The Scotsman: Managing stress in challenging times

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In these trying times, when more and more people are affected by various crises, financial and otherwise, there are ways to manage the symptoms and avoid the worst effects of stress, as Alice Wyllie reports

IT WOULD be an understatement to say that these are trying times. Every morning the nation seems to wake to the news that the financial crisis is deepening, and it’s affecting more and more of us personally every day.

“We’ve found that in terms of the number of enquiries we’ve had from people who are feeling stressed and looking for help, the last six months has been our busiest ever period,” says Neil Shah, the director of the Stress Management Society (
“Not only are people finding the current financial climate stressful because of the way it affects their jobs, homes and finances, but in times like these, the ‘luxuries’ like holidays or meals out are the first things to go. These are the things that help us unwind and alleviate stress, so it’s a bit of a vicious circle.”

It is vital though, that we do not let stress get on top of us. Panicking will not achieve anything and the effect of stress on our health and well-being can be disastrous.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the increasingly-bleak economic news and you can’t stop worrying, take a deep breath and read our tips on how to beat stress and stop the credit crunch woes getting you down:

  • Learn to recognise mental and physical symptoms of stress. It affects different people in different ways, but the chemicals that are released by your body as a result of stress can build up over time and manifest themselves in a number of ways.

These range from anger, depression, difficulty sleeping or a loss of appetite to chest pains, constipation, dizziness or breathlessness.

If you experience some of these symptoms for a prolonged period of time, you increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. Your GP should be able to diagnose stress based on your symptoms alone and will be able to suggest appropriate treatment. This may be in the form of counselling, medication or stress management techniques.

  • Deep breathing might sound simple, but according to health professionals, it’s effective.
  • If you do find yourself feeling stressed, try relaxing your muscles and taking deep breaths. Inhale for three seconds then exhale for a little longer. This will get rid of the older oxygen from your lungs, replacing it with fresh oxygen, thus improving your circulation and alertness.
  • You are what you eat, as they say, and this mantra applies particularly when you’re feeling stressed.

When you feel stressed out you may feel compelled to snack on sugary junk food, which gives your body a sugar rush followed by a slump in your energy levels, often making you feel tired and irritable. Instead, eat at regular times, don’t skip breakfast and follow a healthy, balanced diet. Visit for tips on maintaining a healthy diet.

Being told to relax when you’re feeling anything but can be irritating. However, there are plenty of practical steps you can take to help you unwind:

  • Try taking a day off anything remotely stressful, from work to domestic chores, and talk about your problems with a friend or family member.
  • Only take on one job at a time and try taking plenty of breaks at work and getting out of the office when you can.
  •  If you do need to let off steam try screaming, shouting or punching a pillow in private.
  • Now’s the time to ditch that morning coffee or post-work cocktail. Caffeine and alcohol can have similar effects on your body as stress, and too much caffeine in particular can leave you feeling anxious and irritable. Instead opt for caffeine-free drinks and remember that you should aim to drink around 1.2 litres of water a day.
  • Exercise releases serotonin, which makes you feel happier and less stressed, so there’s no better time to get on the treadmill. Set yourself a target of 30 minutes of exercise five times a week, and get your running shoes on: running in particular has been found to be very beneficial for relieving stress.
  •  We all find that we have difficulty sleeping when we’re feeling stressed, whether we’re running over something in our minds or simply feeling restless. This can be a bit of a vicious cycle: if you find it difficult to get to sleep or find yourself waking up in the night, you may feel tired the next day, which can enhance your stress. There are various herbal remedies to help with this, or your GP may prescribe medication to help you sleep and suggest some techniques to help you nod off.