Skip to content
Features / March 5, 2020

Not stressing over stress

by Seb Evans

stressClaire O’Farrell explains what stress is, where it comes from, and how we can protect ourselves from it.

Recognising when we are stressed is a self-care priority for our mental health. It can be difficult to admit that we might be experiencing stress, but understanding it is a first step towards overcoming it.

What is stress?

It’s important to note that stress is not always negative. Stress is a natural and healthy response to challenging situations or life events, which can sometimes be helpful in motivating us to complete a task (Mental Health Ireland, 2019). The stress response helps us to think faster (answering quick fire questions in a quiz) and react physically (a football match).

However, prolonged stress means the body is producing a stress response regularly, which is not good for our physical or mental health. If prolonged or intense, stress can become overwhelming and too much to cope with on our own. The good news is there are steps we can take to prevent feeling overwhelmed.

What are the signs of stress?

If stress continues over time, it can affect our quality of life, our thoughts and how we behave. We may start to notice a change in our behaviour, thoughts or feelings.

We might experience physical symptoms such as sickness, aches or pains that we wouldn’t usually experience. It is important to recognise these signs, so we can look for support when the demands of work and life are becoming difficult to cope with on our own.

Why do we feel stressed?

If we identify that stress is becoming a problem, the next step is to look at what might be causing it. Some questions to consider include; are we taking on too much? Are lifestyle factors creating tension? Has there been a significant change? Are we experiencing challenges in a relationship?

Although some stressors are beyond our control, many can be managed effectively.

Confidential help

Any doctor, dentist or pharmacist in Ireland who has a concern about their mental health can receive confidential help from experts at the Practitioner Health Matters Programme. Within this service, stress is one of the most common reasons for attending (PHMP Report, 2018).

Effective tips for managing stress at work can be:

  • Effective communication and support systems in place
  • Regular meetings and team building to encourage communication
  • Maintaining a healthy work-life balance
  • Taking annual leave to diffuse tension and stress (Moore, 2018).


Mental Health Ireland is a national voluntary organisation whose aim is to promote positive mental health and wellbeing to all individuals and communities in Ireland. Visit for more information.

  • To find mental health supports and services near you, free phone anytime the information line on 1800 111 888 or visit
  • For more details about the Practitioner Health Matters Programme, visit
  • Stress Control is a free programme developed by Dr Jim White, which is being delivered by the Health Service Executive (HSE). It is the most widely used stress management course in the HSE and the NHS (UK)
  • The Samaritans telephone service is available 24 hours a day for confidential, non-judgmental support on 116 123.

To help Mental Health Ireland promote the message of positive mental health and have some fun, why not organise a Smiley Pancake Fundraiser this Pancake Tuesday? We invite you and your colleagues, friends and family to make your pancake smile on 25 February.

What can we do?

Our daily habits can be protective factors against stress. This protection can come in the form of physical self-care, such as eating a healthy balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and reducing alcohol and nicotine use. Protection from stress can also mean thinking about taking some relaxing time out, getting enough sleep, and making time for fun and enjoyment.

Aside from our habits, seeking support is one of the most beneficial ways to deal with excessive stress. Practitioners can find it especially challenging to seek help (Practitioner Health Matters Programme Annual Report, 2018), but know that support is available. Speaking to a trusted friend or loved one about what you are experiencing can alleviate stress in the short term.

It is important to remember we all experience stress at some point in our lives. If the stresses of life are becoming too much, help is available. If you are concerned about your mental health, don’t hesitate to contact your GP.


British Dental Association (2017) The mental health and well-being of UK dentists: a qualitative study.

British Dental Journal (2019) More than half of dentists say stress is affecting their practice. British Dental Journal 226(1): 7

Hayes B, Prihodova L, Walsh G, Doyle F, Doherty S (2017) What’s up doc? A national cross-sectional study of psychological wellbeing of hospital doctors in Ireland. BMJ Open 7: e018023

Knipe D, Maughan C, Gilbert J, Dymock D, Moran P, Gunnell D (2018) Mental health in medical, dentistry and veterinary students: cross-sectional online survey. BJPsych Open 4(6): 441-6

Moore L (2018) Staying Mindful of Mental Health: Modern Dentist Magazine May: 7-8

New Economics Foundation (2008) Five ways to Wellbeing. NHS Confederation

Practitioner Health Matters Programme Annual Report (2018)