Stress, anxiety and depression

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Ten stress busters

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Media last reviewed: 02/03/2015

Next review due: 02/03/2017

What's making you stressed?

If you're stressed, whether by your job or by something more personal, the first step to feeling better is to identify the cause.

The most unhelpful thing you can do is turn to something unhealthy to help you cope, such as smoking or drinking.

“In life, there’s always a solution to a problem,” says Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster. “Not taking control of the situation and doing nothing will only make your problems worse.”

He says the keys to good stress management are building emotional strength, being in control of your situation, having a good social network and adopting a positive outlook. 

What you can do to address stress

These are Professor Cooper's top 10 stress-busting suggestions:

Be active

If you have a stress-related problem, physical activity can get you in the right state of mind to be able to identify the causes of your stress and find a solution. “To deal with stress effectively, you need to feel robust and you need to feel strong mentally. Exercise does that,” says Cooper.

Exercise won’t make your stress disappear, but it will reduce some of the emotional intensity that you’re feeling, clearing your thoughts and enabling you to deal with your problems more calmly.

Take control

There’s a solution to any problem. “If you remain passive, thinking, ‘I can’t do anything about my problem’, your stress will get worse,” says Professor Cooper. “That feeling of loss of control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing.”

The act of taking control is in itself empowering, and it's a crucial part of finding a solution that satisfies you and not someone else. Read tips about how to manage your time.

Connect with people

A problem shared is a problem halved. A good support network of colleagues, friends and family can ease your work troubles and help you see things in a different way.

“If you don’t connect with people, you won’t have support to turn to when you need help,” says Professor Cooper. The activities we do with friends help us relax and we often have a good laugh with them, which is an excellent stress reliever.

“Talking things through with a friend will also help you find solutions to your problems,” says Professor Cooper.

Have some ‘me time’

The UK workforce works the longest hours in Europe. The extra hours in the workplace mean that people aren’t spending enough time doing things that they really enjoy. “We all need to take some time for socialising, relaxation or exercise,” says Professor Cooper.

He recommends setting aside a couple of nights a week for some quality "me time" away from work. "By earmarking those two days, it means you won’t be tempted to work overtime on those days," he says.

Challenge yourself

Setting yourself goals and challenges, whether at work or outside, such as learning a new language or a new sport, helps to build confidence. That in turn will help you deal with stress.

“By constantly challenging yourself you’re being proactive and taking charge of your life,” says Professor Cooper. “By continuing to learn, you become more emotionally resilient as a person. It arms you with knowledge and makes you want to do things rather than be passive, such as watching TV all the time.”

Avoid unhealthy habits

Don't rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine as your ways of coping. "Men more than women are likely to do this. We call this avoidance behaviour," says Professor Cooper. "Women are better at seeking support from their social circle."

Over the long term, these crutches won’t solve your problems. They’ll just create new ones. "It’s like putting your head in the sand," says Professor Cooper. "It might provide temporary relief but it won’t make the problems disappear. You need to tackle the cause of your stress."

Help other people

Cooper says evidence shows that people who help others, through activities such as volunteering or community work, become more resilient. “Helping people who are often in situations worse than yours will help you put your problems into perspective,” says Professor Cooper. “The more you give, the more resilient and happy you feel.”

If you don't have time to volunteer, try to do someone a favour every day. It can be something as small as helping someone to cross the road or going on a coffee run for colleagues. Favours cost nothing to do, and you’ll feel better.

Work smarter, not harder

Good time management means quality work rather than quantity. Our long-hours culture is a well-known cause of workplace illness. “You have to get a work-life balance that suits you,” says Professor Cooper.

Working smarter means prioritising your work, concentrating on the tasks that will make a real difference to your work. “Leave the least important tasks to last,” says Cooper. “Accept that your in-tray will always be full. Don’t expect it to be empty at the end of the day.”

Be positive

Look for the positives in life, and things for which you're grateful. Write down three things at the end of every day which went well or for which you're grateful.

“People don’t always appreciate what they have,” says Professor Cooper. “Try to be glass half full instead of glass half empty,” he says.

This requires a shift in perspective for those who are more naturally pessimistic.

“It can be done,” he says. “By making a conscious effort you can train yourself to be more positive about life. Problems are often a question of perspective. If you change your perspective, you may see your situation from a more positive point of view.”

Accept the things you can't change

Changing a difficult situation isn't always possible. If this proves to be the case, recognise and accept things as they are and concentrate on everything that you do have control over.

“If your company is going under and is making redundancies, there’s nothing you can do about it,” says Professor Cooper. “There’s no point fighting it. In such a situation, you need to focus on the things that you can control, such as looking for a new job.”

