Stress is something everyone experiences and feeling stressed is a natural reaction. But sometimes stress can feel constant, overwhelming or can even take over our everyday lives.
Stress Awareness Month was founded in April 1992, with the aim of increasing public awareness about the impact of stress, its causes and ways to relieve stress.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, in 2018 74% of people had felt ‘overwhelmed’ or ‘unable to cope’ at some time in the past year. Today, we are battling new stressors. As we try to navigate our new normal in the wake of the coronavirus. It’s natural to feel worried about becoming ill or our job security, we’re surrounded by news regarding death tolls and economic recession, and we’re isolated from our loved ones.
To help manage stress it is firstly important to understand how stress affects us and how we can identify causes of stress.
Some common stressors include experiencing something new or surprising, something that you perceive to threaten your capabilities/character and lack of control over a situation. We come across these stressors in many different environments. Workplace stress is one of the biggest problems facing employees across the UK today. 602,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or longstanding) in 2018/19 according to the Labour Force Survey (LFS).
Each person will have a different resistance to stressors. Our bodies produce stress hormones (cortisol and catecholamines) that trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response. This can be both positive and negative. Sometimes stress motivates us and helps us achieve our goals. But there are times when exposure to stressors becomes too frequent or too intense to deal with. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
We respond to these stressors with physical, emotional and behavioural responses.
Stress can also exacerbate symptoms for people who have a mental health diagnosis. The good news is there are plenty of ways to help cope with stress.
Although stress is normal, it can be quite challenging to overcome. But we can learn to manage stress, build resilience and lead a happier life. Here are some tips on how to cope:
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Having a positive, optimistic attitude helps you cope more easily with day-to-day stress. Do you really need to worry? Make sure you challenge those unhelpful thoughts. Try to keep things in perspective. Look for things in your life that are positive and write down things that make you feel grateful.
The feeling of not being in control is one of the main causes of stress. Taking control is empowering. It helps you find a solution that benefits you. Combat your stressors by identifying those with a possible practical solution, those that may get better over time, and those you can’t do anything about. Take control by taking small steps towards the things you can improve. Accept the things that you can’t change and concentrate on the things you can control.
Learning how to manage your time can help you feel more relaxed and in control, whether at work or at home. Are you taking on too much? Ask for help. Try creating a ‘to do list’, prioritise tasks and plan your day. Make sure you take a time out; this will help to break your day up into easier chunks and help to you keep focused.
Ensure that you don’t rely on substances, smoking, overeating and even caffeine to relieve your stress. These habits may seem like a good coping mechanism at the time, but in the long-term can be detrimental. Using an unhealthy habit as a crutch can lead to addiction and doesn’t tackle the root cause of your stress.
Whether its once a week or once a day, taking time out for yourself benefits your physical and emotional health. Meditation, mindfulness apps such as ‘CALM’, yoga, aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture and breathing exercises can all be used to help you relax. Take time each day to think about the positive things in your life. Not all stress-relief exercises work for everyone, find one that’s right for you. You could take 2 minutes out and try this stress relief exercise from meditation expert Jody Shield and see if it works for you:
Social support builds people up during times of stress and enables us to cope better. Having a network of family and friends is vitally important in helping us deal with stressful situations. Poor social support has been linked to depression and loneliness has been shown to increase the risk of depression, suicide, substance use and cardiovascular disease. Join a club or enrol on a course if you are looking to expand your social network. Activities like volunteering can change your perspective and helping others can have a beneficial impact on your mood.
A healthy diet and exercise are 2 factors that have a positive impact on your mental health. When you are stressed it’s easy to fall into a bad eating habit. Fruits and vegetables are always good and don’t make you feel guilty after eating them. Exercise whether it’s in a gym, walking around the office or a stroll in the park is good for your mind and mood.
It is common to experience stress at some point in a typical week. There is no quick-fix cure for stress as it is not a medical diagnosis. Identifying what coping strategies work for you is important.
If you are struggling, you can always seek help from a mental health professional to learn healthy ways of dealing with stress. Treatment using talking therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and counselling can help. Medication can also be prescribed to help reduce or manage some of the physically and emotional symptoms of stress. Speak to your GP if you need help.
We hope you found these tips useful, but if you need someone to talk to, you can contact Samaritans, call: 116 123 or email: email@example.com. Their helpline is free and open 24 hours a day.
For more information on Stress Awareness Month 2020, coping strategies and how you can get involved visit Stress.org.