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Am I over-reacting?

Publish date: 04/11/2013

Tags: Anxiety , Stress , stroke

When you seem to be constantly unwell, the slightest bump causes pain and life holds no pleasure, it’s common to picture the worst scenario.

However, daily life and its pressures may be at the root of your problems.

We speak to psychologist Judi James and Dr Guy Leschziner, consultant neurologist at London Bridge Hospital, for advice on managing stress properly.

Symptoms or stress?

Feeling achy or dizzy? Suffering with nausea or bad headaches? When we’re feeling low it can be easy to think the worst. But before you start looking up alarming diseases on the Internet, take a few deep breaths and try to relax. The chances are good that you don’t have a serious condition.

If the symptoms above sound familiar, you could well be suffering from stress. Dealt with promptly you and your doctor can bring stress under control and ease your worries.

This doesn’t mean that stress itself is totally harmless. A survey carried out this year by the NHS Information Centre shows that hospital admissions for stress have risen by seven per cent in the last 12 months.

Common causes and symptoms of stress

The good news is that stress is treatable – especially when caught early – and you can help yourself combat it with lifestyle changes. It is important to be aware of the symptoms of stress so that you can recognise them in yourself and others – we don’t always know that we are suffering from an overload of pressure.

That’s what causes stress – when we are under more pressure than we can cope with. Different people react to the pressures of life in different ways. What might seem a fun challenge to one person can make another feel overwhelmed.

Common causes of stress are troubles at work and in relationships, financial problems, unemployment, lack of sleep, even noisy neighbours. Some life events can also be very stressful, such as moving house and bereavement.

These are just some of the symptoms of stress – feeling sick or dizzy, headaches, feeling tired all the time, chest pains, constipation or diarrhoea, craving food or lack of appetite, trouble sleeping and high blood pressure. You may also have trouble concentrating and making decisions.

On top of this you may feel depressed, and worry that you are ill. It’s not surprising that some of us are concerned that we may have a more serious health problem.

Worrying about health problems you may not have will make you more stressed. Tell your doctor about your symptoms and your situation – include anything that might affect how you’re feeling, such as money or relationship worries. This will help them make their diagnosis and in many cases they should be able to put your mind at rest.

Managing stress

It’s important to try to tackle stress as early as possible. Be aware of your symptoms and whether they may be stress-related.

“Knowing why what’s happening is happening can make stress symptoms seem less frightening and more manageable. It enables us to watch for any warning signs which in turn can help us feel more in control,” says psychologist Judi James.

“A lack of control can be one of the biggest factors that can convert pressure in our lives into stress.”

Lifestyle changes and therapies to tackle stress

Don’t forget those lifestyle changes. They can make a huge difference to how you feel, mentally and physically, by reducing your stress levels. Improving your diet will help as it can help prevent you putting weight on and reduce your chances of developing weight-related diseases.

“Try to avoid stimulants, and cut down on caffeine,” says Dr Guy Leschziner,   consultant neurologist at London Bridge Hospital. “Try not to deal with your stress with alcohol, and get regular exercise. Meditation and mindfulness-based therapy can also be useful. There are also a variety of more formal treatments, like psychotherapy, which aims to analyse why you behave in a particular way.”

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is geared towards changing your behaviour. For instance, when you feel stressed, it looks at what you can do to try to relieve that stress, such as deep breathing and relaxation therapy. There are also a range of psychological mechanisms that can help reduce your stress levels,” says Judi James.   

Relaxation techniques can also help to relax your body and your mind – and you can do them almost anywhere.

Could my symptoms indicate something else?

It is easy to self-diagnose with major illness, such as brain tumour or stroke. Some neurological disorders can be mistaken for stress, but this is unusual.

“There are neurological sleep disorders – restless leg syndrome, which can cause problems getting off to sleep – and periodic limb movement disorder, which makes people kick throughout the night, waking them up. These can be confused with insomnia and stress and anxiety,” explains Dr Leschziner.

What’s important is not leaping to the worst conclusions, using stress-busting techniques and looking forward to a more relaxed you.

Visit our Stress Centre for more information about stress and techniques for managing its symptoms.

References:

NHS Communication Centre: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-news/news-archive/2013-news-archive/130108-stress/
Managing Stress – Mind: http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8045_how_to_manage_stress
Lifestyle Changes – Mental Health Organisation: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/S/stress/
Causes of Stress – Mind: http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8103_mind_troubleshooters_stress
Meditation: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/meditation/HQ01070

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