A look at stress











FORCE Oncology Support Specialist Sally Hoult examines the many ways stress can affect us and the way we deal with it.

Recognising stress

Stress is a body’s way of responding to something that requires attention or action.

Everyone experiences stress to some degree at various times in their lives, often caused by external stressors which can include any major life changes; work or school issues; relationship difficulties; financial problems and of course illness, including a common cold, through to viruses and major illnesses.

It is the way in which we respond to the stress, however, which can make a big difference to our overall well-being.

We are biologically equipped well to be aware of the things that cause us stress – often a physical response.

When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine preparing the body for physical action.

We do need some adrenaline, indeed to get up and work, to get out of the way of a passing bus, however we don’t need so much of it that it results in affecting how we live, and our well being .

We also have emotional and psychological responses and don’t always know what to do to reduce the impact of the stress on our bodies.

On occasions we use more and more adrenaline to “get us through” situations, but by pushing ourselves to keep going beyond our energy reserves can in itself create more stress.

The society and culture we live in is becoming increasingly hectic, so we have to deal with more external stressors, and so less time tending to our individual needs.

We will all experience different ways in which stress manifests itself.

Physically in ways such as having low energy levels; headaches; insomnia; upset tummy and nausea.

It can also cause us to feel emotionally affected: feeling low, maybe depressed; feeling anxious and irritable.

And of course signs of cognitive stress may include irritability, irrationality, forgetfulness, disorganisation.

Behavioural changes will range from lack of eating and/or change in appetite; uncontrolled anger & rages; withdrawing from social occasions and isolating to increasing drinking/smoking.

So, what can we do to try to manage stressful situations better, and how can we develop our own emotional resilience, so that we can become better at coping with tough situations when they do happen?

Ways to manage stress

Physical activity is excellent at reducing the affect of increased stress levels on our bodies. Jogging or running; swimming; cycling; dancing.

It does not have to be high impact exercise to reap the benefits of raising our mood, indeed yoga, pilates & tai chi are all excellent ways to increase cortisol levels.

And simply walking and being in nature, gardening and being outdoors has a beneficial effect on our sense of well being. Finding new or renewing creative skills is good for increasing confidence, self esteem.

Managing our energy levels and releasing stress has affects on our bodies which can include reducing our heart rate, lifting our outlook and increase our feelings of confidence and optimism.

Attempting to include an exercise or two into our daily routine can help, including yoga, mindfulness and simply time spent on our own self care. Find the things that work for you so you can feel the effects.

Don’t feel there is a right or wrong, and remember that it is all accumulative which means any de-stressing opportunity counts, and a few minutes every day can make a difference to how you feel and to the energy available to you.

Self care is a crucial component in reducing raised stress levels, particularly when we are not functioning as well as “normal” perhaps due to illness, treatment for illness, and an accumulation of stressors.

Self care needs to include our sensory well being , which includes our five senses. This often comes from our experiences through childhood, how we were soothed as a child, and how we found ways (albeit subconscious ) to soothe ourselves.

This may have been holding hands with our parents, so tactile, listening to singing or music, watching a performance, or looking at calming water.

There are many different ways in which we can soothe ourselves and care for ourselves, as we are all unique no one thing may help all people, this is a little of the search for those things that work for us individually, and can therefore boost our trust in our emotional resilience when adversity arises.

Some ideas

1. Create a space for yourself; perhaps an evening every week just for you. Find a quiet room, have a warming cup of something, run a long hot bath and soak. Do some breathing exercises, there are many free apps to try and enjoy.
Munch and crunch
2. Find your personal de-stress exercise technique . This can be anything from an hour in the gym, a 20 min meditation, a walk around the block or lying on the floor with your feet up the wall. Try and find what works for you.

Make sure that your body has what it needs to function and re-generate. Eat lots of green vegetables and fruits, or make your own smoothies. Try and eat quality foods and drink plenty of water. Enjoy treats and foods you love, as well as ensuring you maintain your health through a diet full of nutritional food.

4. Have some regular therapy: you will find your body will prepare for the session and happily release stress for you through the support and the bodywork that you receive.

Rest is an essential component to bringing our bodies back to a place of equilibrium. Lie on the sofa with a good book or some music. Watch an uplifting film, play a meditation or relaxation CD. Let the body be still and start to notice how your energy can recover.

Some other links to recognising and managing stress include :
What is stress? | Mind, the mental health charity