Most people feel stressed sometimes and some people find stress helpful or even motivating. But if stress is affecting your life, there are things you can try that may help.
Support is also available if you're finding it hard to cope with stress.
Symptoms of stress
Stress can cause many different symptoms. It might affect how you feel physically, mentally and also how you behave.
It's not always easy to recognise when stress is the reason you're feeling or acting differently.
- headaches or dizziness
- muscle tension or pain
- stomach problems
- chest pain or a faster heartbeat
- sexual problems
- difficulty concentrating
- struggling to make decisions
- feeling overwhelmed
- constantly worrying
- being forgetful
Changes in behaviour
- being irritable and snappy
- sleeping too much or too little
- eating too much or too little
- avoiding certain places or people
- drinking or smoking more
If you're not sure how you feel, try our mood self-assessment.
Things you can try to help with stress
- try talking about your feelings to a friend, family member or health professional. You could also contact Samaritans, call: 116 123 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org if you need someone to talk to
- find out more about 10 stress busters – including getting started with exercise and setting aside time for yourself
- use easy time-management techniques to help you take control
- use calming breathing exercises
- plan ahead for stressful days or events – planning long journeys or making a list of things to remember can really help
- consider peer support, where people use their experiences to help each other. Find out more about peer support on the Mind website
- listen to free mental wellbeing audio guides
- search and download relaxation and mindfulness apps or online community apps from the NHS apps library
- do not try to do everything at once – set small targets you can easily achieve
- do not focus on the things you cannot change – focus your time and energy into helping yourself feel better
- try not to tell yourself that you're alone – most people feel stressed at some point in their life and support is available
- try not to use alcohol, cigarettes, gambling or drugs to relieve stress – these can all contribute to poor mental health
Further information and support
The mental health charity Mind offers more information on:
- dealing with pressure
- developing emotional resilience to help you adapt and bounce back during difficult times
Your Mind Plan on the Every Mind Matters website sends personalised tips and advice to your email inbox.
Where to get NHS help for stress
Referring yourself for therapy
If you need more support, you can get free psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) on the NHS.
You can refer yourself directly to a psychological therapies service without a referral from a GP.
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- you're struggling to cope with stress
- things you're trying yourself are not helping
- you would prefer to get a referral from a GP
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E now if:
- you or someone you know needs immediate help
- you have seriously harmed yourself – for example, by taking a drug overdose
A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a medical emergency.
Causes of stress
Stress is usually a reaction to mental or emotional pressure. It's often related to feeling like you're losing control over something, but sometimes there's no obvious cause.
When you're feeling anxious or scared, your body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
This can be helpful for some people and stress might help you get things done or feel more motivated.
But it might also cause physical symptoms such as a faster heartbeat or sweating. If you're stressed all the time it can become a problem.
Identifying the cause
If you know what's causing your stress it might be easier to find ways to manage it.
Some examples of things that may cause stress include:
- work – feeling pressure at work, unemployment or retirement
- family – relationship difficulties, divorce or caring for someone
- financial problems – unexpected bills or borrowing money
- health – illness, injury or losing someone (bereavement)
Even significant life events such as buying a house, having a baby or planning a wedding could lead to feelings of stress.
You might find it hard to explain to people why you feel this way, but talking to someone could help you find a solution.
Find out about the 5 steps to mental wellbeing.
Page last reviewed: 15 October 2019
Next review due: 15 October 2022