- When you are stressed, it helps to sort out what makes you tense and what gives you energy.
- Talk about it with someone you trust.
- Writing down what you’re worried about can also help.
- Try to take good care of yourself with a healthy diet, exercise/sports and enough relaxation.
- If you like, try relaxation exercises or mindfulness.
- Your GP or practice nurse can support you.
- Dutch healthcare practices in general may differ from what you are used to in your home country. Learn more.
New to the Netherlands?
Moving to a new country with your family can be exciting. It can involve a new challenge, a change of scene, and perhaps a new job. But adjusting to a foreign language and a different culture can take more time and effort than you might expect. This can leave you feeling sad, lonely and left out. It can lead to anxiety and depression. It may also bring on eating disorders and addictions or make them worse. Dutch GPs take these matters seriously. They are trained to help you cope with them, and also with other mental health issues that are not related to your move. If necessary, the GP will refer you to specialized mental healthcare.
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Healthy and unhealthy stress
A little tension is often useful. It helps you pay attention and react quickly. You breathe faster, your heart beats faster and your blood pressure goes up. Most people are tense before a holiday, a presentation or an exam. This is normal. After the tense situation, the tension disappears and the body and mind recover.
But sometimes we’re asked too much or we want too much. Everything seems to be against us. Or we feel we don’t get enough support from those around us. For example, when we have problems at home or at work. Situations like that cause extra tension or tension that lasts a long time.
You can then feel that you are constantly stressed. You are always tired and easily irritated. You find it hard to relax. For example, you have trouble falling asleep in the evening and can’t enjoy yourself any more. Then stress becomes a problem and unhealthy.
Symptoms of stress
Stress can cause problems such as:
- tiredness, lack of energy
- feeling tense
- getting emotional more easily (irritated, angry, crying)
- feeling down
- trouble sleeping
- stomach problems
- neck or back pain
- getting a cold or flu more easily (your immune system is weakened)
In addition, long-term stress increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Stress often causes people to live an unhealthier lifestyle: smoking more or starting again after quitting, following an unhealthy diet, drinking (more) alcohol or exercising less.
Causes of stress
To reduce stress, you can look at what is causing you stress.
The following circumstances can increase the chance of stress:
- having a (chronic) physical illness yourself
- a traumatic experience, such as an accident, robbery, burglary or assault.
- a divorce
- the death of a loved one
- relationship problems
- domestic violence
- uncertainty at work, being unemployed
- uncertainty about money, such as a high mortgage or other debts
- having a child with a (long-term) illness
- caring for a child, partner or family member who is ill (being an informal carer)
- being abused as a child
- little support from other people
- being a single parent
Advice for coping with stress
Are you experiencing symptoms from stress? Then try to do something about the stress. The stress symptoms are a warning that it is time to do something about it.
Or, better yet: prevent stress by following the advice to reduce stress and including this in your daily routine.
Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce the chance of stress symptoms. See which methods suit you best. You can also talk to your GP or the mental health practice nurse (praktijkondersteuner GGZ).
Handle problems differently
1. First, try to get a good understanding of your own situation:
- Think about what gives you energy.
- What are your positive traits?
Are you a go-getter, for example? Do you like helping others? Do you dislike arguments? Do you often feel responsible for how things go? Unfortunately, such positive traits are often also related to symptoms. For example, you put so much energy into caring for a loved one that you ‘forget’ to take care of yourself properly.
- Also think about the things that take up too much of your energy and that worry you.
- Talk about this with someone you trust.
- Or write down events, your thoughts and feelings.
- Talking or writing helps you understand your situation and deal with events.
- Are you going to write? Then, for example, write down once a day what's troubling you, what you’re worried about. Do something relaxing after writing, like going for a walk.
2. The next step is to think of solutions. The things that cause tension usually won’t resolve themselves.
- Think about how you can improve the circumstances (in your relationship, in your family, at work, your health), so that they cause less tension.
- What can you do yourself to ensure that you experience less stress? See whether you can organise your life differently. Try to discuss and deal with problems immediately. See whether you can divide up tasks. Ask for help on time.
- Sometimes you need to make choices and agreements, drop certain obligations completely and hand over some tasks to others.
There are also online courses (such as self-help courses) that can help you. Feel free to ask your GP for help. Your GP or mental health practice nurse can support you while you follow a self-help course online.
