Stress Awareness Month has been held every April, since 1992 to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. According to the Mental health Foundation 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.  

Andrea Rutherford, MHM's Learning & Development Officer has provided information on identifying and reducing stress.

What causes stress?

All kinds of situations can cause stress, including work issues, financial matters, relationship breakdowns, bereavements and family problems.  People can find they are stressed for many different reasons, sometimes the big life events such as moving house or divorce can cause stress. Smaller issues that have affected you may also cause you stress, such as an argument with a relative or work colleague.  Sometimes there are no obvious causes of stress.

Stress

Stress is the body's way of responding to any kind of threat.  When we sense danger or threat - whether it's real or imagined the “fight or flight” response is triggered and a release of stress hormones, our bodies will prepare with physical changes.

Once the perceived danger is over, the physical effects will diminish.  However, if you are persistently stressed, your body may continue to stay on “high alert” and this could lead to stress related symptoms.

Stress symptoms may be affecting your health including physical ailments such as headaches, aches and pains, difficulty sleeping or a lack of motivation in the workplace. Being able to recognise common stress symptoms can help you manage them.  If stress is prolonged this can have an effect on your mental health.

Stress Symptoms

There are different kinds of warning signs and symptoms. It is important to identify the symptoms because they can creep up on you.  You may become accustomed to these feelings without even realising you are stressed or depressed!  Stress can be identified in emotional, physical and behavioural symptoms.

Behavioural Symptoms can include using recreational drugs, smoking, drinking, nervous habits such as pacing or biting nails, irritability, anger or aggression, disruptive or anti-social behaviour, uncharacteristic errors, working far longer hours, lateness, leaving early, extended lunches and increased sickness absence.

Emotional symptoms can include often being distressed, poor judgement, loss of humour, constant worry, non-responsive, difficulty taking information in, mood changes and tearfulness.

Physical Symptoms can include changes in appearance, distribution of sleep patterns,   visible tension or trembling, sweating, weight changes, frequent colds, aches and pains and headaches and fatigue.

Coping with Stress

Stress has a major impact on our health and being able to identify coping strategies can help you manage your stress levels.

Try to eat as healthy as possible - When stressed, a lot of us tend to reach for unhealthy foods such as sugar including cakes and biscuits!  However research suggests, that what we eat may affect not just our physical health, but also our mental health and wellbeing.  What we eat and drink affects how we feel, think and behave. (Mental Health Foundation 2017)

The NHS Eatwell Guide shows how much of what we eat overall should come from each food group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.

Regular Exercise – Physical activity can impact on our mood and our stress levels trying add exercise to your weekly routine, it is recommended that the average adult should do between 75 and 150 minutes of exercise a week. (Mental Health Foundation 2017)

NHS Choices has a number of tools to help people get started with physical activity, including exercises for older people, strength and flexibility videos, advice on taking up new sports, and advice on getting started with walking.

The British Heart Foundation’s ‘Health at Work’ website provides further suggestions and some resources to get started with promoting physical activity at work.

Try Some Apps – Couch to 5k, My Fitness Pal, Pocket Yoga.

Give yourself a break - In a time of stress, you may feel a little out of control. Dealing with stress can sometimes be uncomfortable or even scary. Be kind to yourself.  

Get More Sleep – Not getting enough sleep can cause stress. However, stress can disturb our sleep as the thoughts keep spinning round our heads, stopping us from relaxing enough to fall asleep.

Relax, Relax, and Relax – It is really important that you take care of yourself and that you take time out of your busy schedule for “me time”.  Relaxation revitalises the body, mind, and soul, leaving us better prepared to handle stressful circumstances.

Seek support - No one gets through life alone. It is okay to ask for help—it is a sign that you know yourself well enough to realise you need some assistance.  It’s OK to talk.

 

References

Mental Health Foundation. (2017). Food for Thought.

Mental Health Foundation . (2017). Look After Your Mental Health Using Exercise. 

NHS . (2016). The Eat Well Guide . Available: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-eatwell-guide/