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  • Stress; what it is and helpful tips

    Author: Kerrsland Surgery, Dr Coulter

    A 6–week stress management programme
    The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust are offering a choice of FREE Stress Control programmes.

    To register your interest please contact
    CBT Service at Woodstock Lodge on (028) 95 042689

    • Stress Control was devised by Dr. Jim White in Glasgow and is now used widely around the world.

    • The class runs once a week for 6 weeks and teaches skills and techniques for managing stress.

    • Topics covered include: an overview of what stress is, controlling your body, controlling your thoughts, controlling your actions, getting a good night’s sleep and planning for the future.

    • Stress Control is a class not ‘group therapy’ – you do not have to talk about personal difficulties in front of others.

    • You are encouraged to attend all six sessions to get the most benefit.

    • Stress Control classes are free.

    • Come along by yourself or feel free to bring a friend or family member with you.

    Information on Stress Control Classes across Northern Ireland follow us on Facebook at
    Stress Control NI Book. 


    What is stress?

    Stress is common to us all to a greater or lesser extent but it is difficult to define or measure.

    Tell–tale signs of stress building up include:
    • Not being able to sleep properly with worries going through your mind.
    • Being impatient or irritable at minor problems.
    • Not being able to concentrate due to many things going through your mind.
    • Being unable to make decisions.
    • Drinking or smoking more.
    • Not enjoying food so much.
    • Being unable to relax, and always feeling that something needs to be done.
    • Feeling tense. Sometimes this includes a ‘knot’ in the stomach, or feeling sweaty with a dry mouth or a thumping heart.

    Sometimes stress builds up quickly. For example, the unexpected traffic jam. Sometimes it is ongoing. For example, a difficult job.

    Is stress harmful?

    Ongoing stress is thought to be bad for health, although this is difficult to prove. For example, stress may possibly contribute to heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, psoriasis, migraine, and tension headaches. Your work performance, and relationships, may also be affected by stress.

    How can I avoid stress?

    The following is a list of suggestions that may be useful to try to combat stress, some more appropriate to some people than others:

    1. Stress list
    You can try making a stress list. Try keeping a diary over a few weeks or so, and list the times, places, and people that aggravate your stress levels. A pattern may emerge. Is it always the traffic on the way to work that sets things off to a bad start for the day? Perhaps it’s the supermarket check–out, next door’s dog, a work colleague, or something similar that may occur regularly and cause you stress.

    Once you have identified any typical or regular causes of stress, two things may then help:
    If you discuss this with a close friend or family member, it may help them and you to be aware of the reasons why you are feeling stressed. Simply talking it through may help.
    Secondly, these situations can be used as cues to relax. You can use simple relaxation techniques (see below) when a stressful situation occurs or is anticipated. For example, try doing neck stretching exercises when you are in that traffic jam rather than getting tense and stressed.

    2. Simple relaxation techniques
    • Deep breathing. This means taking a long, slow breath in, and very slowly breathing out. If you do this a few times, and concentrate fully on breathing, you may find it quite relaxing.
    • Muscular tensing and stretching. Try twisting your neck around each way as far as it is comfortable, and then relax. Try fully tensing your shoulder and back muscles for several seconds, and then relax completely.
    Try practising these simple techniques when you are relaxed, and then use them routinely when you come across any stressful situation.

    3. Positive relaxation
    Set specific times aside to relax positively. Don’t just let relaxation happen, or not happen, at the mercy of work, family, etc. Plan it, and look forward to it. Different people prefer different things. A long bath, a quiet stroll, sitting and just listening to a piece of music, etc. These times are not wasteful, and you should not feel guilty about not ‘getting on with things’. They can be times of reflection and putting life back in perspective.

    Some people find it useful to set time aside for a relaxation programme such as meditation or muscular exercises. You can also buy relaxation tapes to help you learn to relax.

    4. Time out
    Try to allow several times a day to ‘stop’ and take some time out. For example, getting up 15–20 minutes earlier than you need to is a good start. You can use this time to think about and plan the coming day, and to prepare for the day’s events unrushed. Take a regular and proper lunch break, preferably away from work. Don’t work over lunch. If work is busy, if possible try and take 5 or 10 minutes away every few hours to relax.

    Once or twice a week, try to plan some time just to be alone and unobtainable. For example, a gentle stroll or a sit in the park often helps to break out of life’s hustle and bustle.

    5. Exercise
    Many people claim that regular exercise reduces their level of stress. (It also keeps you fit and helps to prevent heart disease.) Any exercise is good, but try to plan at least 30 minutes of exercise on at least five days a week. A brisk walk on most days is a good start if you are not used to exercise. In addition, if you have difficulty in sleeping this may improve if you exercise regularly.

    6. Smoking and alcohol
    Don’t be fooled that smoking and drinking can help with stress. In the long run, they don’t. Drinking alcohol to ‘calm nerves’ is often a slippery slope to heavier and problem drinking.

    7. Hobbies
    Many people find that a hobby which has no deadlines, no pressures, and which can be picked up or left easily, takes the mind off stresses. For example: sports, knitting, music, model–making, puzzles, and reading for pleasure.

    8. Counselling
    This can be very useful and is often available through your employer or through various organisations, some of which are listed below.

    9. Drug Treatment
    Drugs are not very effective for stress and are rarely advised by Doctors except as a last resort.


    Further Help and Advice

    www.patient.co.uk – provides a wide range of useful and reliable information for patients
    www.anxietyuk.org.uk – a leading UK charity for anxiety disorders
    www.nopanic.org.uk – for those with panic attacks, phobias, OCD and related disorders
    www.anxietyalliance.org.uk – help and support including advice on withdrawing from medication
    www.alcoholics–anonymous.org.uk 028 9043 4848
    Lifeline 0808 808 8000. A local organisation providing 24 hour support and counselling
    New Life Counselling 028 9039 1630. Another local organisation
    Samaritans 08457 90 90 90. A listening ear to those in distress
    Northern Ireland Agoraphobia and Anxiety Society 028 9023 5170
    National Drugs Helpline (FRANK) 0800 77 66 00. 24/7 drugs helpline
    Addiction NI 028 9066 4434. Based in east Belfast providing support regarding alcohol and/or drugs
    Nexus 028 9032 8803. Advice, support and counselling for victims of sexual abuse
    Victim Support 028 9024 3133. Emotional support for victims of crime
    Cruse 028 9079 2419. For adults, children and young people after bereavement

    Categories: Common Ailments