We all feel stressed from time to time, however, for some people the pressure they are facing in their daily life becomes too much. By understanding stress and how to recognise our own personal warning signs we can find ways in which to deal with stress to help lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
What is stress?
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. We all need a certain amount of pressure to function well, as pressure helps people to reach their peak efficiency. Research shows that pressure can increase our drive to meet deadlines and achieve targets. However, when pressure becomes too intense and prolonged, this can lead to more serious symptoms and problems such as anxiety, depression, headaches, weight gain/loss, sleep disturbance, sweating, abdominal pain, chest pain and panic attacks.
Stress can have a profound effect on someone’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It can cause them to feel anxious, out of control and unable to cope. This can lead to feeling irritable or constantly worrying about situations and can even affect a person’s self-esteem. Acute stress might come from any area of life, including work, home, relationships, illness or finances.
Causes of stress
There are a wide range of causes of stress and they will differ from one person to another – what may cause stress for one person may be taken in their stride by another person.
However, common causes of stress are bereavement, getting married, divorce, debt, ill-health, moving house, preparing for and sitting exams, changing jobs and problems at work.
Pressure of work is a common cause of stress, perhaps worsened by staff shortages or absences, along with problematic relationships with work colleagues or a manager, restructures, other major changes and/or worries about losing one’s job. People are often reluctant to ask for help for fear of demonstrating weakness or appearing to be unable to cope.
It is important to recognise when you are stressed so you can steps to deal with it. There are many common signs and symptoms – see our list below of stress symptoms.
To see whether you are stressed you could try the Stress Management Society’s online stress test.
If several of the symptoms below apply to you, you may consider taking action to tackle stress.
- asthma or breathlessness
- chest pains
- cramps or muscle spasms
- fainting spells
- headaches or migraine
- heart attack
- high blood pressure
- peptic ulcers
- rheumatoid arthritis
- sexual difficulties
- skin disorders
- tendency to sweat
- sleep problems
- recurring illness
- tremors and nervous tics.
- loss of interest in others
- denying there is a problem
- dread of the future
- fearing failure
- feeling alone
- feeling neglected
- increased irritability and a loss of interest in others
- heightened sensitivity to criticism
- loss of concentration
- loss of sense of humour
- taking no interest in life
- thinking you are bad or ugly
- unable to show true feelings.
- avoiding difficult situations
- craving for food
- difficulty getting to sleep and early morning waking
- drinking and smoking more
- lack of appetite
- restlessness/unable to settle
- difficulty concentrating
- lots of things on the go
- signs of tension, such as nail biting
- unable to make decisions.
The stress symptoms mentioned above can be short-lived if you take steps to relieve yourself from stress or pro-actively avoid becoming stressed.
If you experience continuous stress and find that the symptoms do not go away, it can be helpful to seek help. Consulting your GP is a great place to start. Seeking professional help early may help you to potentially avoid further psychological problems.
The body’s reaction
When we are under stress our muscles tense, our blood pressure rises and our hearts beat faster. We breathe faster to speed up the time it takes to get oxygen into our blood. To divert as much blood as possible to our limbs our digestion is interrupted, saliva dries up and the muscles to the bowel and bladder relax which allows it to release waste and make the body lighter. More sweat is produced and the body becomes flooded with stress hormones. All of this is a natural reaction in the body to allow for the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. Once the threat has passed the body should relax and return to its normal state.
These responses were very helpful to our ancestors who may have had to escape predators, but our ancient physical emergencies have now been replaced by perceived modern day psychological threats. Our physiological response to stress is the same, whether we are reading a stressful email or need to jump out of the way of a car, and unfortunately the stresses of modern day life can mean that our stress responses are activated frequently. We often don’t give our bodies or minds sufficient time to rest after each stress-filled moment.
Dealing with stress
The act of taking control and finding a solution that specifically meets your needs is in itself empowering. Try to identify those things that you can control and concentrate on dealing with them.
Prioritise and manage your time
If you are feeling overwhelmed and cannot see a solution, try listing all the things you need to do and then prioritise them. Is there anything you can remove from the list? Identify which ones you have to do yourself and whether you can ask someone else to take something on.
For each task or problem, try brainstorming ways to tackle the first bit of the problem. Think about what advice you would give someone else or what advice they would give you. Write a plan with small, easy steps. Think about any obstacles that may get in the way and look at methods of combatting them. Focus on dealing with one chunk at a time and avoid the temptation to race ahead and try to solve everything at once. By breaking your problems down, they will feel much more manageable.
Exercise won’t make your stress disappear, but it will reduce some of the emotional intensity that you’re feeling, clearing your thoughts and enabling you to deal with your problems more calmly as well as increasing your feeling of well-being. It helps to dispense the stress hormones that can builds up in the body as a result of stressful situations. Exercising outside is particularly beneficial, so even if you can only take a walk in the park it can have a positive effect on your stress levels. For further information about exercise, see our Exercise fact sheet.
