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5 signs your stress is out of control and 4 ways to calm down

Mirror logo Mirror 30/10/2017 Rosie Hopegood

a man and a woman looking at the camera: Credits: E+ © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Credits: E+ It’s International Stress Awareness Day on 1 November. With 11.7 million working days a year lost to stress in the UK, we asked Tim Hipgrave, Emotional Health Expert at Nuffield Health, to talk us through the signs that you might be stressed without even realising it – and just what we can do to calm down...

1. You’re feeling tired

"Stress has a physiological effect on your body, by releasing

hormones into your bloodstream that accelerate your heart rate and breathing," explains Tim. "This strain on your system can have an exhausting effect, leaving you feeling tired all the time."

To top it all off, stress can also make it harder to get a decent night’s kip, because it activates a part of the brain responsible for sleep-wake regulation.

2 You’ve lost your libido

You’ve probably noticed that in stressful times, nooky is the last thing you fancy. 

"In order for your sexual desire to function properly, your neurological pathways and hormone balance need to be in sync," says Tim. "When you’re stressed, you release hormones that interfere with this balance and can lead to a loss of libido."

3. You’re eating too much... or too little, or unhealthily

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If there’s one thing that’s sure to wreak havoc with the best of intentions, it’s stress. One factor is that stressed people will often be short on time, and it’s easy to reach for unhealthy foods. 

"People who are in a stressed state in the short term may lose their appetite. This is because part of the brain called the hypothalamus

produces a hormone which suppresses appetite," says Tim. "But people who are stressed for a long period of time release cortisol, which increases your appetite – especially for sweet, starchy foods. This is where the term “stress-eating” comes from."

4. You feel panicked

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There’s another downside to these pesky stress hormones: an increased heart rate, coupled with shortness of breath, can lead to feelings of anxiety, or even a panic attack. 

"You may even hyperventilate as you struggle for breath," explains Tim. "Hyperventilation can usually be resolved by removing yourself from the situation and actively trying to slow your breathing."

5. You’re getting ill easily

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Stress has some very real effects on our overall health, by suppressing the immune system. So, if you find you’re catching colds easily, or can’t shake them off, it may be because you have a reduced immune system. 

"When we’re stressed, we release cortisol into our bloodstream, which blocks helpful hormones, so our immune system can begin to really suffer," says Tim.

And four ways to bust stress...

Never suffer in silence. Talk to your doctor to discuss options, and make sure you let your nearest and dearest know that you’re

struggling. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to look after yourself...

1. Rest

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"Rest is just as important as exercise, because sleep is our body’s chance to recharge," explains Tim. "Without it, we feel less productive, have lower energy levels and poor concentration." 

Try to get between seven and eight hours sleep a night, and limit caffeine and alcohol, as they are known to increase stress hormones in our body, interfering with the quality of our sleep and our body’s ability to recover.

2. Brain games

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Challenging yourself mentally can have a surprising effect on your levels of positivity.

"Exercising our psyche encourages the growth of new cells, keeping our minds healthy," says Tim. "Stimulating our brains with activities such as puzzles and crosswords, or learning a new hobby or skill, can help to boost mental fitness."

3. Mindfulness

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"Stress and anxiety are often caused by focusing too much on past events, or worrying about the future – both of which are out of our control," explains Tim. "By using techniques such as meditation, breathing and yoga, we can help to manage our emotions in a more efficient way and get back to feeling our best." 

Your local library should carry a beginner’s guide to mindfulness, or try downloading an app like Headspace to give you the basics.

4. Find balance in your life

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Maintaining a good balance of slog and downtime is essential for keeping stress levels under control. 

"When we make time for ourselves and do things we enjoy, we’re more productive in all areas of our lives," says Tim. "It’s important to take regular recesses from the daily grind, or get away from your grumpy husband!

"Taking breaks at work also helps with fitting in another stress buster: exercise. Moderate and regular exercise will break down stress hormones and promote the release of mood-enhancing hormones, helping to reduce tension and calm your nerves."

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