International Stress Awareness Week 2023: what are the signs of stress and how to seek help

Three-quarters of the UK workforce are experiencing severe stress due to their work  (picture posed by model/Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Three-quarters of the UK workforce are experiencing severe stress due to their work (picture posed by model/Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Stress is how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened and usually happens when we are in a situation that we don’t feel we can manage or control.

There are many stressors that we can come across in day-to-day life, especially in the unprecedented times we live in, with the cost of living continuing to rise and people constantly working to make ends meet.

This year, International Stress Awareness Week looks to highlight experiences of stress and raise awareness of stress management. This year the awareness week runs from October 30th to the November 3rd.

Studies have shown that three-quarters of the UK workforce are experiencing severe stress due to their work, feeling undervalued and at risk of burnout.

This data suggests there may be more need for International Stress Awareness Week than ever before, and the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) wants to raise awareness of stress prevention.

What is International Stress Awareness Week?

International Stress Awareness Week was created in 2018 by ISMA to raise awareness of stress prevention. ISMA is a registered charity that advocates for good mental health, wellbeing and performance.

Its purpose is to:

  • Raise the profile of stress-related issues, both in the home and workplace

  • Combat the stigma often associated with personal stress

  • Change attitudes towards the management of stress in the world of work

The ISMA has a register of professional practitioners and consultants who offer individual support, as well as coaching and training courses within the workplace, in various different industries.

The centrepiece of International Stress Awareness Week is Stress Awareness Day Online Summit, on International Stress Awareness Day, which this year takes place on Wednesday November 1.

Speaking about last year's event, Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE, a world-renowned expert on workplace wellbeing who is giving the opening keynote on Beyond Stress Management: Building Organisational Resilience and Wellbeing, commented: “The pandemic brought about some salutary changes, including hybrid/remote working and a greater awareness of the importance of wellbeing in the workplace.

“But stress and mental-health issues are still widespread, together with the stigma attaching to them. ISMAUK are to be applauded for their work in this field and for their excellent online summit, an unmissable date for anyone with an interest in workplace wellbeing.”

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s way of responding to too much pressure and, when this becomes overwhelming, stress occurs, and the body experiences the fight or flight stress response. Stress can have a negative impact on our health.

How do I know if I’m stressed?

Below are just some of the many signs and symptoms that are indicators that your body could be under too much pressure:

Psychological signs

  • Inability to concentrate or make simple decisions

  • Memory lapses

  • Becoming rather vague

  • Easily distracted

  • Less intuitive and creative

  • Undue worrying / racing thoughts

  • Feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, or unfocused

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Negative thinking

  • Insomnia or waking still tired

  • Prone to accidents

Emotional signs

  • Tearful

  • Irritable

  • Mood swings

  • Extra sensitive to criticism

  • Defensive

  • Feeling out of control

  • Lack of motivation

  • Angry

  • Frustrated

  • Lack of confidence

  • Lack of self-esteem

Physical signs

  • Aches/pains and muscle tension/grinding teeth

  • Frequent colds/infections

  • Allergies/rashes/skin irritations

  • Constipation/diarrhoea/IBS

  • Weight loss or gain

  • Indigestion/heartburn/ulcers

  • Hyperventilating/lump in the throat/pins and needles

  • Dizziness/palpitations

  • Nervousness or shaking uncontrollably

  • Panic attacks/nausea

  • Cold or sweaty hands and feet

  • Physical tiredness

  • Menstrual changes/loss of libido/sexual problems

  • Heart problems/high blood pressure

Behavioural signs

  • No time for relaxation or pleasurable activities

  • Prone to accidents, forgetfulness

  • Increased reliance on alcohol, smoking, caffeine, recreational or illegal drugs

  • Becoming a workaholic

  • Poor time management and/or poor standards of work

  • Absenteeism

  • Self neglect/change in appearance

  • Social withdrawal

  • Relationship problems

  • Insomnia or waking tired

  • Aggressive/anger outbursts

  • Nervous

  • Uncharacteristically lying

If you notice these symptoms taking place for a prolonged amount of time or getting worse, make an appointment to see your GP or call NHS 111. If you live in England, you can also refer yourself for psychological therapy through the NHS IAPT service without seeing your GP.