It’s #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek and the theme for this year is stress. Some tragic events throughout recent weeks have renewed the need to raise awareness and break the stigma surrounding mental health, and this week we wanted to take a look at some of the key symptoms of stress and how to combat these.
What is Stress?
The Mental Health Foundation defines stress as a ‘feeling of being under abnormal pressure. This pressure can come from different aspects of your day to day life; such as an increased workload, a transitional period, an argument you have with your family or new and existing financial worries. You may find that is has a cumulative effect, with each stressor building on top of one another.’
Stress can manifest itself in a number of different ways - both physically and mentally - and it’s true that we all handle the effects differently and experience them to varying degrees. However, known symptoms can include severe tiredness and physical changes, changes in behaviour such as mood swings and experiencing extreme emotions, as well as feeling unable to cope. It is hugely important to recognise our own early symptoms of stress so that we can take steps to relieve them.
#1 Take some time out
Here in the UK, we work the longest hours in Europe! This means that large portions of our day are spent working in high pressure or difficult situations instead of doing the things that we really enjoy. Difficult work situations can trigger stress and anxiety so it is hugely important to be able to detach ourselves from work and take some time alone time to relax and unwind after working hours.
Try earmarking at least two evenings each week where you make a point of not staying late at the office. In the evenings, try to ‘unplug’ for at least an hour before bed – no phones, no computers, no emails and no TV. Just spend some time flicking through a magazine, reading a book, chatting to friends and family and reconnecting with the things that you really enjoy.
#2 Take control
It is very easy to ‘bury our heads in the sand’ and remain passive in difficult situations, hoping that the problem will eventually go away all by itself.
Thinking we can’t do anything to fix a problem will, however, inevitably result in feelings of increased stress and unease as the problem worsens and the loss of control that we feel will lead to intensified feelings of stress.
Taking control of a situation and making a concerted effort to face any problems or tough situations head on will not only empower us and make us feel more confident, it will ultimately result in a quicker resolution of the problem thanks to an increased focus on resolving things.
#3 Avoid Unhealthy Habits
How often have you come home on a Friday night after a tough week at work craving a glass of wine?
Whilst it’s fine to enjoy a drink in moderation, alcohol and cigarettes should never be used as a way to relieve stress and will not work as a long-term fix.
Some may believe that drinking or smoking can provide temporary relief by taking your mind off of stresses and difficult situations, however over the long term these will not solve problems and will actually create new ones.
Similarly, it’s important to eat healthily and exercise. Whilst eating healthy balanced meals will give us more energy and leave us feeling less tired and sluggish, exercising is a fantastic way to take some time away from everyday stresses and clear your head, releasing positive endorphins which can be extremely helpful in combating feelings of depression and anxiety.
#4 Talk to someone
This may seem obvious, but speaking to someone can often be the most difficult thing to do if we don’t already have a strong support network around us. Connecting with family, friends or even colleagues can help to establish a strong support network and can allow us to talk through any issues that we are facing; helping us to see things in a different light. Even just spending time talking to other people can take our minds off of difficult situations and can act as some light relief away from key stress factors.
If we don’t feel that we have a strong support network around us, there are lots of professional organisations out there who specialise in listening and helping to provide support. The Samaritans, Breathing Space Scotland and Lifelink are all fantastic UK-based charities who specialise in helping people to cope with difficulties such as stress, loneliness and anxiety.
To find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week, visit the Mental Health Foundation website.
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