Page last reviewed: 06/01/2014

Next review due: 06/01/2016


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The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

conchitadelamer said on 07 February 2015

I think this article is brilliant. I've been awake since about 2.30am and the cause is definitely stress. I have recently started a new and more and more demanding job; the whole oganisation has moved into a new, snag-fraught building; a member of staff has left without a replacement and I'm taking care of the team; and I'm trying to buy a house. Symptoms: insomnia, reduced libido, reduced pleasure, increased irritability, feeling overwhelmed, drinking more alcohol, not finding time to exercise. Reading the ten tips reminded me of the things which I can do. I now feel ok about being stressed, because I feel like there are things I can do about it. Ten minutes ago every potential solution just seemed fraught with new problems! I rang all my key people (mates, mum, etc) on the way home today anyway, and I've got something social planned for tonight, a comedy course to go to today (ought to be good for a laugh!), and I've decided to leave work early on Tuesday to go to salsa. I will do some exercise, when the morning comes (!), before I try to clear some of the work backlog, because the article gives me the confidence that this is justified - I'll work better afterwards, and it will help me not to succumb to stress-induced illness. Finally, it's always good to be reminded that we have a longer work hours culture than a lot of places. The advice to do the most important things first is so simple and obvious that it's easy to forget - so I'm glad to be reminded. And the advice to expect your inbox to always be full is also priceless. So thank you very much, NHS, Professor Cooper, and whoever wrote the page!

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alreadyinuse said on 07 April 2014

For the people getting bent out of shape about this article - no where does this say these tips are for people that are experiencing serious mental health issues. This is for mild to moderate stress, how to reduce it, and how to cope with it, so calm down! Obviously these are not tips for people who are suicidal. These are tips for dealing with stress. Not tips for anxiety or major depression, just stress. They are good tips for helping to reduce minor to moderate stress - that's it.

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woman50NE said on 31 March 2014

This really is complete bunkum isn't it? The trouble with GPs and consultants is that either they do zero and don't give a monkey's about you even if you're suicidal; or otherwise they think they know all the answers/solutions because they're read it in a book. The fact is that no-one who has never experienced clinical depression, GAD, or OCD can possibly comprehend how utterly different their mind operates and how impossibly hard it is to fight against it in your own mind and to simply decide to "get out and about" as one GP told me - or do any of the things this page lists that we should do. It's simply ridiculous; laughable how out of touch this advice is with the reality of what it's like to have mental health issues. For goodness sake, if it were that easy we'd all be skipping merrily down the street and no-one would be killing themselves or surviving day to day trapped in the hell prison that mental issues torture you with, while the 'experts' dish out their useless 'helpful' advice.

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ferroussulphate said on 16 May 2013

Accept the things you can't change

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Brian Walpole said on 27 February 2013

Stress is our body’s response to uncomfortable, unpleasant or dangerous situations. It is the body’s reaction to situations that induce emotions that bring on fear, tension, nervousness and anxiety. Stress triggers a rush of hormones that spike your heart rate, raise your blood pressure and stop the process of digestion in order to divert all the energy to combat the stress inducing situation. If it is just a momentary reaction, the body soon returns to a state of normalcy but in the case of chronic stress, the hormones remain in the system for too long as the body continues to maintain a state of high alert which soon manifests in the form of headaches, hypertension, digestion problems, and a host of other related issues. Rather than withdrawing from the stressful situation, it is better to meet it headlong by accepting the problem, giving vent to the pent up emotions and slowly coming to terms with the reality we find difficult to accept. The idea is to always be in control and to be able to choose our path without letting stress paralyse our thoughts and actions.

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piedwagtail said on 25 February 2013

"“It can be done,” he says. “By making a conscious effort you can train yourself to be more positive about life. Problems are often a question of perspective. If you change your perspective, you may see your situation from a more positive point of view.”

thats easy to do when you're 'well', almost impossible when you're depressed.
waiting lists for help are far too long.
if you went to hospital with a broken leg and they told you to come back in 6 months there'd be riots, why not so with mental health?

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BettyJane said on 10 January 2013

- “You have to get a work-life balance that suits you,” says Professor Cooper.
Working smarter means prioritising your work, concentrating on the tasks that will make a real difference to your work. “Leave the least important tasks to last,” says Cooper. “Accept that your in-tray will always be full..." -


- "By earmarking those two days, it means you won’t be tempted to work overtime on those days," -

We're not all in cosy office jobs, able to have any kind of control over our work! Poor working conditions and having to work long hours to make ends meet are a blight on our health - especially mental health. You can't stick a plaster on a broken society.

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An expert explains what stress is, the physical and mental effects of being stressed, when it becomes a problem and when to seek help.

Media last reviewed: 21/09/2014

Next review due: 21/09/2016