Stress – how the 21st century epidemic can affect you.

What is stress? 

According to Mental Health UK “Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure.”

Stress has been called the health epidemic of the 21st Century by the WHO.

Why do we get stressed?

Historically, our bodies would have been put on high-alert and become ‘stressed’ when faced with a physiological threat such as coming face to face with a grizzly bear in the Rocky Mountains.  Our hypothalamus would send out the signal that we were likely in danger and our fight or flight hormones would be automatically released.  Once the threat had passed the hypothalamus would instruct your central nervous system to return to normal.

Nowadays, our stress is much more likely to be psychological and can be brought about by any number of factors such as family, relationships, life events, being stuck in traffic, overwhelm, lack of time, confrontation with a colleague etc.  

What happens when we are stressed?

When we are threatened, our nervous system reacts and prepares us for action by releasing hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.  These hormones stimulate the body by sharpening your senses, making your heart beat faster, your breathing quicker and preparing you historically for the fight or flight.

Contemporary life induces stress in many people and, unfortunately if this drip-feed of constant stress is not stopped and our bodies are never in a relaxed state. The cumulative effect of stress can lead to many issues such as:

  • Depression
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Fatigue
  • Fertility issues
  • Headaches
  • Heartburn
  • High blood pressure
  • High heart rate
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Insomnia
  • Lethargy
  • Low libido
  • Mensuration issues
  • Shortness of breath

Who suffers from stress?

A quick internet search will show you that no-one is exempt from stress – children, pensioners, teenagers, workers, parents, sportspeople..the list goes on.

The HSE tells us that 822,000 people suffered from work-based stress, anxiety or depression in 2020/21.  This is a figure that was increasing before the pandemic and has continued to increase with more women suffering than men and over 12million days being lost every year due to stress.

However, stress is not just a condition of the working – Today’s Parent cite a study that states stay-at-home parents are more stressed than those who work outside the home.  This article from the Stress Organisation discusses the link between stress and the four major causes of death in the UK.

You can therefore appreciate how important it is to look after your mental well-being and do everything you can to reduce or alleviate stress in your life.

I’m Feeling Stressed – what should I do?

Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to help reduce and relieve your symptoms of stress.  Here are a few ideas to reduce your stress and anxiety levels.


Aromatherapy uses essential oils that are extracted from plants.  Many essential oils are calming.  Lavender regularly makes it to the top of the list as being one of the best essential oils for relieving stress and promoting relaxation.  When using essential oils, always read the safety instructions. Essential oils can be added to baths, inhaled, diffused or used as part of a massage.  Please ensure, if you are applying them topically, you dilute all essential oils with a carrier oil such as grapeseed.  If you would like advice on using essential oils at home then a qualified aromatherapist, such as myself, will be able to assist. Read more about aromatherapy here.

Deep breathing

The aim of deep breathing is to make you aware of your breath and ultimately make that breath deeper and slower.  Breathing deeply and slowly helps your heart rate slow and induces relaxation.  There are many videos online that demonstrate deep breathing or see this article from the NHS.


Exercise is one of the simplest and most effective ways of reducing stress with people who exercise regularly suffering less from the symptoms of stress.


Many people find writing the events of the day in a journal very therapeutic, it allows them to let-go of what has happened and thereby reduces stress.

Another idea is a gratitude journal.  Starting and ending the day by listing three things you are grateful for.


Massage is the manipulation of your body’s soft tissue.  Many studies have been carried out and show massage is effective on working on tight muscles, can help to relieve associated symptoms such as tension headaches, stressed shoulders, tight jaw, etc. and has been shown to be beneficial in reducing pain in fibromyalgia clients.  Massage is great for reducing stress as it releases feel-good endorphins into your body and helps promote relaxation. Read more about massage here.


Reflexology is based on the theory that your organs and different areas of your body are mirrored in your feet and lower legs.  This extremely restful and calming experience allows your mind and body to rest, encouraging homeostasis (balance) in your body and promotinging your body’s own healing processes.

Read more about reflexology here

Saying No

Sometimes, in an attempt to please, we say yes when we really don’t want to.  We may already have enough on our plates, we may be experiencing overwhelm or our gut may be screaming ‘don’t do it!’.  Whilst many stress factors are out of our control, we can reduce our stress levels by only taking on tasks we are happy to do.


Ensuring you stay physically and emotionally healthy is paramount.  Make time for you doing something you enjoy be that reading, gardening, seeing friends and family.


Some vitamins may help with the symptoms of stress.  Please research this or seek the advice of a herbalist.


Yoga is a very popular way of reducing stress – in fact one article claims yoga can be as effective as antidepressant drugs at reducing depression and anxiety.  There are many classes either online or in your local area that will be able to help.

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