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Getting to grips with stress

"I think there's a collective anxiety and tension in Ireland," says Derek Chambers, Director of Programmes and Policy at the Inspire Foundation.

"And there has been a definite increase in some individuals more than others."

His organisation runs Reachout.com, an online support service for young people that provides hundreds of fact sheets on anything that can affect mental health. The site also fosters online community-building where people are able to help each other.

"Young people graduating nowadays have very poor job prospects and those in the early career stages are trying to gain independence at a really difficult time," he points out.

Even celebrities are not immune. Miley Cyrus has had plenty of career complications, including a heart condition called tachycardia, and has to watch her stress levels.

Of course, a little pressure can be a good thing. It can motivate you, but too much can lead to ongoing stress. This can affect your health and cause symptoms such as high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. Anger, food cravings or even loss of appetite can also be a sign that stress is affecting your health. You may also have difficulty concentrating or sleeping.

Some of these require specific treatments, including counselling or medication such as anti- depressants, so spotting stressors as they arise and taking steps to deal with them is vital. "Everyday stress can create a domino effect," says Lisa Quish, a Dublin-based yoga teacher. "At the very least, this constant barrage will lead to things like indigestion and migraine."

Quish believes yoga can be a first step to learning the art of self-management, "something that years of academic studies and social conditioning fails to teach us".

>So what's stressing you?

Your body deals with stress by releasing hormones that build up and can lead to unwanted mental and physical symptoms. Stress causes an adrenaline rush that helps us deal with testing situations.

That's fine when we need to run away from something that threatens us, but when it's impossible to escape a stressful situation, such as the workplace, a troubled relationship, or even financial worries, these hormones can build up and cause problems.

An accumulation of adrenaline can lead to increased blood pressure, heart rate and sweating, while other stress-related chemicals can suppress your immune system and cause fat and sugar to be released into your bloodstream, leading to weight gain.

>From stress to de-stress

When stress is getting the better of you, don't be afraid to talk and to ask for help. If you're worried, a GP can offer advice. Sometimes, ruling out underlying health conditions is the first step to taking stock of your life and dealing with the real causes of stress.

However, true healing may be closer at hand. Chambers believes the current gloom offers an opportunity for Irish society to re-focus on community and social support.

"There was an enormous increase in individualism in the boom years and that, in its own way, was damaging to Irish society and to Irish people."

Rapid change and long-standing, unhealthy coping mechanisms mark us apart from many other countries.

"We went from being a traditional, inward-looking nation to the bright young thing of Europe," says Chambers. But when things went bad, old institutions and values were gone, along with the safety net they provided.

Chambers insists: "Our mental health as a nation will improve dramatically if we learn to look out for each other."