While stress is not a direct risk factor for chest, heart and stroke conditions, it does impact upon your health, particularly as many people cope with it by smoking, drinking too much alcohol and overeating. These can all increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
At NICHS we’re still providing vital services during the COVID-19 pandemic to educate people in Northern Ireland about how to improve their general health and wellbeing, such as knowing how to cope with stress. As almost 90% of our funds come from you, we need your help now more than ever to keep ‘Caring through COVID’ and provide these important support services.
Before the stroke we had quite a bit of stress in our lives and Humberto was having trouble with his blood pressure. In hindsight he had been having small TIAs but didn’t realise at the time. But isn’t hindsight 20/20 vision.
Stress is a natural reaction in the body. It is designed to give us short bursts of heightened energy or awareness as part of our instinctive fight or flight reaction which helps us confront or run away from danger. While our ancestors faced danger from predators and their environment, nowadays we are more likely to experience stress because of worries about relationships, money, work, unemployment or ill-health.
Pressure can be good for us as it can help us get things done but excessive stress over a long period of time can make us ill.
Common signs of stress include:
- Sleeping problems
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
Making changes to your lifestyle can help you manage stress and improve your wellbeing. These may be big changes, such as switching jobs, or small changes, like taking up a hobby. Try to identify what makes you feel stressed at home or at work. Understanding the causes is the best way to help you avoid or cope with stressors in your life.
Talking to your family and friends or to your GP can help if you feel very anxious or stressed. There are also a variety of tools and techniques for managing stress.
- Eat Healthily: during periods of stress it is more important than ever to eat well, as healthy eating can have a positive effect on your health and emotional wellbeing. We may turn to comfort-eating unhealthy foods to cope with stress. However, this can have a negative impact on your heart health, so should be avoided.
- Be physically active: physical activity releases feel-good hormones in the brain, improving both our physical and mental wellbeing. Get out with the kids or with friends, take the dog for a walk, or take active breaks at work.
- Talk to someone: talking about your feelings can really help identify what is causing the additional stress
- Give something back: volunteering at a local club, church or for a voluntary or community organisation can give you a break and help take your mind off your stresses. Helping others can also help bring perspective to stressful situations.
- Learn how to relax: Find something that helps you to unwind. This could be anything from exercise or sport, to a hobby like crafting or reading, or even simply listening to music or going for a walk. Taking steps to unwind can help stop stress building up and develop a Well Mind feeling.
Breathing exercises, for example Squared Breathing, are an excellent stress management tool which keep your mind focused and anchored in the present moment.
Reframing is a technique which helps you view things in a different, less stressful light.
Non Reactive Awareness
Rather than reacting to emotions or situations, Non-reactive Awarenss is about taking time to respond in a way that causes you less stress.
Mindfulness practice, such as mindful cooking, helps us to live in the present moment by using the natural tools of our breath, our body and our senses as anchors.
Good Mood Foods
Certain foods contain nutrients that can improve our mood and are a much better choice in times of stress than comfort food.
5, 4, 3 , 2, 1
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 is a mindfulness technique which aims to distract your brain from the past or future by forcing it to become aware of things in your immediate environment.
Our Online Well Checks include a lifestyle assessment and give you the opportunity to speak to one of our qualified health promotion officers about any concerns you have around your stress levels, and receive personalised tips and advice.
Our Well Mind programme is a group training course which equips people with healthy coping tools and techniques to prevent or reduce stress in life.