Stress - help, I just can't cope!

Recognising that you're stressed isn't an admission of defeat - you should be congratulating yourself.

It may seem odd, but we all need a certain amount of stress. Think about it - if you never felt any pressure, how would you get anything done? But we tend to use the word 'stress' to describe what happens when you feel that you can't cope. That can be any situation where it feels as if more is being asked of you than you have the internal resources for. Sometimes it's because a single task is too much; sometimes it's because lots of smaller tasks add up to overwhelm you; sometimes it's because you're not at the top of your game and can't cope with as much as usual. Whatever the cause, a common theme is a feeling of not being in control. So read on, and in a few easy steps you can take control of your life again.

The first thing to do is to recognise that you're stressed. It isn't an admission of defeat - you should be congratulating yourself. Recognising that you have a problem can take a lot of courage, and it's the first - and often one of the biggest - steps to recovery. Then you need to make a list of all the stresses in your life. No, I'm not trying to rub in how much you've got on your plate! Now is the time to prioritise, so you don't stress yourself out more by trying to deal with too many problems at once. You need to be honest, and number all your stresses, starting with the most difficult to cope with.

Next, take the stress at the top of your list and work through the options for coping listed below. Start with the first, action-oriented, and if that's not possible, move on to the next. Over time, you should be able to move through all the stresses on your list. But don't try to take on too many changes at once. Every time you deal with a single stress, you'll have less on your plate, so it should be easier to deal with the next.


If you can change it, change it. It could be saying no to that extra bit of charity work. It could be standing up to your daughter about being a free babysitter too often, no matter how much you love your grandchildren.


If you can't change it, can you change the way you look at it? Don't think about all the things you haven't got done while you're waiting for your hospital appointment. Instead, bring a really good book - you might end up being disappointed that you get seen too promptly!


Look after yourself physically, and you'll be able to cope with stress much better.

Stress - know your enemy

We use the term 'stress' so much that we can forget what it really is. Suffering from stress is not the same as feeling fully occupied, with not a moment to yourself. It's more your body's responses, which tell you that you're not coping. If you think you're stressed, do take action - you really can take control!

Symptoms to look out for include:

Physical symptoms

Emotional symptoms

  • Feeling tense and edgy
  • Feeling irritable and snappy
  • Feeling unable to wind down
  • Getting anxious over little things
  • Feeling very alone, or as if everything is too much for you
  • Getting tearful

Symptoms affecting your thought processes

  • Not being able to concentrate or think clearly
  • Being forgetful and indecisive
  • Getting things out of perspective

Symptoms affecting your behaviour

  • Change in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Nervous habits like biting your nails
  • Overdoing things because you can't stop and relax
  • Neglecting your responsibilities
  • Using alcohol to calm down
Dr Sarah is unable to provide medical advice or respond directly to questions concerning your health. If you have health concerns we recommend contacting your GP.