Stress is an adverse reaction we have to excessive pressure or other situations we face in our lives. It can leave us feeling overwhelmed or overloaded by the demands placed upon us.

It may be a response to the feeling that we have more work to do than we can fit into our working day, or it could be related to worries about finances, relationships or a change in our circumstances, such as moving house.

Stress is not always bad. It’s a normal human response and can be good at motivating us. But if we are feeling overwhelmed by this stress for a long period of time it can impact on our mental and physical health.

A counsellor can help you understand why you feel stressed and find strategies that can help you learn how to cope with stress.

“Talking to a counsellor helps us go back to basics about how we are feeling when we’re stressed, and why. It’s about being listened to and being accepted for who we are,” says Hansa Pankhania, a Birmingham-based counsellor.

What causes stress?

Stress can be due to one big thing or lots of little things building up.

Causes can include a time of uncertainty or change, being under a lot of pressure, not being in control of or worrying about something, or responsibility that is hard to cope with.

Our bodies release the stress hormone cortisol when we feel threatened, scared or under pressure. When the situation is resolved our hormone levels return to normal.

This increase in cortisol can affect us physically, mentally, emotionally and behaviourally. Symptoms can include raised blood pressure, headaches, tension and muscular pain, concentration difficulties, difficulty making decisions, moodiness, irritability and loss of confidence.

It’s sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly what's causing your stress. A counsellor can help you explore what you are feeling and why, so that you can take steps to overcome your stress.

How to reduce stress

“The last thing you want to do is to keep your stress to yourself, instead share it and get it out,” says Hansa.

If it's affecting your mental health, you can speak to your GP or a professional counsellor, who can give you a safe space to be honest about how you are feeling.

There are also things you can incorporate into your daily life that can help you to reduce stress.

Adds Hansa: “It starts with very small changes to turn things around for you. There are some very simple things that you can put into your busy routine which will help you to be less stressed."

Exercise is one of them – whether that’s going for a run, swim, playing sport or even getting off the bus a stop earlier and walking the rest of the way to work.

This can reduce cortisol and release endorphins, which are hormones that lift our mood.

Breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness, yoga and tai chi can help you to relax and reduce stress as well.

“Mindfulness gives you the tools to focus on being in the moment, not worrying about the past or the future. It relaxes and revives you, calms your body and mind and enables clearer thinking,” says Hansa.

How counselling can help with stress

A counsellor can help you to explore and understand what is causing your stress. You can then work together to find some specific solutions that will help you to combat it.

Your counsellor is someone you can offload to and be totally honest with. They will not judge you.

Hansa says: “The counselling relationship provides a place for you to be accepted, to not be judged and to verbalise what you are feeling and going through. It gives you someone to offload to in a safe environment.”

She uses the metaphor of the ‘stress pot’ which can fill up and overflow.

“When everything is in the pot, you can’t see what it contains or make sense of it. That ‘pot’ can get emptied out in the therapy room. A counsellor can help you explore it and make sense of it. They can help you find the next step forward.”

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