by Annie Lawler

Stress is a much overused word these days. We often talk about ‘being stressed’ when we’re under short term pressure but there is a huge difference between pressure and undue stress and a growing number of us find ourselves suffering the consequences.

So what do we do – carry on regardless? Absolutely no. Ignoring the signs of undue stress is potentially fatal and at best makes us uncomfortable, negative and miserable, and what’s the point in living like that? Who benefits? Well certainly not you.

I’ve been on the ‘wrong end’ of stress in years gone by and went through some challenging times as a result. Since then, I have successfully overcome many symptoms and that’s why I want to share what I’ve learned with as many people as possible so that they don’t have to reach burnout or crisis point before they recognise what’s going on.

Undue stress affects literally every aspect of our lives – at work, at home, our
relationships, how we perform and enjoy life. I can’t emphasise enough the importance in our 24/7 society of understanding stress, how to maintain a healthy balance and how to get back on track when we fall out of it.

Quite simply, we weren’t designed to live like this and our bodies and minds give us signals when enough is enough. So it’s helpful to know what they are and what you can do to get back into balance. If you do, you’re much more likely to achieve what you want in life and to be happy and healthy.

Know the Symptoms
When we start to become unduly stressed as opposed to being temporarily under pressure, we start to get warning signals that we need to do something differently. These are just a few of the common symptoms you may experience, but they are by no means the full picture:

• Headaches
• Emotional outbursts
. Poor sleep quality
• Panic attacks
• Crises in self-confidence
• Difficulty making decisions
• Tense, painful muscles
• Stomach/digestive problems
• Feeling isolated & out of control

Left untreated, they can lead to conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and heart problems. If you are experiencing any of these on a regular basis seek help from your GP or a specialist in Stress Relief.

There are certain personality types that are more prone to stress than others, so it’s worth finding out about that too. If you’re what is known as a ‘Type A’ character, you’ll be very competitive, demonstrate perfectionist tendencies, like to be in control and be very critical of yourself and others. This type of character is more susceptible to stress, but you can learn techniques which help to counter this and help you let go a little.

Tip 1 – Learn to say the ‘n’ word!
And yes, I mean no!! Or in the words of my partner, ‘hit the ball back’. We often cause ourselves avoidable stress by accepting responsibility for everything we are asked to do. As a consequence, we find ourselves running around like a mad thing trying to please everyone. Often the result is that we please no-one – especially ourselves.

When we want to get ahead or curry favour with friends, family and employers we can often find ourselves committing to things without thinking the implications through. We then have to rush around re-arranging our lives and worrying about how we’re going to get everything done to fulfil our commitments to numerous individuals.

Before committing to another person, take a few moments to look at how realistic the latest ‘demand’ is and if it is likely to cause problems, recognise it straight away and suggest alternative solutions.

Our concerns are often that people will not like us or will think we’re weak or incapable if we don’t say yes to every request. However, organising your commitments and negotiating alternatives shows control and careful management, which means you can be trusted and relied upon.

Tip 2 – Practice Being Happy
When we’re focused on what’s missing in our lives and what’s negative, we feel discontented and unhappy – we even affect our immune system adversely and therefore our ability to fight off illness. In addition, if our focus is on the negative, we’re more than likely just to see more of the same thing. But matter is made of both positive and negative, so when you encounter a situation you perceive as negative, go out of your way to find the positive and you’ll maintain a balanced perspective.

Make a list of things to be grateful for and spend time studying it and adding to it every day. Everyone has time for this exercise. You can do it in bed, on the train, when you’re walking, swimming, cooking and so on. Take every opportunity to remind yourself how lucky you are. Doing this is one of the most powerful stress-relieving techniques you’ll find and yet it’s so simple and, in the words of my clients, it works!

If you’re struggling for things to be thankful for, just think of all the things you take for granted and imagine that you didn’t have them, e.g. the freedom to read, write, travel and vote freely, the fact that you have your sight and all your senses or if you are able-bodied.
Start with a few and let your mind wander. You’ll be amazed how lucky you are! Practicing happiness reduces stress and improves your resilience when the going gets tough.

Tip 3 – Breathe Yourself Well
Another much under-rated stress relief technique is learning how to use your breath and learning to relax. When you’re on the go constantly and caught up in adrenaline heaven, it can become a habit to be constantly ‘hyped’. If this continues over a prolonged period, the adrenals become exhausted and it is difficult for the body and mind to return to a healthy balance.

When we breathe deeply and fully, we reduce the heart rate and blood pressue, increase oxygen and nutrient flow around the body and boost our immune system. How good is that? Just by breathing!

There are numerous breathing & relaxation techniques available which help reduce anxiety and remind the body and mind that it’s OK to let go and little and allow them space to recuperate and recharge. Include visualisation and meditation techniques to daily breathing & relaxation techniques and not only do you reduce your stress and allow your body & mind to repair themselves, you also improve your performance.

Many people avoid these forms of stress relief because they’re not sure how to ‘do’ them.
There are many audio recordings available to guide you through, including my own ‘Stress Relief in a Box’ which teach you some of the ways of using your breath and relaxation to improve your health & wellbeing.


Undue stress is very different to short term pressure and the implications for our health, wellbeing and enjoyment in life are enormous. It pays therefore to understand what triggers our own stress response and to recognise the symptoms of undue stress, so you can take action to counter it.

Our mental attitude has a massive impact on how we deal with stressful situations, but there are also many practical things we can do to minimise our stress response. There are many proven techniques available to prevent or reverse the effects of undue stress and this article has covered just three of them.

About the Author:

Annie Lawler is founder of Breathing Space. Annie empowers clients to get back in the driving seat & to restore calm, clarity & confidence to their lives.

Annie runs a series of monthly webcasts which reveal the secrets of stress free living. For more information contact annie@breathingspaceforbusiness.com, visit www.breathingspaceforbusiness.com or call on 0772 581 8884.

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