National Stress Awareness Day this month (1 November) promoted ways of coping with stress and the importance of wellbeing for individuals. Stress is prevalent in UK society with government research showing that in 2015/16, stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.

The awareness event highlighted some of the debilitating effects of stress on people which, sadly, can include turning to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. This can affect people from all walks of life e.g. 77% of the highest earners report drinking in the week prior to the 2016 survey, compared with less than 45% of the lowest earners.  Meanwhile other studies have shown how chronic stress generated by poverty and deprivation increase the likelihood of problem alcohol use.

What is stress?

Stress is the adverse reaction by people to excessive pressure and other types of demands placed on them. It can be a symptom of the hectic pace of modern life generally. It can also be brought on by traumatic events in relationships, families or at work – for example bereavement, divorce, redundancy.  Some occasional stress in life is natural – the ‘flight or fight’ stress response is a positive one-off reaction to pressure that helps people to be alert to threats and take action. The body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline to help the body cope. However, when we experience prolonged or extreme stress this can lead to difficulties in coping emotionally and physically.  Being continually in a stressed state means that the body’s chemicals are constantly stimulated and imbalanced, leading to ill health.

Effects of stress

Undue stress can be overwhelming for some people who lack the skills to cope, leading to severe distress and pain.  So it is important to be able to recognise the symptoms of stress.  

Physical signs include:

  • headaches
  • palpitations
  • eating problems
  • eyestrain
  • backache
  • high blood pressure
  • sleep problems.

Emotional and behavioural signs include:

  • depression, irritability, anger
  • lack of concentration, forgetfulness
  • low self-esteem
  • compulsive behaviours, eating disorders
  • increased alcohol/other substance intake.

Stress can lead to mental and health problems and it can also exacerbate existing mental health problems.

What action can be taken by people experiencing unhealthy stress levels?

Medical professionals advise that a first step to feeling better is to try and identify the cause of your stress.  It is part of taking control of the situation.  People also need to build good stress management techniques which include:

  • Being active – exercise is well-known for maintaining good mental health; it can help to divert attention and keeps a person physically healthy too.
  • Being positive – not always easy but taking control and focusing on the positive helps counteract negative thoughts.
  • Seeking support from family, friends or, if at work, from work colleagues and managers.
  • Being kind to yourself – be sure to take time out to socialise, relax or engage in hobbies.
  • Avoiding an unhealthy lifestyle – this includes alcohol, nicotine or other drugs, aswell as not paying attention to diet. Stress is known to be a key factor in reactivating addiction.
  • Seek medical help – if things are really getting on top support from a GP or other medical professional should be sought.

At Broadway we recognise the part that stress can play in addiction.  What begins as temporary relief from problems can become unmanageable without the individual noticing.  At the same time problems resulting from addiction – e.g. inability to concentrate, breakdown of relationships, financial problems – can lead to further stress resulting in a spiral of problems making life even harder for people.

It is important to be able to tackle problems one step at a time.  Broadway treats addiction in all its manifestations and helps addicts change harmful thought patterns giving them the tools to sustain a healthy and long-term recovery.

Sources:

  1. Health and Safety Executive statistics from Labour Force Survey.
  2. Office for National Statistics (2017). Adult drinking habits in Great Britain: 2005 to 2016.
  3. Understanding the relationship between poverty and alcohol misuse. Lisa Jones & Harry Sumnall
  4. NHS (2016). Stress, anxiety and depression