Today is National Stress Awareness Day – an opportunity to shed light on the physical and mental impact stress can have on the body. When long-term stress becomes overwhelming, it can create a number of health problems, such as anxiety and depression, substance use issues, sleep problems, pain, and bodily complaints such as muscle tension.

Mental health expert Noel McDermott looks at the impact of stress on the human body and how to manage anxiety better this National Stress Awareness Day.

UK Stress Statistics

  • 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope*
  • One in 14 UK adults (7%) feel stressed every single day**
  • 1 in 5 people in the UK feel stressed more days a month than they don’t***
  • 51% of adults who felt stressed reported feeling depressed and 61% reported feeling anxious****

Gender issues in stress

Gender issues are present in stress, both in terms of its causes and how it manifests, as well as how it is managed. Stress tends to manifest differently in women, often leading to more common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, while men may experience more severe mental illnesses, suicidal ideation, and deaths. Additionally, men may cope with stress through behaviours such as alcohol or substance misuse, anger, or aggression, whereas women often express psychological distress in more socially oriented and help-seeking ways rather than through isolation or anti-social behaviours.

The impact of stress on the human body

Stress initially triggers a chemical reaction in us that’s known as the fight & flight response. In preparation to deal with these stressors the nervous system releases hormones (including cortisol), which can set off a number of physical reactions such as:

  • increased heart rate
  • alterations in one’s breathing.
  • tightening of the muscles
  • dry mouth
  • hot/cold sweaty hands & feet

How to manage stress: Do’s and Don’ts



  • Talk to your friends, family, and boss/colleagues about feeling stressed (sharing with another human who cares about us produces reward hormones which are the opposite of stress hormones).
  • Socialise more – not less. Your body will reward this, and reward hormones help manage stress hormones.
  • Learn psychological coping tips from CBT such as balanced thinking, behavioural activation (managing depression) and exposure work (managing anxiety) and relaxation techniques.
  • Focus on good nutrition in terms of regularity of meals, managed quantity, and good balance of nutrition through variety (try to maintain a 10% meat to 90% plant ratio) and maintain good hydration.
  • Exercise regularly and if possible, do this outside and or in groups such as yoga classes. If you have too much cortisol do fight or flight exercise (sprinting, HIT, kickboxing etc).
  • Learn mindful meditation (this reverses the epigenetic damage to the telomeres).
  • Understand the signs of stress; sleep disturbance, alcohol or drug use, changes in mood, arguing all the time, feeling depressed or anxious and on edge, ‘trigger happy’ around specific issues or life circumstances, immobilised and overwhelmed, having lots of small illnesses due to compromised immune functioning, avoiding our friends or work etc.
  • Know your stressors: money, relationships, work/school, big life changes (becoming a parent for example), loneliness and isolation and work to manage the negative impact of them.
  • Improve sleep hygiene.
  • Learn mindful meditation (this reverses the epigenetic damage to the telomeres).
  • learn self-compassion.


  • Drink on it or use drugs to manage it (in fact, become abstinent the minute you see your own stress responses).
  • Isolate yourself and avoid people and social situations.
  • Overeat or diet to manage it.
  • Use shopping therapy or any form of consumerism to manage stress (poverty is a big reason for stress reactions).
  • Gamble.
Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.