happens in our body when we are stressed, which is also what happens when we are anxious.  

“When we encounter stress, our body produces stress hormones that trigger a fight or flight response and activate our immune system. This helps us respond quickly to dangerous situations.

Sometimes, this stress response can be helpful. It can help us push through fear or pain so we can run a marathon or deliver a speech, for example. Our stress hormones usually return to normal quickly once the stressful event is over, and there won’t be any lasting effects.

However, too much stress can cause adverse effects. It can leave us in a permanent stage of fight or flight, leaving us overwhelmed or unable to cope. Long term, this can affect our physical and mental health.”


 

 

As you can see, a small amount of stress is good for you, and in the same way, a small amount of anxiety is also good for you. Those two are interconnected; without stress, you won’t feel anxious and very likely won’t be able to deal with stressful situations, as the flight-fight response is intended to make us react to something stressful and return to normality just after the threat is dealt with, which is back to safety.

 

If you believe you may be stressed and struggling with anxiety that is affecting your day-to-day life and relationships, the best thing to do is to look for help, as high levels of stress can lead to burnout, mental health issues, and long-term health risks. These include sleep problems, frequent colds and coughs, headaches, bowel problems, stomach problems, low energy levels and high blood pressure.

 

What is burnout?

 

 

 

“The brain is like an engine; if you run it too hot all day, every day without checking the oil and water, it breaks.”


 

 

I always use this quote from the charity Mind whenever I give a talk about stress and anxiety because we all know best not to run an engine too hot every day without checking the oil and water. After all, it will break, but funny enough, for some reason, we are made to believe that our brain can go on and on without breaks, without looking after it, without proper sleep, and if we can’t go on, there is something wrong with us, and we think that everyone else out there can cope better than us. NO, that is not true. We all need regular breaks and self-care to look after our wellbeing.

What is burnout, then? It is what happens to someone after a long period of continued or chronic stress when they feel mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. Burnout is usually accompanied by decreased motivation, decreased performance, negative feelings towards self or others, gastrointestinal issues, and sleep problems.

 The World Health Organization (WHO) also describes burnout as a phenomenon that occurs in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life. I am going to agree to disagree with them on that as I have seen young adults go through burnout after the loss of a loved one or after severe stress caused by different factors, including their academic work.

 

 

Little by little, tips for self-care

 

I know life can be challenging, and stressful situations can happen to anyone, but you can still implement small changes to decrease stress in your day-to-day life. This will make you a happier and healthier person in the long run.

 

·      Stay active - Studies have shown that staying active can boost your mood, help you sleep better, and decrease stress and anxiety.

 

·      Connect with others, but if you are always around others, take time to be alone. New research shows that “me time” is equally essential for our wellbeing as connecting with others.

 

 

·      Take regular breaks whenever you can. You can try meditation or mindfulness; you can find several guided meditation exercises on YouTube.

 

·      Learn how to say no and choose your priorities—there’s always so much going on, and many of us fear missing out as our busy lives have made us want to stay on top of everything: work, family, friends, and life. However, the reality is that we will not have time to do everything we want.

 

 

·       I know you heard before, but we all need to sleep – try to prioritise your sleep.

 

·      Try out new or old hobbies – having a hobby may improve your self-esteem, boosting feel-good hormones.

 

 

Burnout test

 

 

 





 

References:

 

19/04/24. Stress Management Society.    https://www.stress.org.uk/SAM2024/

 

 

 

 

 

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