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Stress Awareness Month: it’s good to talk

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Stress Awareness Month has been observed since 1992 to raise public awareness of the causes, symptoms and cures for stress.

And, with everyone being affected by stress at some point in their lives, Stress Awareness Month remains as important as ever. Here, we highlight how to identify stress, explain why managing it is so important and provide easy-to-implement tips to do just that.

How to spot the signs of stress

When we feel stressed, our bodies prepare us for potential threats by releasing the adrenaline and cortisol hormones. As a result, the first clues that you may be stressed are often physical signs, such as:

  • Tiredness

  • Headaches

  • Upset stomach

These physical clues are often followed by mental indicators, including:

  • Racing thoughts

  • Feeling irritable

  • Worrying about the past or future

And finally, stress can affect behaviour. This can look like:

  • A change in appetite

  • Sleep difficulties

  • Avoiding others

Stress impacts everyone differently, with the above being just a few common examples of how stress can affect our bodies, thoughts and behaviour.

Why is managing stress and anxiety so important?

Stress and anxiety are natural responses that can help us deal effectively with important or urgent situations. However, being regularly overwhelmed by stress can start to affect your mind and body and everyday life. While stress isn’t a mental health problem in itself, it’s closely linked to your mental health and may eventually cause mental health issues or exacerbate existing ones. For example, if you struggle to manage stress over a prolonged period, you could develop anxiety or depression, which in turn could make dealing with everyday situations even more difficult. By managing your body’s natural responses of stress and anxiety and keeping them at healthy levels, you can avoid this vicious cycle and maintain control of your mental wellbeing.

Tips for coping with stress

The good news is that there are countless tried-and-tested ways of managing stress, enabling you to take control of your mental wellbeing. What works for you might not be the same as what works for someone else, but rest assured knowing there are plenty of useful tools that you can add to your own personal mental wellbeing toolkit.

Here are some of our top tips to help manage and cope with stress:

Open up

It’s all too easy to bottle your thoughts and feelings up and think that if you ignore them, they’ll disappear on their own. Unfortunately, the opposite is often true. By opening up, you can ‘vent’ the things that have been causing you stress and relieve some of that internal pressure. Whether talking face-to-face, or connecting via our online wellbeing check in, confiding in a trusted confidante about how you really feel can make a very real difference to your mental wellbeing.

What’s more, opening up to others provides the benefit of outsider perspective. It can be difficult to see things clearly or objectively when you’re in the midst of it all, but someone impartial to your circumstances might be able to approach it from a fresh angle.

Finally, talking to friends and family about how you feel can help them understand you better and foster deeper connection. And, you’ll probably come to realise that there are lots of other people having similar thoughts and feelings to yourself, which can help you feel less isolated.

Identify and control the cause

To continue on from the benefits of opening up, either talking things through with someone or writing could help you identify and control the cause of your stress. Getting your thoughts and feelings out in the open or down on paper can bring clarity to your thoughts; shedding light on the root of your problems and how you might alleviate them. Find out more about the benefits of journaling.

However, tackling the root of your stress may not be a quick or easy task, so you should build up an ‘emotional toolkit’ of coping mechanisms to help manage your stress levels, that you can refer back to it when you need. For example, ‘grounding’ is a helpful technique when you need to give your mind some space to take a break from any stressful thoughts and feelings. It involves going through each of your senses one by one, and focusing on their input - what can you see right now? What can you hear? It may sound simple (and it is), but grounding helps to pull you out of your whirling thoughts and into the present moment.

Move your body in a way you enjoy

The word ‘exercise’ can be daunting, conjuring images of using complicated machines at the gym or pushing your body to the point of being uncomfortable. But exercise can relate to moving your body in any way that you like, and the key is to find a form of exercise that you enjoy so that you stay motivated to do it. Whether it’s getting active with the kids, playing a sport you enjoy, going on walks, and even doing housework or gardening, they all count!

Exercise is a great outlet for letting off steam, and causes chemical changes in your brain, which can help to boost your mood. It’s also a great platform for setting yourself challenges to take on or goals to achieve, giving you a focus outside of your stressful thoughts and raising your self-esteem.

Make time for what you love

Finally, if there’s a certain activity you know helps you feel more relaxed, schedule in time for it. Assign it the same importance as you would a work meeting or medical appointment so you’re not tempted to write it off. It’s all too easy to dismiss activities we do for our own mental wellbeing as ‘unproductive’ or trivial, when in fact the opposite is true. You owe it to yourself to treat yourself with kindness, as you would a friend.

Now you’re armed with the knowledge of how to identify and manage stress, it’s just a case of putting it into practice! For further reading, take a look at our blog post on good and bad coping mechanisms for stress.

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