Take good care of yourself
- Go to bed and get up on time. See what you can do to sleep better (in Dutch). Getting enough sleep helps you deal with problems better.
- Maintain a healthy diet. A healthy diet (in Dutch) keeps you fit and helps you cope with stress better.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink. Alcohol might make you feel more relaxed temporarily, but it can make problems worse over time.
- Getting plenty of exercise and participating in sports can reduce mental health symptoms. This helps you to worry less and not feel so down. See I want to exercise healthily (in Dutch) to find out how you can get started. You can also try running therapy. This is running for people with mental health issues, under the supervision of a therapist or physiotherapist.
Relaxing helps to interrupt the stress reaction in the body. Your body gets time to recover. Relaxing means that you make time in your daily routine when you don’t have to be busy with daily tasks. This creates a good balance between things you have to do and things you enjoy doing.
Everyone has their own way of relaxing. A few things that can help are:
- listening to music
- reading a book or a different hobby
- talking a walk in nature
- playing a sport
- a bath or hot shower
- having a massage
- making love
- taking the time to cook and enjoy a meal
Methods that can help you learn to relax include:
- relaxation exercises
You will learn to feel the difference between a stressed body and a relaxed body. Relaxation exercises are often based on yoga, mindfulness and meditation. On the following websites (in Dutch) you can find exercises that you can do at home:
- relaxation exercises: wijzijnmind.nl
- mindfulness exercises: wijzijnmind.nl
Would you prefer to have some help learning how to relax? Then take a course, for example through:
- a district team in your municipality
- a mental health (GGZ) centre in your neighbourhood
- a home care organisation (thuiszorgorganisatie) in your neighbourhood
A mental health practice nurse, psychologist, exercise therapist, haptotherapist or physiotherapist can also help you learn to relax better.
Approach to stress and mental health symptoms
Following the advice can often help you deal with problems and feel better mentally again.
Your GP or mental health practice nurse can support you, with short-term psychological treatment if necessary.
You may have several types of problems (in Dutch) at the same time, for example in parenting (in Dutch), in your relationship and financial matters. In that case, your GP can refer you to a social worker or the district team for help.
You and your GP will decide together what is best for you. It helps to prepare properly for this conversation with your GP (in Dutch).
Are your symptoms related mainly to your work? Or do your symptoms affect your work? Then discuss this with your employer. And contact the company doctor (occupational physician) (in Dutch), even if you have not yet called in sick. The company doctor will discuss with you how you can keep working as well as possible.
What happens next when you are stressed?
Once a week, for example, you discuss how things are going with your GP or practice nurse. Often things will already get a lot better after 4 weeks.
It is possible to have a relapse: this means that the symptoms return. You can see a relapse as a learning experience. You might have started doing things again, or not doing things, that led to the symptoms before.
A relapse tells you that you need to pay closer attention to:
- the best way of dealing with problems (as you learned in a previous period of stress)
- your daily routine: a good balance between things you have to do and activities you enjoy helps you relax
When should I call my doctor if I’m stressed?
Make an appointment with your GP:
- if you are unable to reduce the stress and you need help
- if you develop more symptoms, such as anxiety or panic attacks
- if you have a relapse and would like support in dealing with it
More information about reducing stress (information in Dutch)
Would you like to test how much stress you have? You can do this at persoonlijkegezondheidscheck.nl. You will also receive advice on lifestyle and, if necessary, advice to reduce stress.
The ‘Stress Less’ (Minder stress) training course includes exercises you can do to reduce stress. You create an account so that you can keep your stress diary safely and see what exercises you are doing. You can also take the ‘Worry Less’ (Minder Piekeren) or ‘Sleep Better’ (Beter slapen) course.
At ‘Check your work stress’ (Check werkstress) you can test what causes you stress at work. You will also receive tips to prevent work stress.
Also see the ‘Healthy Lifestyle Card’ (Gezond Leven-kaart) of the Netherlands Patients Federation.
The information on stress is based on the ‘National Cooperation Agreements’ (Landelijke samenwerkingsafspraken) between GPs, general basic mental healthcare and specialist mental healthcare and on the ‘Generic Module for Psychological Symptoms in General Practice’ (Generieke module Psychische klachten in de huisartsenpraktijk).