Stress rises alongside the cost of living
The annual rate of inflation reached almost 10% in August 2022. And that rise in the cost of living is putting a huge strain on household budgets across the UK.
You’re likely to get more stressed the more concerns you have about money. When stress is long term and ongoing, it can have significant negative effects on your body. As inflation and cost of living is predicted to run high until late 2023 or early 2024, you’re at risk from chronic stress because of financial worries. In fact, we can already see the rise in stress levels from cost of living increases.
As stress increases, people often turn to coping mechanisms such as alcohol, smoking or comfort-eating. But, while those might make you feel better for a while, they’re not effective long term for either mood or your health. And they cost you more money.
How to recognise stress
The first step in taking positive action is recognising what stress feels like for you. You might feel:
- Angry, irritable, or tightly wound
- Afraid, nervous or anxious
- Like you’re carrying the weight of everyone’s problems
- As if you can’t switch your thoughts off
- Unable to have fun
- Uninterested in life
- Without a sense of humour
- Feelings of dread
- Worried or tense
- Like your existing mental health conditions are getting worse
Stress can also give you physical symptoms, such as:
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle tension or pain
- Blurry vision
- Stomach problems
- Changes in your sleep patterns
- Chest pain or an increased heartbeat
- Changes to your periods
- Sexual problems
Symptoms like this are all caused by the body being flooded with stress hormones - mainly cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are designed to get your body ready to fight off, hide from or run away from a predator. Without any outlet (or predator!), they have a negative effect on your body if you’re flooded with hormones over a long period of time.
Does smoking, drinking alcohol and comfort eating help relieve stress?
While all of those things make you feel better momentarily, studies show that they actually increase your stress levels overall. For example, eating junk food sends your body on a sugar rollercoaster, which adds to stress rather than reduces it. There are far more effective ways of combating stress, which will cost you less money and protect your physical health too.
One FREE thing you can do to feel better
There are so many things you can do to manage stress in a healthy way - eat a healthy, balanced diet, get outside, take regular exercise, make time for things you love. In fact, too many to list! We’ve picked one, which doesn’t require any extra equipment, money or specialist skills.
Recognising your triggers - the things that make you feel really stressed - helps you predict and plan how you ideally want to react to stress. During the cost of living crisis, notice if opening a bank statement, a trip to the supermarket or the children asking about Christmas makes you feel stressed. This allows you to plan for those times in the future with positive activities to help manage your stress.
Firstly, spend a couple of days writing down the times you most want to smoke, drink or eat comfort food. What were you doing just before? Where were you? Who were you with? How did your body and emotions feel? You don’t have to share that information with anyone else - you’re understanding more about your stress habits just for you.
Only you get to decide what coping method you use to respond to stress. And you’ll have your own unique reasons for wanting to take a healthier approach.
Next, write a list of things that make you feel happy, keep your mind occupied or bring you a sense of calm. That might be:
- Putting on some music you love
- Getting a cuddle from a friend or family member
- Stepping outside into the fresh air
- Looking at a favourite picture
- Dancing around your house
- Messaging a friend
- Reading a magazine or book
The only requirements are that you like the activity and it’s easy to do!
The final step
Finally, put your list up somewhere visible. The next time you experience stress, be ready to use one of your activities to reduce the hormones pumping around your body. As a result, you’ll start to build a new automatic response that you use to cope in times of stress.
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