Stress: Symptoms, causes and how to get NHS help as stress rates soar in the North West

The pandemic has seen rates of work-related stress, anxiety and depression saor in the North West.

April is Stress Awareness Month and official figures show the problem is on the rise in North West of England - and across Britain.

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that there are 74,000 cases of work-related stress, anxiety and depression in the North West each year.

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The pandemic has seen the problem soar in the region - rates of work-related stress, anxiety and depression in the three years to March 2021 were 27% higher than in the previous three years.

Most of us feel stressed at times - some even find it a helpful motivator - but if it is affecting your life you may want to take steps to boost your wellbeing or get professional help.

What has happened to stress levels during the pandemic?

Official figures show that around one in 40 British workers had work-related stress, anxiety or depression in 2020/21. This accounted for half of all work-related illness, with people working in teaching and healthcarejobs reporting the highest rates.

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that there are 749,000 cases of work-related stress, anxiety and depression in Great Britain each year. The pandemic has seen the problem soar - rates of work-related stress, anxiety and depression in the three years to March 2021 were 36% higher than in the previous three years.

A man is stressed sitting at his work station. Image: Andrey Popov - stock.adobe.com

Are you suffering from stress?

Stress is a common reaction to emotional or mental pressure. When you feel anxious or under pressure, your body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

This can help you to feel motivated and get things done, but it may also cause physical symptoms such as a faster heartbeat or sweating. Feeling stressed all the time can be a sign of an underlying problem.

Causes of stress can include pressure at work, family difficulties such as divorce, financial or health problems or significant life events such as moving house or having a baby.  Sometimes there is no obvious cause.

If you want to find out whether you could be suffering from stress, the NHS has a mood self-assessment quiz.

Signs and symptoms of stress

According to the NHS, there are a variety of physical and mental symptoms - and it is not always easy to recognise that stress is the underlying cause.

Physical symptoms include:

  • headaches or dizziness
  • muscle tension or pain
  • stomach problems
  • chest pain or a faster heartbeat
  • sexual problems

Mental symptoms include:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • struggling to make decisions
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • constantly worrying
  • being forgetful

Stress can also cause changes in behaviour, such as:

  • being irritable and snappy
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • eating too much or too little
  • avoiding certain places or people
  • drinking or smoking more

Things you can do to alleviate stress

Mental health charities offer plenty of advice about how to manage stress.

For example, Mind suggests that people can:

  • spend time in nature
  • look after their physical health by getting enough sleep, eating well and taking exercise
  • develop their interests and hobbies
  • try to find time to relax, for example by taking a short break

Getting NHS help for stress

If you need more support, you can contact the NHS for free talking therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy.

People in England can refer themselves directly to an NHS programme called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), without needing to speak to a GP first.

Call 999 or go to A&E straight away if you or someone you know needs immediate help, or you have seriously harmed yourself, for example by taking a drug overdose. A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as any other medical emergency.