Ewan Gillon: Relax and be healthy under pressure

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HOW stressed do you feel right now? If you’re juggling the usual demands of a busy life, you may often feel stressed out and you’re not alone – stress now affects one in five of us with more than 11.3 million working days lost each year.

As it’s National Stress Awareness Day, I’m encouraging people to look out for stress symptoms in themselves and their families so they can deal with them before more serious problems arise.

A commonly treated issue in both children and adults, stress is part of us in that it dictates our “fight or flight” response, enabling us to stand up for ourselves or hide from danger. Hormones including cortisol and adrenalin surge around the body when our brains tell us that action is needed – something we would not be able to function safely without.

The problem arises when you don’t have time to recover between these hormonal surges, leaving you in permanent fight or flight mode – achieving the simplest of tasks seems an impossible struggle when you feel this way.

We all have stressful periods and can usually cope without too much trouble but when stress is ignored it can develop into anxiety and even depression, the key issues in mental health. Has your behaviour or mood changed? Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you having dizzy spells or regular headaches? All are common symptoms of stress.

Firstly, acknowledge your stress by making a note of everything in your life which causes excessive stress. Do you have insufficient time available? If so, is there any way you can reduce your workload or other commitments in order to give you more free time? If we feel overwhelmed, we can lose all sense of perspective so it’s even more important you’re able to have regular time out.

Secondly, try and stay as positive as possible. Stress often causes us to see things in a negative light which can lead to a spiral of excessive worrying, a common symptom of anxiety. Meditation and yoga can both help calm down anxious minds, as can regular chats with friends and family.

And finally, look after yourself. This may sound obvious but how many of us actually get enough sleep, regularly exercise or eat as healthily as we’d like?

Ultimately, taking care of your physical health will reap huge rewards for your ongoing mental health. Stress, be gone . . .

• Professor Ewan Gillon is a counselling psychologist and clinical director of First Psychology Scotland, www.firstpsychology.co.uk