How to deal with long-term stress

Practical ways to cope when you feel things are getting too much

Life can be stressful at the best of times, but 2020 has been on a whole new level, right? Over the last few months we’ve all had many new stresses and life changes to deal with. From worrying about our jobs, trying to keep the kids entertained during lockdown and feeling frustrated about not being able to spend time with the people we love – it’s been a lot.

Dealing with stress for a long period of time can affect both your physical and mental health.

What is stress?

We’ve all at some point felt what it’s like to be stressed. It can still be tricky to know what stress actually means though. Put simply, it’s a feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope due to situations or events that put pressure on us. It could be anything from having lots to do and think about, experiencing something new or unexpected, or feeling that we aren’t in control of a certain situation. Stress can mean different things to different people.

What's the difference between long-term & short-term stress?

Short-term or acute stress, is a feeling you experience for a short period of time. Maybe you’re stuck in traffic and late for work, you’ve had an argument with a friend or received criticism from your boss. It’s an annoying feeling but it usually passes pretty quick. Long-term or chronic stress is just as it sounds, it’s feeling stressed for a long period of time. It could be caused by the death of a loved one, maybe you’re caring for a sick family member or you’ve lost your job.

When you’re stressed, you may feel your heart and breathing rate go up, your muscles tighten, and blood pressure rise. This is the body’s ‘fight or flight’ or stress response. Once the threat or situation passes, these physical signs usually disappear. But if you’re constantly stressed, it can have an impact on your health.

How does long-term stress affect my health?

Long-term stress can affect the body in lots of different ways. If you're stressed most of the time, you may experience stress-related symptoms including:

• Headaches

• Muscle tension or pain

• Feeling overwhelmed

• Dizziness

• Difficulty falling asleep

• Eating too much or too little

• High blood pressure

• Feeling tired all of the time

• A lack of interest in everyday activities

• Feeling irritable

• Losing interest in sex or being unable to enjoy sex

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, talk to your GP. They can offer support, evaluate your symptoms and rule out other conditions.

Practical tips for dealing with stress

If stress is affecting your daily life, there are things you can try at home to help.

Exercise regularly

Great for your physical and mental health, exercise can help to clear your head, reduce stress and lift your mood. Even if you’re still self-isolating or working at home, our bodies and minds need exercise to keep us healthy during these challenging times. Don’t let anything get in the way of your workout. There are so many great online home exercise classes to try out. From yoga to aerobics to heart pumping dance classes – you’ll be able to find something that works for you. If that seems a little bit too much for you right now, go for a walk in the fresh air. That will still do you good.

Take note of your triggers

Look closely at what’s stressing you out. Finding ways to help you manage these triggers is important. If you're not sure what's causing your stress, keep a diary for a few weeks. Write down the times during your day where you feel stressed and what caused you to feel that way. Then go back over what you’ve written to spot your triggers. Even if you can't avoid these situations, being prepared can help you to cope better when you begin to feel stressed.

Take time out from the news

Reading the news can be stressful at the best of times, never mind in the middle of a pandemic. If you think news updates are causing a spike in your stress levels, try to limit what you watch and read. Think about how often you also scroll through social media. Take some time out of your day to schedule in a digital detox, to make sure you’re giving yourself a break from all the outside noise.

Review your routine

During times of great stress, having a good structure to your day can help you feel more organised and in control. The coronavirus has thrown a lot of our usual daily routines up in the air which can make it harder to cope with the stress that we’re all feeling. If you’re feeling like everything is getting a little too much, it’s time to shake things up. Maybe you need to improve your quality of sleep, find new recipes to help you get your five-a-day or explore how to just take some time out for you.

Speak up

Talking through things is one of the best ways to tackle stress. Chatting away to family and friends (while social distancing of course), can be a great way to speak about how you’re feeling and get things off your chest. You may find that they're also having similar feelings and worries right now and talking them out together will be able to help you both.

Remember to speak to your GP if your stress levels are worrying you.

As the confusing times look set to continue for a little while longer, it’s important for us all to know practical ways for how to deal with long-term stress.