Staying calm: How to deal with stress

We can all feel under pressure at times, but when those feelings become too much or prolonged, it can lead to stress resulting in both physical and psychological problems. National Stress Awareness Day, on November 3, aims to make people aware of just how stress can affect our daily lives.

Stressed woman
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Not everyone visits their GP when they are going through a period of excessive stress, which makes it difficult to estimate exactly how many Britons are struggling to cope.

Whether it is long hours, concerns about job security, redundancy or home life changes such as divorce, stress is a growing problem.

According to the NHS, a recent survey estimated that from 2008 to 2009 more than 400,000 Brits experienced work-related stress that made them feel unwell.

Symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, a lack of appetite, irritability or tearfulness, trouble concentrating and a lack of motivation or self-esteem can all point to a build-up of stress.

However, there are things you can do to help.

The NHS advises keeping a stress diary for two to four weeks to help spot the triggers.

Make a note of how you felt at the start of the day. Were there specific times when your mood changed? Did you avoid certain tasks or people, or come across situations that led to feelings of anger or frustration? Are you concerned about job security or family life?

Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster, suggests that taking control is a must before you can begin to feel better.

"In life, there's always a solution to a problem," he advises. "Not taking control of the situation and doing nothing will only make your problems worse."

If, for instance, your stress is work-related, make a list and prioritise the workload, setting goals that will enable you to better manage your time.

And whether you're at home or at work, it is always important to take some time out. Take a lunch break, preferably 30 minutes or more, allowing you to clear your mind of the things that are at the root of the stress and return to work feeling re-energised.

Similarly set aside some time to socialise and relax. A little social time may also help you to create an invaluable support network - remember, a problem shared is (often) a problem halved.

"If you don't connect with people, you won't have support to turn to when you need help," says Professor Cooper. "The activities we do with friends help us relax and we often have a good laugh with them, which is an excellent stress reliever."

Exercise is also an excellent stress-buster and you won't need to be pounding the treadmill to reap the benefits. For many, a simple walk in the fresh air can help to clear the head and relieve some of the pressure.

Even simple deep breathing techniques, focusing on slow, even breaths, can help.

But if you feel unable to cope with the pressure, do not ignore your symptoms. Stress can lead to anxiety, depression and high blood pressure so it is important to address the problem.

Don't suffer in silence - visit your GP to discuss treatment options. From medication to counselling, your doctor will be able to advise you on the best way to get you back on track.

For more information on coping with stress, visit the International Stress Management Association.