Be aware of stress and manage it

Tomorrow (Wednesday 4 November 2020) is National Stress Awareness Day, so we asked Shannon Humphrey, a First Aid for Mental Health Instructor and wellbeing advocate to give us some pointers on how to cope with stress:

Stress isn’t just a word, it’s a feeling. It can be a knot in your stomach, a headache that pounds like a hammer in your head relentlessly, a dull ache across your shoulders, neck tension, a tightness in your chest, crippling belly aches that have you dashing for the loo with no warning.

It can be anger, that seemingly flashes from nowhere, to complete floods of tears within seconds. You’re probably not sleeping or eating properly which affects your focus and ability to solve whatever the issue is that has triggered these stressful feelings in the first place.

The truth is that most of us will experience a degree of stress at some point in our lives. Maybe too many assignments to hand in at school, to going for a promotion at work, money worries, redundancy, moving to a new house, getting married, getting divorced, worried about family members mental health or wellbeing.

There are literally 101 things that have the potential to cause us stress. The good news is that most stressful situations will be for a limited amount of time, and when the event or external situation has finished, for example- the contracts are exchanged and the house move is completed, the stress will subside and you’ll begin to feel better.

The reason we have stress at all is to pump our body with hormones like cortisol that give us extra amounts of energy to complete a task, that’s why when we are stressed we can feel hyperactive, as though we can’t sit still or concentrate on anything for very long. Our body wants us to move and release excess energy. Thousands of years ago that extra energy would have been useful to our ancient ancestors who had to go hunting for food, or were fighting for survival against deadly predators, but in todays modern life stress is just one more inconvenience we could well do without.

Stress usually stems from either a loss of control or wanting to have too much control over a situation. Last year 15 million workdays were lost in the UK due to stress and because of the uncertainty that Covid-19 has brought with it, it’s believed that the numbers of people suffering with stress will continue to increase for years to come.

You may have heard that a small amount of stress is good for you, it gives you the extra push to get things completed on time. Having a goal or the pressure of an upcoming deadline can focus the mind and give you the determination to get things done. But feeling stressed out and worried about it can be extremely bad for you, especially if it’s left unchecked for a long period of time.

Never ignore stress no matter how small it seems to be, if it’s ignored stress can become a serious long-term issue, leading to burnout, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, heart attacks, strokes and suicide.

Here are my top 5 tips for managing stressful situations.

1. Ask for help. If you’re stressed about money, family matters, housing, health, employment, immigration or legal stuff, seek professional advice. Citizens Advice Leeds gives free impartial advice. They can signpost you to free organisations to help with your personal situation.

2. Lighten the load. Confide in a friend, a family member or colleague about your concerns they could have a practical solution that hadn’t crossed your mind.

3. Stress is built up excess energy- go out and get your body moving. Have a brisk walk, go to the gym, ride a bike. Anything to lower your cortisol levels to a more comfortable place.

4. Reduce caffeine. Excessive amounts of coffee, tea, alcohol or energy drinks will make you more hyperactive and less able to focus. They will also disrupt your sleep routine.

5. Be solution oriented and less problem focused. Ask yourself questions like ‘How can I …?’ rather than ‘Why can’t I ….?’ Just this subtle shift in how you approach a task will make it feel easier to achieve.

For details of educational, workplace and community courses, including stress awareness, mindfulness and anxiety courses visit or call 07470 887783.