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Physical symptoms such as clenched jaw, headaches, shortness of breath, feeling hyperalert, poor quality sleep, can all be signs of stress. It is a response to a real or perceived threat – the body’s automatic reaction to prepare for 'fight' or ‘flight.’ When stress becomes too much, it impacts one’s ability to function and can become self perpetuating. Talking through issues can help manage these responses.

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What is stress? 

It is important to remember that feeling stressed is a normal response when things get busy. 

The Stress Management Society explains that stress manifests in four main ways:

  • Thinking: Stress affects our concentration, decision-making skills and confidence, and can also cause a mental cloudiness people call ‘brain fog’.
  • Feelings: Stress can make us panicky, irritable, and depressed.
  • Actions: People who are stressed might have trouble sleeping or getting up, socialising, completing tasks, losing their sense of humour and needing something like drinking or smoking to relax. 
  • Physical: Under stress, people often report anxiety symptoms like chest pain, racing heart and higher blood pressure, as well as tension (such as clenched jaw or teeth-grinding at night), more minor illnesses (e.g. frequent colds), or irritable skin or digestion.

When should you seek help for stress?

Many people manage stress by using techniques that work for them, including talking to friends, doing exercise or meditating. However, if stress becomes all consuming and affects a person’s ability to function either at work or within relationships, they may need to seek help and talk to either a therapist or a doctor. 

Stress symptoms that might someone to seek help include:

  • Stopping looking after themselves.
  • Increasing time off work.
  • Avoiding doing things they need to do, either for themselves or their families.
  • Thoughts of harming themselves.
  • Using drugs or alcohol to cope.
  • Struggling with panic or anxiety attacks.

What therapy is best for stress?

Cognitive behavioural therapy for stress

This structured type of counselling teaches specific skills to manage behaviour and change negative thinking patterns into positive ones.

Other types of therapy are also useful and can help people better manage their responses to situations. See our resource about different types of therapy to better understand the many different approaches.  

Other helpful  resources related to stress

Stress Management Society

This organisation has a test for stress, and practical tips on coping with stressful periods.

Anxiety UK

The UK’s leading charity for anxiety has good advice on coping with panic attacks, and a helpline for people who need support to cope with stress and anxiety.