10 Ways to reduce stress levels
Most of us are aware of the link between our actions and our physical health. We know that if we drink too much alcohol we are likely to get a hangover and that if we don’t apply sunblock in hot weather, we will get sunburned.
Far too few of us have the same understanding of the link between our actions and our mental health. We often expose ourselves to stressful situations without preparation and without support. When we subsequently start to experience low mood or anxiety, we see our predicament as being somehow outside of our control.
Instead, just as you can proactively look after your physical health, there are 10 key things we can do to protect our mental health.
10 ways to stay mentally healthy
By encouraging employees to put the following measures in place, you can not only reduce their stress levels, but also reduce the risk of them becoming mentally unwell to start with. If you expect life to get a bit rocky, it’s essential to protect your mental health by taking some of the following precautions before things get too much:
Talk about your feelings
Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a proven way of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy. Try to get into the habit of telling others how you’re feeling and asking them how they are on a regular basis.
Do things you love
Enjoying yourself not only feels great, but also encourages you to do things you’re good at, boosting your self-esteem. Concentrating on a hobby or learning a new skill also means you can empty your head of your worries for a while to regain fresh perspective.
Accept who you are
Being happy with who you are will enhance your self-esteem. Try to live in the moment and enjoy life to the full. Instead of beating yourself up over what you can’t do, try to embrace what you can do and surround yourself with people who value this.
Exercise has been proven to release chemicals into the brain that make you feel good. If you feel flat, you probably won’t be motivated to join a gym, but exercise includes walks in the park and taking the stairs. Start by doing something small and build up.
Care for others
Helping others can make us feel valued, needed and part of a community. Caring for others is an important part of building and sustaining friendships and relationships. Helping out with a local charity or caring for a pet can also boost your mental health.
Just as your body needs a range of nutrients and vitamins to stay well, your brain also needs a healthy diet for you to feel good. Keep yourself hydrated and try to eat three healthy meals a day, including lots of fruit and vegetables, and healthy snacks.
Stay in touch
It’s easy to lose touch with people or substitute occasional text messages for spending quality time with family and friends who can make you feel cared for. If there isn’t time to see someone face-to-face, try to pick up the phone, Skype or Facetime for a proper catch-up.
Take a break
Even if you just take a couple of minutes a day to find the horizon and empty your mind, taking a break is an incredibly powerful way to reduce your stress levels. It’s also important to take regular breaks at work, including at least half an hour for lunch.
It’s all too easy to use alcohol or other substances to change your mood and help you cope with feelings of low self-worth, fear or loneliness. But the positive effects of alcohol are short-lived and the long term effects can be dangerous.
Ask for help
If things get too much and you feel like you can’t cope, ask for help. If talking to family and friends isn’t enough, you can call your Employee Assistance Programme to talk to an emotional counsellor or financial, legal or debt expert, in confidence. Source: Mental Health Foundation
Why don’t we naturally look after our mental health?
It’s relatively simple to start proactively managing your mental health and reduce your risk of becoming debilitated with disorders such as stress, anxiety or depression. It’s just that most of us simply aren’t in the habit of doing so.
When we physically exert ourselves by doing an exercise class, walking up a hill or going on a long journey, we’re mindful of the toll it’s taking on our body, and allow ourselves to rest and recover afterwards. But when we force ourselves to meet an intense deadline or take part in a difficult meeting, we tend to plough into the next thing, instead of allowing ourselves the opportunity to recover by taking a brief break to chat to a friend or go for a short walk.
If you know you’re going to be taking on a big project, moving house or going through a big change in your personal circumstances, don’t wait until you start to feel emotionally unwell before taking steps to protect your mental health. It’s far better to proactively talk to friends, join a local community group or set aside regular time for yourself before the going gets tough.
What can employers do to help?
Employers have a critical role to play in changing attitudes to proactively managing mental health to prevent the prevalence of mental health issues in the workplace, instead of just putting in place measures to address them once they arise.
Essential to this is having a clearly defined policy that spells out what the health of the workforce should look like and how this will be managed. This might include measures ranging from monthly resilience workshops or educating employees on staying mentally healthy to inducting all new employees in the 10 ways to stay mentally healthy.
At the very least, it’s good to have a proactive statement of what the organisation believes wellbeing is and how it wants this to be demonstrated.
Finally a holistic approach is essential. If an employee is feeling so tense and anxious about work that they develop muscle tension, is it the musculoskeletal or psychological factors that are to blame? Only if all the services are properly integrated and working together will the physiotherapist recognise the need - and know how - to refer the employee to the Employee Assistance Programme for emotional counselling to stop their muscle tension from reoccurring.