Understanding Stress & How to Manage It

Mental Health

We all know what it’s like to feel stressed, but what actually is stress?

Stress is essentially the way your body responds under pressure. This is sometimes called the 'fight-or-flight response'. It's your body's way of telling you to react to something perceived as a threat. When you experience stress, your body releases hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol to give you a rush of energy and prepare you for physical action.

Stress isn't inherently bad. It can help you react against something that might be dangerous and keep you safe. You can even have good stress, like when you go on a rollercoaster, when you exercise, or when you watch a scary film.

However, if your stress is prolonged, or when you experience stress when there is no threat, it can damage your health. Too much stress can leave you in a permanent state of fight or flight, leaving you overwhelmed or unable to cope. Long term stress has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

How do we experience stress?

Everyone reacts to stress differently, and it can affect us in a variety of ways. Here are the most common symptoms that some people experience:

  • Feelings: Irritable, anxious, angry, sad, frustrated, afraid, overwhelmed, agitated.
  • Physical symptoms: Headaches or dizziness, aches and pains, nausea, sweating, stomach problems, chest pain or faster heartbeat, sexual problems.
  • Mental symptoms: Difficulty concentrating, struggling to make decisions, constantly worrying, being forgetful, lack of productivity.
  • Behavioural changes: Disturbances in your sleep habits, fluctuations in your eating habits, being tearful, avoiding certain places or people, drinking or smoking more.

Some people can be more affected by stress than others. Factors such as how you perceive the situation, your emotional resilience, external pressures and your support systems can affect how you feel stress in different situations. Identifying how you respond to stress is the first step in learning how to manage it.

How can we manage stress?

Identifying your triggers and symptoms

Identifying when you feel stressed, the causes of stress, and how you think is key to managing stress. By understanding how stress affects you helps you to understand what you can do to manage it. Take some time to reflect on what might be causing you stress. You might be surprised at how much you are coping with at once!

Time-management

If you find it difficult to concentrate and achieve your tasks, adjusting how you organise your time can help you feel more in control of your day and help you handle pressure. Activities like writing to-do lists, breaking down tasks into small achievable goals, balancing your jobs and taking breaks can help you feel less stressed. It is important not to undertake too much at once as this can put you under pressure and make it hard to do individual tasks well.

Managing external pressures

Although there are many things that we cannot control, there may be some practical ways to fix or improve some of the issues that are causing you stress. If you say 'yes' to everything and take on too many things at once, you may need to prioritise your workload. Maybe you need to set better boundaries between your life and your work/school so that you can ''switch off'' from work. Whatever the situation may be, it is always good to explore possible options that can help relieve you of some pressure.

Take steps to look after your mental wellbeing

You can make changes in your lifestyle that can equip you to deal with pressure and stressful situations and develop emotional resilience against life's challenges.

These can include:

  • Using relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, practising mindfulness, listening to music or any other activity that you know helps you relax! Make sure to set aside time in your day to relax. This can even help you feel more energised for your day.
  • Develop your interests and hobbies. Finding an activity that you find fun and engaging is a great way to get away from everyday pressures, and shared hobbies can be an excellent way to meet other people too!
  • Making time for your friends can help you feel more positive and less isolated. Talking to friends can help you keep things in perspective and can generally make you feel happier. Having supportive relationships around you can help you realise that you are not alone and help you manage stress.

Looking after your physical health

Looking after your physical health can help you manage your mental health and help manage stress too. Several ways you can do this include:

  • Having a good sleep routine
  • Being more physically active and incorporating exercise in your everyday life
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Limiting your use of alcohol and drugs (sometimes these can make stress worse!)

Taking care of yourself

It is essential to be kind to yourself and recognise when you need to take a break. Small ways you can help you be kinder to yourself include:

  • Rewarding yourself for your achievements
  • Getting a change of scenery
  • Taking a break or holiday
  • Forgiving yourself when you make a mistake, or you don't achieve something you hoped for

Talk

Sometimes talking about how you’re feeling to your family and friends can make a big difference. They can provide a listening ear and also help you out in other ways. If your stress is affecting your work/school, you may be able to reach out to other support services that can help you out. If you feel you need professional support, you can speak to your GP. They can help you seek professional treatment and check your overall health. Peer support can help you feel less alone, and sharing your experiences with people that know what you’re going through can be helpful.

