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Stress is the body's reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It's very common, can be motivating to help us achieve things in our daily life, and can help us meet the demands of home, work and family life.


But too much stress can affect our mood, our body and our relationships – especially when it feels out of our control. It can make us feel anxious and irritable, and affect our self-esteem.


Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period of time can also lead to a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called burnout.



Stress can make you feel:

  • irritable

  • anxious

  • like you cannot enjoy yourself

  • worried a lot of the time


You may start to:

  • have sleep problems

  • find it hard to concentrate

  • bite your nails, pick your skin or grind your teeth

  • snap at people

  • feel short of breath or breathe very fast


The level of stress you are comfortable with may be higher or lower than that of other people around you. Stressful feelings typically happen when we feel we do not have the resources to manage the challenges we face.


Pressure at work, school or home, illness, or difficult or sudden life events can all lead to stress.


Some possible causes of stress are:


  • An individual, for example, when you have lots of responsibilities that you are struggling to manage

  • Part of a group, for example, if your family is going through a difficult time, such as bereavement or financial problems

  • Part of your community, for example, if you belong to a religious group that is experiencing discrimination

  • A member of society, for example during natural disasters or events like the coronavirus pandemic

  • If you feel stress as part of a bigger group, you may all experience it differently. This can happen even if the cause of your stress is the same.


Stress is not normally considered a mental health problem. But it is connected to our mental health in several ways:


Stress can cause mental health problems. And it can make existing problems worse. For example, if you experience lots of stress, this might lead you to develop a mental health problem like anxiety or depression. Or a traumatic period of stress might lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mental health problems can cause stress. You might find coping with the day-to-day symptoms of your mental health problem is stressful. You may also feel stressed about managing medication, healthcare appointments or other treatments.

You might use recreational drugs or alcohol to cope with stress. This could also affect your mental health, and cause further stress.


'Self-help' tips don't solve the issue. However, they can help you/others feel more in control when experiencing strong emotions. 

If you find that 'self-help' isn't enough, consider reaching out to a counsellor or your GP for help managing overwhelming emotions. 


Split up big tasks. If a task is too overwhelming and difficult to start, break it down into smaller chunks. This makes it easier to give yourself credit for completing the smaller parts.


Take time to think about the good things in your life. It is too easy to have automatic negative thoughts. Challenge yourself to think of 3 things you are thankful for each day


Being active can help you burn off stress and any nervous energy. It won't make it disappear but it can reduce it and make it easier for you to refocus. Try going out for a walk or a bike ride


Plan ahead in order to make stressful times easier. If you know you have a stressful day coming up try to make a to-do-list. This can help you keep track of everything and also makes a good visual aid for rewarding yourself with progress.


Talk to others, either friends, family or trusted colleagues. Sharing your thoughts can result in others being able to provide you with assistance, but also to put the problems into context and different ways to deal with them.


Find time to relax. This really can help with how you feel. Spend some time doing things that you enjoy and can help you distract from stressful situations. Spending time in nature can help reduce stress and improve wellbeing


Look after your physical health. Getting enough sleep, staying physically active and eating a balanced diet can make stress easier to manage. Stress can sometimes make these things difficult to look after. But even small changes can make a big difference.


Working out what may trigger stress can help you prepare for it. Even if you can't avoid these situations, being prepared can help. Knowing what you can and cannot change could help you work out the best way to deal with stress.


There may be different areas of your life that make you feel stressed. Some of these might feel difficult to change on your own, or without support and advice on what to do next. You can find other helpful information on agencies that may be able to assist you


Remember that situations can change and can get better. When someone is in the middle of a crisis it is difficult to see when it might end.