It’s been nearly 30 years since the very first Stress Awareness Month, but according to its organisers, stress.org.uk, we are no closer to combating the UK’s stress epidemic – especially after a year of living through numerous lockdowns and a global pandemic.
The Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of UK adults ‘have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.’
With lockdown measures set to ease further in April, here’s why Stress Awareness Month is important and how to use the relaxation of the rules to help reduce any stress you might feel as a result of the pandemic.
What is Stress Awareness Month?
Founded in 1992, Stress Awareness Month is held every April to increase awareness about the causes of stress and cures for our modern stress epidemic.
Stress.org.uk explains that ‘stress is one of the great public health challenges of our time, but it still isn’t being taken as seriously as physical health concerns.’
As well as triggering a myriad of mental health problems including anxiety and depression, stress is also ‘linked to physical health problems’ too, such as ‘ heart disease, problems with our immune system, insomnia, and digestive problems.’
How can I reduce my stress levels?
Chartered psychologist, qualified FIRO-B, and NLP Practitioner Dr. Audrey Tang says that while stress is a part of life, it’s important to find ways to refocus, build resilience, and manage stress so as to reduce its effect on us emotionally and physically.
Here, the mental health and wellness expert shares some exercises to do to help reduce your stress:
Remember what makes you happy and engage in it
Just because we have responsibilities and priorities doesn’t mean that we cannot also enjoy life at the same time.
Perhaps if you have not engaged in a hobby for a while, try it again and see if you can incorporate it into your life – maybe even inviting your family and friends to participate too. I
Learn to say no!
If you cannot say no directly, then work out and practice some statements which can buy you time such as ‘I’ll tell you at x o’clock.’; or ‘I can do it, but only for five minutes’.
As an alternative, signpost them somewhere. If you say yes to everything and if you have spread yourself too thinly not only does the quality of your work suffer, but you may begin to resent the people you originally wanted to help.
It is not your job to rescue others, and if you don’t do it, they will still find a way to make whatever it is work if they want it enough.
The Gratitude stretch
When you wake, stretch your arms and think of one thing you are grateful to have.
Stretch your legs and think of one person you are grateful to know.
Finally, stretch your whole body and think of one thing you are looking forward to today. This keeps you focused in there, here, now – and on what you have.
Try some informal mindfulness
- When out walking listen to birdsong
- When out walking, take a moment to feel the warmth of the sun
- When having a drink, take a moment to appreciate the sensation as it quenches your thirst
- When eating take a moment to savour the taste – and see if you can recognise the multitude of flavours
- Treat yourself, just because (but be aware of your finances)
- Wear something that is uniquely expressive of you (even if it is not obviously displayed)
- Have photos of people – or things – that you love around you (many people say ‘they are on my phone’ – but just a simple quick glance at an object of affection can generate oxytoxin, the bonding hormone.)
Keep evergreens – or use your other senses to support feelings of relaxation
Not only does pine smell lovely, but researchers at Kyoto university in Japan found that healthy volunteers who strolled through a pine forest for 15 minutes a day reported more positive ratings on a mood scale compared with those who did not.
Sadly for most, this is not practical. But, inhaling lavender or rose oil dabbed on a cloth has been shown to have a relaxing effect.
Make your stress response work for you
- Listen to your body – No-one can ever be more of an expert on our bodies than ourselves, and yet we so often ignore the signs when it is struggling. Becoming more aware of what triggers any of the stress responses mentioned can help us avoid them – or deal with them before they begin to get worrisome – in future situations.
- Look after your body physically – With stress producing a physiological response, physical care can be just as important as emotional and mental support for building resilience to stress. Eating sensibly, sleeping well and simple things such as taking breaks can help our bodies function better, after all, we often ask a lot of them so we would do well to look after them.
- Make tiny changes to your routine – If we can recognise that perhaps on a certain day a particular route on our commute is difficult we can choose to leave earlier, or perhaps find a different direction or means of travel. If certain people cause us to feel uncomfortable, perhaps reduce the amount of time we see them. If our jobs are causing these unpleasant feelings, then consider what the alternative options are.
‘Being aware of what our body is saying comes first, doing something about it is an important next step.’
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author of new book The Leader’s Guide to Resilience
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Author: Rachael Martin