Mental Health Useful Resources

The directory of services provides information on organisations that can help improve mental health and emotional wellbeing or support people who need help with mental and emotional ill health.
These five directories list the names, numbers and web addresses (where applicable) of...
The EA currently have 166 staff on our Mental Health First Aider network. The Mental...
Inspire Workplaces (one of the new names for Carecall and EAP Consultants), is a leading...
The OUR Generation project is a Peace IV funded project that provides a unique...
Counselling sessions can often last for longer than the standard 12 sessions offered with...
From books and magazines to local history resources, Libraries NI has a host of fabulous...
First aid as we know it is the help given to an injured person before medical treatment...
Bloom is a UK-wide programme which supports young people’s mental health resilience,...
AMH Works provides workplace mental and emotional well-being consultancy supported by a...
MindWise are proud to be the only membership-led mental health organisation in Northern...
Compassion focused therapy (CFT), developed by Professor Paul Gilbert OBE, is a...
Sourcing and supporting employment opportunities, training and/or voluntary placements...
Back to Life, Back to Normality is a free 12-week mental health programme delivered by...
There are a number of health campaigns throughout the year to raise awareness of...
Mood Matters for Adults is delivered to the general adult population, including those...
The British Red Cross is helping people connect with their local communities, meet new...
Our Talking Therapies Practice offers individuals a range of psychological interventions...
Anxiety UK and the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) are working together to provide...
AMH New Life Counselling is a professionally accredited counselling service and part of...
Our Calm Club Anxiety Relief Sessions allow you to benefit from an approach that provides...
This includes: Raising awareness of depression and Aware NI services at a wide range of...
AMH EveryBODY aims to promote greater understanding and awareness of eating disorders. We...
The Community Care and Support Service is open to individuals over the age of 18 years...
Do you enjoy talking about books? If so, why not join our online book group. The group is...
Tailored activities to support positive mental health and emotional wellbeing. MensSana,...
A partnership, led by AMH, who worked with 8 leading charities to improve mental health...
The AWARE Mood Matters in the Workplace programme is a mental health awareness programme...
Free access to eBooks, audiobooks and eMagazines - available to download on your device...
Mindfulness is a form of meditation with its roots in Buddhism. It helps you develop...
Self-management programmes that teach skills to manage all aspects of living with a long...
Action Mental Health is one of the ChatPal Project Team Members working to develop and...
This takes place with a psychologist usually in a clinical setting (e.g. hospital)...
Be Mindful is an online course that uses mindfulness techniques like meditation,...
Positive Minds for Premature Parents supports families of premature babies to develop and...
Our team of facilitators have extensive knowledge and experience in the field of Mental...
Advanced Diploma in Mental Health and Wellbeing Coaching This virtual training programme...
AMH Promote provides opportunities for adults with a learning disability to be socially...
Belfast Resource Centre offers many opportunities including social and leisure activities...
Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis for the treatment and alleviation of a variety of...
We’ve gathered useful advice, information and help for young people aged 8-25 and those...
We have a wealth of experience in delivering training and consultancy services to a wide...
This programme is a six week training programme for groups of adults and focuses on...
This idea is a walk in the park. It really is that simple, post a news item to see how...
Libraries NI can provide a free Homecall service to your home if you have significant...
Anxiety UK’s online support groups offer a safe space for people to share experiences,...
AWARE NI are expanding their self-help supports to include a new online support group...
Supporting veterans at risk of suicide across Northern Ireland. Exposure to line of duty...
This is a six-session programme using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) concepts – the...
At AMH New Horizons we support the recovery of adults experiencing mental ill health who...
You must download the Libby app to continue to access the eMagazine and eNewspaper...
A project for men aged 50+ to share skills, socialise and connect with their wider...
Support to resist self-harm
Self-Help for Anxiety Management (SAM) offers a range of self-help methods to help you...
It’s an easy to follow programme known the world over, and perfect for those new to...
Learn to manage negative thoughts and look at problems differently
Moodpath: Depression and Anxiety is a written mood journal that uses progress reports and...
Personalised Exercise Plans
MoodMission helps you learn new and better ways of coping with low moods and anxiety...
Handle stress and anxiety on the go
Is anxiety getting in the way of your life? MindShift uses scientifically proven...
Guided meditations
Active 10 is a free and easy to use walking app that tracks your walking and shows you...
SuperBetter is a tool created by game designers to help you build resilience and get...
Fabulous! Is a motivational app that uses challenges to help build physically and...
What's Up? can help you cope with anxiety, stress and feelings of depression. It has...
Guided meditations
Clear Fear is an app developed for teenage mental health charity Stem4 which uses the...
Check if you are at risk of depression
Check your mood

Mental Health Helplines & Web Chats

Samaritans
Action Mental Health
Association for Post-Natal Illness Helpline
Aware NI - Support Groups
Aware NI - Online Support Groups
Mind - Side by Side Online Community