Managing stress: The effects on your health and how to manage symptoms

Stress is a common mental health problem but – as with similar conditions – it can present with physical symptoms as well as mood and behavioural symptoms.

To help keep you safe and healthy during times of stress, we’ve pulled together some information and advice on the symptoms of this common condition and how to combat stress.

Symptoms of stress

Stress symptoms show in a variety of ways. Mental symptoms include struggling to concentrate or make decisions, constant worrying, forgetfulness and feeling overwhelmed, according to the NHS.

Mind point out that stress can sometimes create feelings of dread, irritability, loss of sex drive, cravings for harmful substances such as drugs or alcohol, and tearfulness.

People experiencing stress for the first time are sometimes surprised by the associated physical symptoms:

  • The NHS notes headaches, dizziness, muscle tension or pain, stomach problems, chest pain or racing heart and sexual problems.
  • Mind adds nail-biting, skin-picking, grinding teeth, tiredness, rashes, sleep problems, sweating and period changes – and if you have pre-existing physical health problems, they may get worse.

How to manage stress symptoms

Typical self-care activities can help to combat stress. Even if you’re feeling tired, there are plenty of suggestions for ways to nurture your mental wellbeing from the comfort of your home.

Connecting with others is important. Inviting people to your home, calling or texting friends, or even joining online classes are all low-stress ways to connect with people.

Peer support is another NHS-recommended treatment. Mind’s local branches may offer a peer support group in your area: they recommend calling their Infoline on 0300 123 3393, which is open from Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm.

The Hub of Hope website may also be able to recommend other sources of peer support – though you can’t actually search for help for ‘stress’ directly, you can try using the words ‘anxiety’ or ‘depression’ if those also apply.

Two female friends sitting on a sofa and talking

If you need practical help, Mind may be able to put you in touch with a welfare advisor. Mind also employs advocates who help people with mental health concerns to attend appointments, resolve work disputes and housing problems, and make benefits claims.

If you feel as if talking might help, you can refer yourself directly to an NHS talking therapies service without a GP referral. The NHS recommends cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for managing stress.

CBT is a common recommendation for people under stress because it focuses on current problems. That said, CBT may not be right for everyone. For example, a disadvantage of CBT is that it doesn’t explore how past experiences affect the way you cope with stress, nor will it address the social problems that can cause stress (such as inequality). Additionally, CBT may not be suitable for people with complex mental health needs, and people with learning disabilities may also struggle to benefit from it. Nevertheless, there is a good evidence basis that this form of therapy can treat ‘general stress’.

If you’re able to privately fund therapy, you can also look for private local or remote therapists using the BACP register.

Stress Management Society, the leading UK charity for stress, has half a dozen self-help resources available for free now on its website, including:

  • A seven-step achievement plan
  • A guide to coping with stress
  • A guide to having an open conversation around mental health
  • A guide to coping with loneliness
  • A ‘30-day challenge’

If you have the energy to leave home and exercise, there’s emerging research that nature walks and ‘forest bathing’ can relieve stress, or at least provide a break or distraction from the source of your stress. Sport and exercise are well-evidenced to help temporarily relieve feelings of stress and can also improve mood.

Often, looking after utility bills (energy, electricity, gas and water) can be a source of stress, if you are struggling to pay your utility bill, please contact your supplier. You may also benefit from being on the Priority Services Register. This lets utility suppliers support customers who have extra communication, access, or safety needs. As well as getting more support in the event of a power cut or similar loss of supply, the register can also help you verify whether people who come to the door are from your suppliers or not. Customers who are eligible for this service include those living with mental health conditions or a disability, children under five, or those who temporarily need extra support. People who need extra support can even nominate a carer, friend or relative to receive information from the supplier instead of you.

For severe or chronic stress, or when stress makes existing mental health problems worse, it’s a good idea to let your doctor, nurse or mental health team know. The NHS advises that, if you find that self-help strategies aren’t working or that you’re struggling to cope, you should seek help from a GP.

Further reading

Additional support at home

The Priority Services Register (PSR) is an important, free support service which is designed to support those who need a little extra help in the event of interruptions to their gas, water or electricity supply. If you or someone you know has extra communication, access or safety needs, signing up to the PSR will help ensure you or they can access the best possible services at all times, and feel safe and independent at home. 

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