April is Stress Awareness Month, therefore a perfect time to focus on ways to deal with stress in our lives.
Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure. It often comes from a mixture of large and small stresses that can build up slowly over time, sometimes we may not be aware of how stressed we are until we get to a breaking point
A good analogy to understand stress is the stress container, as stress flows into our container everything from illness to who has done the washing up! our container can become full and as we overflow we may feel unable to cope. A helpful activity to start bringing awareness to your stress is to list what is in your stress container- maybe some of the following:
· Juggling work/home
Stress is a natural response to new or uncertain situations, even good things like moving home or a new job can cause us to feel stressed. Our body produces stress hormones that trigger a fight or flight response and activate our immune system, as soon as a stressful event is over our body returns to normal with no lasting impact. But when we live with long-term stress, we can get stuck in permanent fight or flight, impacting both our mental and physical health.
You may feel stress is just a part of life and you cannot do anything about it, but it can have a negative impact on our health so it is important to improve our awareness and reactions. As you can see below stress can affect all areas of our lives.
Once you have brought awareness to everything in your container we can start to work on how to manage it. Firstly, can we change how we respond?
Are there things in your stress container that you can let go of? In the scheme of life does it matter if the washing up isn’t done today or to your “standard” What are the things in your stress container that are not that important- could we loosen our relationship with them.
What in your stress container is not within your control? Are you constantly worrying about how other people are behaving regarding social distancing or what will happen next with the pandemic? We have no control over those actions- refocus on what you can control- your behaviour, whether you watch the news constantly or scroll through social media.
What in your container do you need to accept at the moment? Maybe a health condition or the fact you can’t go on holiday abroad. Once we stop internally fighting and accept we change our relationship to the issue and it can feel lighter.
If none of the above apply can you change your response to the situation? E.g you are worrying about a work project and stuck in procrastination- can you ask for support or break the project into small tasks and reward yourself with a break after completion of one small section.
Apart from our reactions to stress all of the below can also support you:
Try to eat healthily, get enough sleep, and cut down on drinking and smoking. These will all help you feel more able to cope with life's challenges.
Say no to extra tasks at work or home if you are feeling overwhelmed and stick to it! Ask for help and share the load- stop being a martyr, no one can do everything.
Even short amounts of physical exercise, such as walking 20 mins can produce endorphins that boost mood and reduce stress. Aim to get moving in a way that works for you most days.
Has life become one huge to do list that is impossible to ever reach the end. Prioritise your self care, take time for things you enjoy-hobbies, time with friends, relaxing, time alone.
Mindfulness and Gratitude
Starting a mindfulness practice can reduce stress and noticing the small things you are grateful for can also support your brain to focus on the positives rather than stresses.
Talk to someone
If you are struggling share with family, friends, or a professional. Feeling stressed can be completely overwhelming but sharing can help perspective, prioritise your focus and gain some much needed support. You can access professional support via your workplace employee assistance programme or NHS talking therapies service.
Stress is natural but it does not have to be overwhelming. Small steps can make big changes and everything starts with a small step.
For more information on managing stress, The Mental Health Foundation has a great free to download booklet full of practical ideas. You can find it here