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National Stress Awareness Month 2024: what are the signs of stress and how can you seek help?

Studies have found that almost three-quarters of UK adults have felt so stressed they cannot cope  (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Studies have found that almost three-quarters of UK adults have felt so stressed they cannot cope (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Stress is how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened and it usually happens when we are in a situation that we don’t feel we can manage or control.

Studies have found that almost three-quarters of UK adults have felt so stressed they cannot cope — and one in 14 feel stressed daily.

National Stress Awareness Month in April aims to raise awareness of how prevalent stress is in our daily lives and highlight how many people struggle.

Many stressors are in daily life, especially in the unprecedented times we live in, with the cost of living continuing to rise and people constantly working to make ends meet.

The month-long initiative has been held since 1992, meaning we’ve raised awareness about the impacts of stress for 32 years.

National Stress Awareness Month 2024, from April 1 until April 30, aims to highlight stressful experiences and raise stress management awareness.

Several organisations supporting people struggling with stress or mental health challenges will also mark the event.

So, what do you need to know about stress and stress awareness month?

What is stress?

Stress is a natural psychological and physiological response to demands or pressures from the environment. It's your body's reaction to a challenge or a threat.

While stress can sometimes be positive, motivating you to perform well under pressure, it can also become overwhelming when it exceeds your ability to cope.

Physiologically, when you perceive a threat or challenge, your body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which trigger the "fight or flight" response. This response prepares your body to confront the stressor or flee from it.

Chronic stress, however, can have detrimental effects on both your physical and mental health. It can lead to issues including anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive problems, high blood pressure, and weakened immune function.

Managing stress through healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and seeking support is crucial for maintaining overall well-being.

How do I know if I’m stressed?

Below are just some of the many signs and symptoms that are indicators that your body could be under too much pressure:

Psychological signs

  • Inability to concentrate or make simple decisions

  • Memory lapses

  • Becoming rather vague

  • Easily distracted

  • Less intuitive and creative

  • Undue worrying / racing thoughts

  • Feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, or unfocused

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Negative thinking

  • Insomnia or waking still tired

  • Prone to accidents

Emotional signs

  • Tearful

  • Irritable

  • Mood swings

  • Extra sensitive to criticism

  • Defensive

  • Feeling out of control

  • Lack of motivation

  • Angry

  • Frustrated

  • Lack of confidence

  • Lack of self-esteem

Physical signs

  • Aches/pains and muscle tension/grinding teeth

  • Frequent colds/infections

  • Allergies/rashes/skin irritations

  • Constipation/diarrhoea/IBS

  • Weight loss or gain

  • Indigestion/heartburn/ulcers

  • Hyperventilating/lump in the throat/pins and needles

  • Dizziness/palpitations

  • Nervousness or shaking uncontrollably

  • Panic attacks/nausea

  • Cold or sweaty hands and feet

  • Physical tiredness

  • Menstrual changes/loss of libido/sexual problems

  • Heart problems/high blood pressure

Behavioural signs

  • No time for relaxation or pleasurable activities

  • Prone to accidents, forgetfulness

  • Increased reliance on alcohol, smoking, caffeine, recreational or illegal drugs

  • Becoming a workaholic

  • Poor time management and/or poor standards of work

  • Absenteeism

  • Self-neglect/change in appearance

  • Social withdrawal

  • Relationship problems

  • Insomnia or waking tired

  • Aggressive/anger outbursts

  • Nervous

  • Uncharacteristically lying

If you notice these symptoms for a prolonged time or they worsen, make an appointment to see your GP or call NHS 111. If you live in England, you can also refer yourself for psychological therapy through the NHS IAPT service without seeing your GP.

How to get involved in National Stress Awareness Month 2024

You can get involved in Stress Awareness Month in several ways.

First, familiarise yourself with signs of stress and read up on how to manage stress.

You can also contact several leading organisations, such as Anxiety UK and Mind, trained to help you navigate stress. They may need some extra volunteers during April.

What is International Stress Awareness Week?

Alongside National Stress Awareness Month, there are also international awareness events.

International Stress Awareness Week was created in 2018 by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) UK to raise awareness of stress prevention. ISMA is a registered charity that advocates good mental health, well-being, and performance.

Its purpose is to:

  • Raise the profile of stress-related issues, both in the home and workplace

  • Combat the stigma often associated with personal stress

  • Change attitudes towards the management of stress in the world of work

The ISMA has a register of professional practitioners and consultants who offer individual support, and coaching and training courses within the workplace, in various industries.

International Stress Awareness Week runs from November 5 to November 9, 2024.

You can find more information here.