STRESS is a feeling of being under abnormal pressure, whether it is due to an increased workload, an argument with a family member, or financial worries. Stress affects everyone in one way or another. There may be times and situations where pressure builds up and we need a little extra help to cope.

Stress may affect us physically and emotionally and to various degrees. No two people will experience stress in exactly the same way. Some stress can be positive, making us more alert and enabling is to perform better in certain situations, but it is only healthy if it is short-lived. Excessive or prolonged stress can lead to physical illness, anxiety and depression.

The most common physical signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating and loss of appetite. These symptoms are your body’s way of preparing you to fight or run away, and once the pressure or threat has passed your stress levels will usually return to normal.

When under stress you may experience periods of constant worry, thoughts racing in your head, going over the same things time and time again. You may experience behavioural changes, such as losing your temper more easily, acting irrationally or becoming more verbally or physically aggressive.

All sorts of situations can cause stress. Common scenarios involve work, money matters and relationships with partners, children or other family members. It can affect you to varying degrees, so while it may be caused by a major upheaval such as divorce, unemployment, moving house or bereavement, a series of minor irritations can be equally debilitating. Examples of the latter could be feeling unappreciated at work or arguing with a family member.

It is important to manage stress in order to keep it at a healthy level and prevent it from doing long-term damage to your body and mind.

When you are feeling stressed, try to take these important steps:

  • Realise when it is causing you a problem. You need to make the connection between feeling tired or ill with the pressures you are faced with. Do not ignore physical warnings.
  • Try to identify the underlying causes. Sort the possible reasons for your stress into those with a practical solution, those that will get better anyway given time, and those you cannot do anything about. Try to let go of those in the second or third groups – there is no point worrying about things you can’t change or which will sort themselves out.
  • Review your lifestyle. Are you taking on too much? Are there things you are doing which could be handed over to someone else? Can you do things in a more leisurely way? You may need to prioritise things you are trying to achieve, and reorganise your life so that you are not trying to do everything at once.
  • You can also help protect yourself from stress by keeping the following suggestions in mind. It is vital to keep things in proportion and not be too hard on yourself – after all, everyone will have bad days.

    Remember to:

  • Eat healthily. There is evidence that what we eat affects our mood and wellbeing. Feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring that our diet contains adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals, as well as water. More information can be found at
  • Keep smoking and drinking to a minimum. Many people use smoking and drinking alcohol as a means of reducing tension; however, they often make problems worse. Smoking actually increases anxiety. Similarly with alcohol as it may make existing mental health problems worse, and make you more anxious and depressed in the long run. You will find useful tips on and
  • Exercise. This can be very effective in relieving stress, even moderate physical exercise like walking to the shops. You will find programmes to follow on and
  • Take time to relax. Saying ‘I just can’t take the time off’ is no use if you are forced to do so through ill health.
  • Be mindful. Mindfulness can be practised anywhere and at any time. It is proven to reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and related problems such as insomnia, poor concentration and low moods. You can learn much more at
  • Get restful sleep. It is vital that you get enough rest. For tips you can visit
  • Have fun. One of the best antidotes for stress is enjoying yourself. Give yourself treats and rewards for positive actions, attitudes and thoughts. Even simple pleasures like a bath, a walk or an interesting book can help.
  • Finally, do not be afraid to seek professional help if you feel you are struggling to manage on your own. Many people do not seek help as they feel it is an admission of failure. This is not the case and it is important to get help as soon as possible so that you can begin to get more out of life.

    The first person to approach is your family doctor. He or she will be able to advise about treatment, or may refer you to some other professional help.

    Mental Health Ireland (MHI) is a national voluntary organisation whose aim is to promote positive mental health and wellbeing to all individuals and communities in Ireland. They have a large network of volunteer-led mental health associations throughout the country.

    MHI has a team of development officers who provide mental health and wellbeing training to communities and workplaces.

    Mental Health Ireland, 1-4 Adelaide Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin. Tel: 01 2841166 Email Website