If you're feeling stressed, talking about it can help. Health Matters Assistance Programme (HMAP)
What is stress?
Stress can be described as the way you feel when you’re under pressure.¹ A certain amount of it is actually good for us and helps our bodies prepare for the challenges ahead. However, stress can become a problem and harmful to health if it is excessive or unnecessarily prolonged.
It really is good to talk
Around 12 million adults see their GP with stress-related health problems, such as anxiety and depression, each year¹. One way of coping with stress is your Health Matters Employee Assistance Programme. It’s a free, confidential service that gives you access to a telephone helpline staffed by trained counsellors. They’re there to help, not judge, and can point you in the right direction to get your stress levels back under control.
How do you know when stress is becoming a problem?
The first step is to recognise the signs of stress and how they affect you.3 Once you’re familiar with these signs, think about the reasons why you get stressed and what you can do to tackle it. A good tip is to sort the causes of your stress into those that you can solve, those that will get better over time and those you can’t do anything about.1 Focus on the ones you can do something about and try to let go of those that you can’t change.
Signs that stress is causing problems include:2
- chest pains
- sleep problems
- skin problems, such as eczema
- feeling sick and dizzy
- for women, missed periods
Some stress-busting tips
There are many ways you can control your stress levels. The following are just a few of our recommendations.
Manage your time
It’s easy to avoid difficult tasks by pushing them to the back of your mind, but they soon creep up on you again. Tackling the most challenging jobs first may prevent unnecessary stress. Making a list can help, but make sure you stick to it.4 Achieve a work-life balance Although work will usually take up most of your day, it’s important to set time aside to switch off and use your free time to relax and unwind.2
It’s helpful to take time to reflect on what you have achieved rather than always worrying about what you haven’t done.2
Sleep can be a problem when you’re feeling stressed. But getting into a good bedtime routine, for example going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day, and ensuring you have a good amount of time to wind down before you go to bed, will help you get a good night’s sleep.2
It’s easily forgotten when you’re stressed, but taking some time out can help you re-charge your batteries and get you back to feeling like your self again. Try using relaxation techniques or if they’re not your thing, try taking up a new hobby.2
Eat a healthy diet
Some people resort to comfort eating when they’re stressed, others find they completely lose their appetite. But what you eat and when you eat can make a big difference to how you feel. Make mealtimes a priority and ensure you follow a healthy, balanced diet.2
Physical activity is a great way to combat stress, as well as helping to improve your self-esteem and reduce anxiety.2 You don’t have to run a marathon or go to the gym every day to be active. Activities can be broken down into small chunks and may include walking, dancing or even playing with your kids in the park. The Department of Health recommends that adults aged 19 to 64 years do at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. This can be built up in bouts of 10 minutes or more.5
Get help if you need it
If you feel like you can’t cope with things on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help.1 You can call your Employee Assistance Helpline and speak to a trained counsellor free on 0800 083 7545. The service is also available to your spouse/partner and any dependants living in your household.
Alternatively, your GP can refer you to a counsellor, or there are many voluntary organisations that can give you advice.
1. S tress. Mental Health Foundation. http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/S/stress/, published 22 September 2011
2. Mind guide to managing stress. Mind. http://www.mind.org.uk/help/medical_and_alternative_care/mind_guide_to_managing_stress#harmful,
3. H ow to identify stress. International Stress Management Association UK. http://www.isma.org.uk/about-stress/how-to-identify-stress.html, accessed
23 September 2011
4. T op ten stress busting tips. International Stress Management Association UK. http://www.isma.org.uk/about-stress/top-10-stress-busting-tips.html,
accessed 23 September 2011
5. D epartment of Health. Start Active, Stay Active. A report on physical activity for health from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers. http://
www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_128209. July 2011. Accessed 24 October 2011