Why are we all so stressed and what can we do about it?

Woman relaxing with a coffee

For many Australians, stress is becoming just another part of life. It’s something normal to be dealt with like any other aspect of our day.

But it’s not something we should accept and get used to. Stress can be dangerous, and it’s getting worse.

How dangerous is stress?

Here are some of the latest figures that show how big the problem is:

  • Over a third of Australians report having a significant level of distress in their lives.
  • More than a quarter of us report above normal levels of anxiety symptoms.
  • More than a quarter report having moderate to extremely severe levels of depression symptoms.

And when you add in the fact that suicide is the biggest killer of young Australians, all of a sudden stress stops being just another harmless new fact of life. It can be a matter of life and death.

What are the big causes of stress?

We all respond to challenges in different ways, and what’s stressful for one person might not be an issue for others. But according to Health Direct from the Australian Government, some of the main causes of stress are:

  • Major life events like the death of a family member or friend, getting divorced, or even positive events like getting married or having a child.
  • Health concerns, such as an illness to yourself or loved one, or the need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Workplace stress, like keeping on top of your workload, needing to work long hours or feeling the need to always check emails.
  • Social stress, like the pressure of always needing to be connected to social media by constantly checking our phones for updates.
  • Financial stress, like concerns over meeting your commitments or worrying about your financial future.

What are the stress warning signs?

It’s important to recognise the early warning signs of stress. Deal with it early and you can stop it developing into something more serious.

Early signs can include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Upset stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Chest pains
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Over or under eating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Short temper
  • Anxiety

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, try to identify the cause, and put a plan in place to address it. Get help from family, friends or your local GP if you need it.

What can you do to help deal with stress?

1. Eat well and stick to regular meal times

Diet and mealtime routines have a huge impact on health and wellbeing. We can all make small, simple changes to improve health and happiness in relation to food. These include planning meals in advance, eating seasonal whole foods, and setting regular mealtimes with family and friends. The federal government’s Eat for Health website has more tips and ideas.

2. Exercise for a healthy body and mind

Exercise is good for both body and mind. It keeps us fit, helps us sleep and keeps us connected with others. Plus, it can be a great way of relaxing while giving yourself an energizing boost.  Try to commit to regular physical activity, which could be a daily walk, swim or other activity you enjoy.

3. Find the time to relax

Make time for relaxation and find an activity that’s right for you. This might be yoga, meditation, gardening or just listening to music. There are lots of free relaxation apps available to get you started. Or, for some people, completely disconnecting from your phone and social media can be a good way to relax and avoid burnout.

4. Get a good night’s sleep

The Sleep Health Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults. They also recommend keeping regular times for going to bed and rising. Getting into the habit of not looking at your phone (or other bright screens) before bedtime can be a big help when it comes to getting to sleep and properly resting. Not a good sleeper? Then read more about improving your sleep habits.

For some of us, it can be perfectly normal to feel stressed from time to time, and most people self-manage their way through these periods. But if stress is impacting on your health or wellbeing, talk to your doctor. You can also get more guidance or support from organisations like the Australian Psychological Society and Beyond Blue.

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