How do I know if I’m stressed?
How stress can make you feel
If you're stressed, you might feel
- irritable, angry, impatient or upset
- anxious, nervous or scared
- drained and sad
- neglected or lonely
- as if your mind is whirring and you can't turn it of
Physical signs of stress
The hormones our bodies produce to respond to stressful situations can have several physical effects. These could include
- difficulty breathing
- panic attacks
- blurred eyesight or sore eyes
- sleep problems
- muscle pain and headaches
- chest pain and high blood pressure
- feeling unwell, dizzy or fainting
- suddenly gaining or losing weight
- skin rashes or itching
- changes in your menstrual cycle
If we feel very stressed and for long periods then these physical effects can get worse.
How stress might make you behave
If you feel stressed you might
- find it difficult to make decisions
- find you’re unable to concentrate
- be unable to remember things, or remember things more slowly than usual
- be worried all the time or afraid to do things
- be picky
- chew your nails
- pick or scratch your skin
- grind your teeth or clench your jaw
- have sexual problems, such as loss of interest or pleasure in sex
- eat too much or not enough
- smoke, use recreational drugs or drink alcohol more often than usual
- feel restless, unable to sit still
- cry or feeling tearful
- spend or shop too much
- not do as much exercise as usual, or do too much exercise
- distance yourself from the people around you
Advice on managing stress
Look after your wellbeing
Different things will work for different people, but here are some ideas you could try
- Be kind to yourself. Learning to be kinder to yourself can help you feel different in different situations. Try to take breaks during the day to do things that give you pleasure.
- Try to make time to relax. This might feel difficult if it's impossible to prevent a stressful situation. You can get tips and ideas for exercises on our relaxation pages.
- Try to develop your interests and hobbies. Spending time doing things that give you pleasure could help move your mind off a stressful situation. If stress makes you feel lonely then hobbies can also be a good way to meet new people.
- Spend time in nature. This can help reduce stress and improve wellbeing. You could go for walks in a green space, look after indoor plants, or spend time with animals. Looking after your physical health.
- Getting enough sleep, staying physically active and eating a balanced diet can make it easier to manage stress. Stress can sometimes make it difficult to take care of these things. But the smallest changes can make a big difference.
You can get more advice on supporting yourself on our wellbeing pages.
Look out for the triggers of stress
Working out what triggers stress can help you prepare for it. Even if you can't avoid these situations, being prepared for them can help.
Knowing what you can and can't change could help you work out how best to deal with stress.
Spend time thinking about potentially stressful situations such as
- paying a bill or going to an appointment
- moving house or taking an exam
- being a carer or facing discrimination
- going back to somewhere where you had a bad experience
Once you’ve figured out what causes you to feel stressed, then you can plan for how to tackle it.
Sometimes, reflecting on these things can be distressing. If remembering or talking about these experiences makes you feel worse, then stop and reach out for help.
Expand your support network
We know that having a good support network can help build resilience and make it easier to manage stress. Support from people you trust can make it easier to manage stressful situations.
This support could include:
- Friends and family. Sometimes sharing your feelings with the people close to you can make a big difference. They might be able to help with some of the things that are stressful for you.
- On-the-job support. For example, from your manager, human resources department, union representatives or an employee assistance plan. Your wellbeing is important and should be taken seriously by responsible employers.
- Support at university or college. For example, from your tutors, the students' union or student services. You can get more tips on how to get student support on our pages on student life and mental health.
- Peer support. If you're struggling to cope, talking to people with similar feelings or experiences can help. This could be face to face in a peer support group, or through an online community. You can find out more on our peer support pages.
Plan your time
Some of us may feel stressed because we have lots of things to manage in our lives. Changing the way we organise our time can help us feel more in control of things.
If you think this could help, you could:
- Try to identify when you are feeling most active, for example in the morning or evening. If possible, do your most important tasks around that time of day, to help you focus better.
- Draw up a list of things you have to do. Put them in order of importance. Try to focus on the most important thing first. It may be useful to create a timetable, to plan when to spend time on each task.
- Set small practical targets. When we feel stressed, it's easy to set ourselves big or unrealistic goals. This could include trying to overcome a situation that makes us feel stressed. But this can often be more stressful and frustrating for us, if we fail to meet our targets. Setting smaller, more practical goals can help us feel more satisfied and have more control over things.
- Vary your activities. Try to balance boring tasks with more interesting ones. And mix stressful tasks with those you find easier to do or can make more cautious.
- Try not to do too much at once. If you try to do too much, you may find it harder to do any one task well. This could be even more stressful for you.
- Be clear to others about what you can do. In some situations, it may not always be possible to say 'no', or tell people exactly how you feel. But if you can, tell people if what they are asking is unreasonable or unrealistic.
- Take breaks and take one step at a time. It could be difficult to do this when you are feeling stressed. But it can help deal with things better and cope with a stressful situation.
- Ask someone for help. For example, you could ask a friend or family member to help with some of your everyday tasks. This can give you more time to spend on any tasks that cause you stress.