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What you need to know about stress

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One thing we all have in common is that we feel stress. But what is stress and how do you identify it and what can you do to relieve it? Let's take a look…

The signs of stress

If you're feeling nervous or worried right now, you’re not alone. In fact, more than a third of Australians report experiencing a significant level of stress in their lives. In most cases, the reason for this stress centres on money, family issues and health . 

This is not surprising – stress is the body’s reaction to an external change or tension that requires a response, and can manifest itself mentally and physically. So, if you’re feeling burdened by external pressures, chances are you’re under stress.

With a quarter of respondents in Australia also reporting a degree of general anxiety and low mood,  it is clear that stress and issues affecting our mental wellbeing are common. 

According to the survey, 85 per cent of those experiencing stress switch on the  TV or watch a movie. Others turn to food or friends. Each of these techniques may work in the short term, but the physical effects of stress can be long-lasting, so binge watching Netflix may only be part of the solution.

Physical symptoms of stress

The early signs of stress may actually come through physical symptoms.. These can include headaches, sleep disturbance, fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating. 

This is because while stress clearly affects mental wellbeing, the emotional impact is less likely to be acknowledged. As an example, while 64 per cent  of Australians say that stress affects them mentally, a full 72 per cent highlight the impact of stress on their physical health. 

Symptoms of emotional stress can include displays of anger, frustration or sadness – all of which are natural responses.

Chronic and emotional stress

Over time, the physical effects of stress can lead to more chronic health issues and may impact the health of the  immune system . Recognising the symptoms of stress and anxiety is the first step to managing them. 

Firstly, it’s good to realise that stress and anxiety aren’t the same thing . Stress can lead to anxiety but the symptoms are slightly different.

Stress is usually linked to an identified situation – you’ve lost your job, you’re struggling to pay bills, a relationship has broken down – while anxiety is more free-floating and centres on general worries. So, while anxiety can leave you feeling hopeless, stress tends to come and go in relation to a particular problem.

What to do about stress

The good news is that in the short term, stress can be motivating. If we feel the pinch money-wise it can trigger a search for ways to increase our income. Or, if we feel daunted by an upcoming exam or presentation, stress can prompt us to make sure we know our stuff.

When it comes to the day-to-day, dietary changes can make a difference. 

Caffeine might be beneficial if you’re sleep deprived, but it elevates levels of cortisol  in your system, which isn’t what you need when you’re already feeling strung out. A better option would be to do some exercise or talk to a friend.

Whatever the cause, watching a comedy or getting lost in a good book can provide short-term relief, but if your stress becomes chronic, seek out a professional who’ll provide you with personalised strategies to help you regain your health and wellbeing.

Looking for more ideas to relieve stress? Check out our “Calmer, clearer: 4 weeks to a better you” action plan.

Action plan | Calmer, clearer