Stress can be stressful

Jo Morton-Brown works as an Emotional Health Practitioner, blending different roles into one; Jo is a BACP accredited school-based counsellor, a family support worker, and a provider of training to adults on mental health in children and young people. Combining her academic knowledge with first-hand experience, Jo is a passionate and committed advocate for the improvement of mental health. Jo's desire is to inspire children and young people to be the best they can be.

In support of stress awareness month, we spoke to Jo about dealing with stress.

Last year, my husband (who considers himself to be a ‘real man’s man’) suffered with chest pains. He was adamant it was indigestion, but after two weeks of struggling to contain the uncomfortable feeling, he went to the doctor. He was diagnosed with stress.  Stress affects everyone.

So, no matter whether you believe in it or not, stress can and will affect your life. It may be driven by external or internal factors, for example uncomfortable social situations or illness. The symptoms of stress may include a thumping heart, rapid breathing or a dry mouth, and are caused when the hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released into the body. While stress is a natural survival instinct, preparing the body to either face (fight) or flee (flight) a threat, too much can be overwhelming, and dealing with it can become even more difficult if we choose to ignore the warning signs. Stress is stressful.

If you become used to the uncomfortable feeling of stress, then coping with it can become an unending challenge, as the body never receives a clear signal to return to normal functioning; it remains on constant high alert. Stress can affect our ability to focus, change our behaviour, cause sleeping difficulties, and leave us feeling overwhelmed, irritable and teary. Not to mention the physical sensations that often accompany it, such as chest pains, stomach aches, muscle tension… the list goes on.

But not all stress is bad, as it can help to motivate us.

However, when you are feeling overwhelmed with stress, one of the most important things to do is recognise when it becomes too much, and to try to identify the underlying causes. It’s important to stay in tune with your body and scan where you may be holding any tension (shoulders, headache, stomach, etc.). Feeling out of control with certain situations/outcomes can itself be overwhelming (hence why it’s been so difficult for many to adjust to Covid-19). For some people writing a list of the things causing them stress can help. Identifying and acknowledging the stress factors you can and cannot control may in itself bring a huge benefit. 

Looking after your emotional health will also have a positive impact on your stress levels. Whatever you find yourself doing in the coming weeks or months – cooking, exercising, singing, dancing, gardening, gaming, or simply chilling-out, take every chance to stop and check-in (even schedule this into your weekly routine) and ask yourself ‘how am I?’.

Life can be hectic in today’s society. Covid-19 has given a majority of us the opportunity to take a moment and review our lives. Although this may seem overwhelming at first, it could prove to be a helpful outcome of the crisis. Life will return to normal one day soon, and stress will affect our lives in different ways again. But remember, it is important to pay attention to how you deal with minor and major stress factors in your life, so that you will know when and if to seek help next time.

As schools across the country closed, Jo adapted to this change by continuing to support secondary/sixth form/college students via YouTube with her growing channel (Flourish with Jo Morton-Brown).

Read on to find out how to build resilience to combat stress.