Connect with others
Talking to someone else can be a great help. A good support network of colleagues, friends and family can help you see things in a different way and gain perspective on a situation.
Have some ‘me time’
It is important to take some time just for you, to socialise, relax or exercise. Prioritise this time. Some examples are: have a meal with family/friends, take the children to the park, read a book, take up a new hobby.
Work can be a significant source of stress. Try to work regular hours, take breaks and use up your leave entitlement. Make your work environment as comfortable as you can. Raise problems with your manager where appropriate and use time management techniques. If the situation is very difficult, for example, if you feel you are being bullied, consider taking some advice. This could be from your union or Pharmacist Support’s employment adviser. For further information about workplace bullying, see our Bullying fact sheet.
Like it or not, work takes up a significant amount of your daily life, so it’s important to find a balance between giving it your undivided attention while you are there and drawing a line under it when you leave at the end of the day. Some useful tips on making that divide are:
- make a list of anything that requires attention before you finish for the day and leave it at work to refer to the next day;
- avoid checking emails at home;
- use your journey home to think through the day and ‘let go’ of it;
- set yourself enjoyable goals outside of the workplace.
Avoid unhealthy habits
Try not to rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine as your ways of coping. Instead try to maintain a healthy diet as what you eat can have a major impact on how you feel. For further information, see our Healthy Eating fact sheet.
Look for the positives in life, and be aware of things for which you’re thankful. Write down three things at the end of every day which went well or for which you’re grateful.
By making a conscious effort you can train yourself to be more positive about life. If you can change your perspective, you may see your situation from a more positive point of view.
NHS Choices website suggests keeping a stress diary for a few weeks to help you become more aware of what is causing your stress and how you operate under pressure and to help develop coping mechanisms. They suggest noting down the date, time and place of the stressful episode, plus:
- what you were doing
- who you were with
- how did you felt emotionally
- what your thoughts were
- what you started doing
- how you felt physically
- and then giving a stress rating between 0 and 10 (where 10 is the highest level of stress).
The website also suggests a number of self-help techniques to help people to tackle stress, but also advises that if the techniques are not working, medical/ professional help should be sought. For further information, see the NHS Choices website.
How Pharmacist Support can help you
A Listening Friend
If you are having an issue at work and would like some peer support, Pharmacist Support’s Listening Friends are there to help. You can call the free-phone helpline: 0808 168 5133, and we will arrange for a trained volunteer pharmacist to call you back.
Pharmacist Support are able to offer six sessions of funded counselling to pharmacists, students, and trainees who feel they would benefit.
Our wellbeing workshops are packed with information, tools and techniques to help you recognise the signs and symptoms of stress and deal with everyday pressures. They will help you find a way not only to survive but to thrive!
These workshops are specifically tailored to meet the needs of those in the pharmacy profession and cover:-
- the science of stress and anxiety and its effect on you
- techniques for when you’re feeling under pressure, including mindfulness and time management
- tools like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), positive self-reflection and the five ways to well-being
- tips to inspire a more positive lifestyle.
These free workshops will also signpost attendees to further resources and can be counted towards your CPD.
Workshops are free to attend, but places are limited.
For more information, click here
For information, specialist advice on employment, debt and benefits and/or financial support, contact Pharmacist Support.
Tel: 0808 168 2233
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy is a membership and professional body representing counselling and psychotherapy. Their website has information on counselling and on how to find a local therapist. They can be contacted on 01455 883 300.
International Stress Management Association
Here are a list of helpful organisations and resources for people experiencing stress:
The Mental Health Foundation
The Mental Health Foundation have some free wellbeing podcasts that you can download from their website and they also produce a helpful booklet on how to manage and reduce stress. Again this is free to download.
CPPE (Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education) learning guides
CPPE publish a range of personal development learning guides, including De-stress you, Time management, Overcoming anxiety and a number of others. The guides are available on their website.
The Stress Management Society
The Stress Management Society is a non-profit making organisation aiming to help people tackle stress. There are free materials on stress on their website. There is a charge for other services, for example, training, online tools and one to one personal consulation.
No Panic is a voluntary organisation that helps people who suffer from panic attacks, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorders and other related anxiety disorders. There are some resources on their website and a helpline: 0800 138 8889.
Mind are a leading mental health charity providing a whole range of services including information and advice, helplines and local services. There is a wealth of information on their website and they can be contacted on 0300 123 3393.
Depression Alliance is a leading charity providing support for people with depression. They can help you meet and chat to others in your local area, join a self-help group and learn more about depression, treatment and recovery.
Rethink offer advice, information and a range of mental health services including, talking therapies, advocacy, community support, advice and helplines, crisis services and help for young people.
The Samaritans provide a 24 hour emotional support services for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide. They can be contacted by phone on 116 123, email or someone can drop into a local branch and have a face to face meeting.
This fact sheet was last reviewed on 23 July 2021.