Pōkaikaha Stress

Most people experience stress at some stage. But long term stress is bad for our health, and something we want to get some control over. Because anxiety and stress have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them. With stress, most people can work out what is causing it.

Causes of stress

Sometimes we cannot pinpoint exactly what is causing our stress. But whatever is causing it, it is still stress.

Stress can be caused by a major change in your life, for example:

  • difficult relationships, such as getting divorced
  • pressure at work, or being made redundant
  • financial problems and debt
  • moving house
  • the death of someone close to you.

It can also be caused by a lot of seemingly small problems. For example, feeling unappreciated at work or arguing with a family member.

We are all affected by negative events in different ways. Whether your stress is caused by something big, or by something that seems small to other people, it is still stress.

  • Stress can make our body react in ways we cannot control.

    • Aching joints, muscles and headaches.
    • Losing your appetite, feeling sick, diarrhoea, constipation and bloating (digestive problems).
    • Uncontrollable twitching, for example in your eyes or mouth.
    • Being short of breath, feeling faint or having a rapid heartbeat (dizziness or palpitations).
    • Panic attacks, during which you can have any of the other symptoms of stress.
    • High blood pressure.
    • Feeling tense and uptight all the time, unable to relax.
    • Having problems going to sleep or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep (insomnia).
    • Being tired and lacking energy (lethargy).
    • Skin problems like rashes.
    • Losing interest in sex.
    • Sweating a lot.
    • Shaking or trembling.
  • When we are stressed, we often have upsetting feelings or thoughts that we cannot control. 

    • Anxiety and fearfulness which means you worry all the time about future or past events, or how other people behave towards you and what they think.
    • Feeling like things are out of control or that you are overwhelmed by negative events or other people's behaviour.
    • Lacking self-confidence.
    • Being terrified of situations or things that do not bother other people (phobias).
  • When we are stressed, we can start acting in ways we know are harmful but feel that we cannot control our behaviour.

    • Eating, drinking alcohol, smoking or taking drugs to comfort yourself and blot out negative feelings and thoughts (self medicating).
    • Clenching and unclenching your fists or jaw, tapping your feet, biting your nails or other behaviours that you cannot stop or are unaware of (repetitive behaviours).
    • Feeling irritable and angry for no reason, losing your temper easily.
    • Having problems concentrating because you are worrying or upset about something (being easily distracted).
    • Being unable to switch off and relax.

Self care for stress

There are many things you can do to help yourself cope with stress. Some options include:

  • realise when it is causing you a problem, and identify what you can change
  • look at your lifestyle to include more time to relax, and enjoy doing things you enjoy
  • take care of yourself by being physically active every day, eating a healthy diet, and having good sleep habits
  • learn relaxation techniques, such as meditation and mindfulness
  • sort out personal conflict and manage stress at work.

Manage you stress — Small Steps (external link)

Getting help for stress

  • Talk to friends, whānau and others, such as leaders in your faith community.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider for support and advice with managing stress. They can also let you know if you need some help from a mental health professional or medication.
  • Counsellors or psychologists can help if you are still finding it difficult to cope. 
  • Other health professionals, such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and dietitians, can help with stress management. 
  • There are many online sites who have tools to help control stress, low moods, or anxiety.

Where to get help for mental health

Stress in teens and young adults

Stress is a part of life and not something you can avoid. Throughout life, good and bad things happen. If you know some ways of managing stress well, you are more likely to stay on track. Otherwise, you can get stuck with ways of coping that do not really help and can actually pull you down.

Your teenage years are a time of huge change for you. Your mind and body are changing and developing all the time. It is normal to feel overwhelmed at times.

If you are struggling to cope with stuff and you do not feel you have anyone to talk to, it is a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider. Remember, they have to keep your visit private and cannot tell other people what you talk about. If that feels a bit full on to start with, you could try a phone counselling lines.

Where to get help for mental health

Small Steps

Guide to stress, including a range of online tools to use to manage it.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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