Launched in 1992, the aim of Stress Awareness Month is not only to increase public awareness of stress, but also to highlight the causes of stress, its negative effects and to understand what we can do to relieve stress.
The Stress Management Society recently conducted a study on stress, surveying 2,000 British adults, which identified that 65% felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020. The three key causes for concern were feelings of disconnection, uncertainty and a worrying loss of control. Hence, the theme for Stress Awareness Month in 2021 is ‘Regain Connection, Certainty and Control’, incorporating a ‘30 Day Challenge’ which encourages us to focus on a physical, mental and emotional wellbeing action every day. For more information on this challenge, please visit www.stress.org.uk.
Before looking at the negative impact of stress, we should recognise that not all stress is bad. Without this amazing ability to feel stress, humankind would not have survived. Our cavemen ancestors used the ‘stress response’ to alert them to potential danger: this physiological response gave them the energy to fight or flee the sabre tooth tiger. Today, whilst we no longer have to fight or flee the sabre tooth, stress can positively motivate us to achieve goals and targets; it can also help us react swiftly, for example, if someone crosses unexpectedly in front of our car and we have to slam on the brakes. Sometimes our bodies may go into fight or flee mode in inappropriate situations and this is when stress can impact us negatively. When this happens we can feel anxious, out of control and alone.
Whilst many of us experience high levels of stress, each individual’s experience may be different. Stress targets the weakest part of our physiology or character. If, for example, you are prone to headaches or eczema, stress can cause a flare up; if you have low levels of patience or tolerance for others, this will be the first area to be affected. So, stress can be damaging to our wellbeing, our self-confidence and our relationships. It can also be a significant factor in affecting our mental health, including anxiety and depression and has also been linked to physical health complications, such as heart disease, insomnia and problems with our immune and digestive systems.
Stress can be so varied that there is not one specific “treatment” for it. Individually, we need to identify our personal stressors and learn what steps we can take to manage that stress. However, if you’re finding it hard to cope with things going on in your life and are experiencing lots of signs of stress, there are treatments available that could help, such as talking therapy or medication, amongst others.
Tips for reducing stress
- Talk about your problems – The simple act of talking about sources of stress to a friend, family member, colleague, or by calling a telephone helpline, can help us regain a sense of perspective and feel supported.
- Organise your time – If you feel overwhelmed by work or personal demands, take steps to organise your time. Make a list, determine priorities and set achievable time scales.
- Take time out – If the source of your stress is work-related, take time away from your workspace to feel refreshed and relaxed; aim to take your lunchbreak and, if you can, get some fresh air.
- Accept the things you cannot change – You cannot change everything, so focus on the things in your life you do have control over and adopt a positive mindset.
- Say no – If someone is making unrealistic demands on you, practise being straightforward and assertive.
- Prioritise your health – Eat well, keep hydrated, get a good night’s sleep and get moving. Exercise has been proven to be especially effective in relieving stress.
- Develop interests and hobbies – Try to choose something completely different from the things which cause you stress.
- Nurture your relationships – Make time for those you care about and who care about you.