With April marking the start of Stress Awareness Month, it’s vital we know and understand leading causes and coping strategies when we are struggling with the challenges of a stress epidemic. Since 1992, April Stress Awareness Month is also a chance to raise awareness of the need to seek support, understand how stress manifests, and acknowledge triggers and threats to manage feelings of anxiety.
- Causes of stress and how it affects us
Stress can cause anxiety, loneliness and isolation, lowering personal wellbeing and impacting people’s health; millions of people around the UK are experiencing high levels of stress, damaging their health. In the past year, 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope: 51% of adults who felt stressed reported feeling depressed, and 61% feeling anxious – 37% of adults who reported feeling stressed also said feeling lonely, according to mentalhealth.org.uk.
Among behavioural effects, 46% had problems overeating, 29% said they started drinking or increased their drinking, and 16% started or increased their smoking. People between 18-24 years old who have experienced high levels of stress felt that comparing themselves to others was a source of stress. Younger people also had higher stress issues related to the pressure to succeed, whilst 36% of women related high-stress levels with their appearance and body image, compared to 23% of men. The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2020 and 2021 was at a prevalence rate of 2,480 per 100,000 workers, according to hse.gov.uk.
- Understanding stress
We all perceive stress differently based on how resilient or vulnerable we might feel at a particular stage. Among the first clues about being stressed are physical signs, such as tiredness, increased heart rate, headaches or an upset stomach – or any other anxiety feelings’ telling’ your body to perceive and react to something that could be dangerous.
When we feel stressed, we often find it hard to sleep due to the body struggling to produce our sleepy hormone, melatonin, in the evening. As a result, we might struggle to eat well, resulting in a poor diet. This and lack of sleep can affect our physical health, making us feel more stressed emotionally.
Also, when we feel anxious, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline, the body’s automatic fight, flight or freeze response of preparing to respond to a threat. So if you experience stress often, you’re probably producing high levels of these hormones, which can make you feel physically unwell and affect your health in the longer term.
It’s common to mistake stress for pressure or ‘positive stress’. However, when placed under pressure, the adrenaline hormone produced gives us energy and excitement to tackle the many demands.
Pressure is a normal part of life, but we might feel overwhelmed if exposed to too much pressure. In addition, we can experience burnout and negative feelings affecting day to day life.
- TOP TIPS to help you tackle and manage stress levels:
– Exercise: Movement and working out are the best ways to relax your body and mind and improve your mood. It can be regularly or when you experience stress most. When you’re stressed, your muscles get tense. So help loosen and refresh with stretching, brisk walks in nature, or a visit to your local gym and wellbeing centre. To stay motivated, you can set fitness goals, but remember that any movement and exercise is better than none.
– Keep track of when you feel stressed in a journal and notice if there is a pattern of when your stress appears. Make a note of when you become most stressed or anxious to identify better the pattern repeating.
If things are stressing you, talking about them can help lower your stress. Verbally express your feelings to friends, family or colleagues. Talking out how you feel can help you understand the urgency or danger of what is perceived.
– Eliminate stress triggers. Figure out what are the biggest causes of stress in your life. Is it your job, issues at home, or maybe your commute? If you can identify what they are, see if you can reduce or even eliminate them from your life.
– It’s essential to seek advice when struggling with stress. And feeling if you feel your stress levels are becoming too challenging to manage. It can be from your GP, a wellbeing advisor, instructors and specialists at your local wellbeing and fitness centre.
- Positive coping strategies from our Wellbeing experts
When the body reacts to stress, its response puts us at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, generally feeling exhausted, impatient, irritated and anxious. Therefore, you must adopt positive coping strategies that help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is linked to ‘rest and digest’. We recommend remembering this as ‘relax and distress’.
Throughout April, our instructors will share their experiences of when they feel stressed and, most importantly, their top stress relievers and positive coping strategies. Below are a few factors we should focus on when activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Aim to release “feel good” hormones. You can do this through exercise, nutritious food, spending time with friends and family or indulging in your favourite form of self-care.
- Choose an activity you gain enjoyment. For example, if you don’t enjoy running or the local choir is not for you, experiment with other activities to discover what brings you joy and happiness.
- Preserve energy. Life can become very hectic when juggling demands, people, work, home life, etc. So take it slowly, enjoy downtime each day, say no when needed, and aim to cultivate a healthy bedtime routine to maximise sleep time.
- OneWellness Team Top Stress busting tips:
Alasdair Everest-Ford, Head of OneWellness: “Set aside time for things you enjoy. Try to do something every day that makes you feel good, and it will help relieve your stress. It doesn’t have to be a ton of time; even 15 to 20 minutes will do. For example, I play the guitar to reduce stress”.
Vicky Fytche, Wellbeing Delivery Manager: “My top stress relief would be to ‘switch off’ when we can. Most people are in a high-pressure working environment with lots of daily demands, so switching off at 5 pm and not switching back on until 8 am can cause more stress than relief. For me, it’s about taking full advantage of the times we can switch off, enjoying relaxation and social time with those around us, so we feel re-energised and motivated for that week ahead”.
Sally-Ann Lewis, Wellbeing Development Manager: “I have so many, but picking my number one would be taking an hour every day to power down and walk my little dog, Olive. That lunchtime pause and reset allow me to find a second wave of energy to motivate me through the day’s rest. If an hour isn’t achievable, work with what time you have; even a walk around the block is a great opportunity to take some time away”.
Megan Brooks, Lead Coach: “A few minutes of mindful meditation, even just as simple as sitting on the floor, closing my eyes and taking ten deep breaths to clear my mind. I am also a big fan of reading in a quiet, cosy room with a hot cup of peppermint tea, a sure-fire way to relieve stress and slow down. My other favourite stress reliever is walking outside with my dog Travis, ideally in nature”.
We would love to hear from you with your top stress relievers so please drop us an email or via social media.