For our fourth blog in the Stress Awareness Month series, we want to take a more in depth look into what stress is and provide you with more detailed guidelines for how to help. We want you to feel equipped to be able to look after your mental health in such trying times. To read about stress as a care worker or stress in the elderly, read our other blogs in the series here.
A reminder: What is stress?
Stress is a natural reaction to different situations in life. This could be anything to do with family, relationships, and money difficulties. A large contributor to stress is also work, which is something we can all probably relate to. In fact, working culture in the UK is one of the biggest causes of stress, and 70 million days are lost a year at work due to mental health conditions.
People deal with stress differently, and what may be stressful for one person may be motivational for another. However, it’s important to focus on how you’re feeling and to understand your own triggers and responses.
When we feel stressed, our body releases hormones to help us deal with these pressures or threats – also known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. Adrenaline and noradrenaline raise your blood pressure which increases your heart rate. This prepares your body for an emergency response.
Cortisol is another stress hormone that’s released, which discharges fat and sugar into your system to boost your energy. You might then experience headaches, muscle tension, pain, nausea, indigestion, and dizziness. After the stress has passed, the hormone levels should return to normal. However, if you’re feeling constantly stressed, these hormones stay in your body and can lead to health conditions.
These can include:
- Lower immunity levels
- Digestive and intestinal difficulties like irritable bowel syndrome
- Mental health problems like depression
How to tell if you’re experiencing stress
It’s important to recognise when you’re feeling stressed so that you can target your feelings more specifically. These are clues you’re feeling stressed, and you can read our blog Stress Awareness Month: Spotting The Signs Of Stress for further insights.
- Anxiety – constant worry, racing thoughts, repeatedly going over the same things in your head
- Changes in your behaviour – Irritability, becoming more verbally or physically aggressive
- Low self-esteem – which can lead to becoming withdrawn, indecisive, and tearful
- Sleeping problems
- Change in appetite – eating more or less than usual
Guidelines for coping with stress
Recognising your stress triggers
You may find that being able to understand what it is exactly that’s causing you stress will help you to better target it. A method to find your triggers could be a stress diary, keeping a note every time you feel stressed over 2-4 weeks.
What to write down could include:
- The time, date, and place
- What were you doing?
- Who was there?
- How did you feel physically?
- A stress rating (on a scale of 0-10)
Read more about this method through this link.
Re-evaluate your daily routine
Perhaps after the COVID-19 pandemic you lost touch with your routine, or for other reasons you’ve fallen out of or into a routine you don’t enjoy. You may need most to focus on meaningful activities to make the space around you clean, tidy and organised.
Alternatively, you may want to re-prioritise how you’re spending your time, such as allowing yourself more time to relax, read, or see friends and family. A tip for this could be writing a to-do list for the day or planning out your week more effectively and thoroughly.
Make the link between physical and mental health
If you’ve read our other blogs, you’ll have noticed that looking after your body is a large part of contributing to your mental health.
Start with making sure you’re trying to eat healthily where you can. Well-balanced meals and drinking water are essential for looking after your body. Here are some easy healthy recipes you could try.
Then, try and fit in exercise where you can. This is a mood booster, and a good way to help your sleeping habits and reduce anxiety. If you’re less physically able, small walks or gardening would help, or gentle at-home exercises such as yoga or a gentle morning workout. If you’re short of time, you could try doing 10-15 minute bursts of exercise for a quick energy boost.
Talk and connect with others
Friends and family are invaluable. Ensuring you stay connected with them could help your mental well-being greatly. If you’re unable to leave the house to meet them or shift patterns prevent you from seeing them, don’t under-estimate the power of a call or video call.
It’s also beneficial to talk about your worries rather than keeping them to yourself. Although it may seem scary or overwhelming, approaching friends and family may be the best solution.
If you’d prefer to speak to someone else, you can use the ‘check in and chat’ service with NHS Volunteer Responders, or you can find information here about NHS mental health helplines.
Do things you enjoy
It sounds obvious but spending time doing things that make you happy is a good way to target your mental health. You may find that feeling stressed has stopped you from wanting to do these things, so making an active effort to get back into doing them should benefit you.
Engaging in activities or hobbies that can help you relax or take your mind off things are a great place to start. If you’ve totally fallen out of touch with old hobbies, try learning something new!
Finally, something easy that can help boost your mood is the outdoors. Being around nature and breathing in fresh air is a great way to clear your mind, take a break and get some sunlight – if the weather permits! If you can’t go outside, opening your windows or sitting somewhere where you can look outside might be a small help.
Here is an article about why nature is good for your mental health for more information.
Don’t suffer alone if you feel overwhelmed with stress – instead, try out some of these techniques to help relieve some of your stress and worries.