This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 14th to 20th May, and this time, the focus is on stress. Research has shown that around two thirds of people suffer from mental ill health at some point in their life, and stress is a major cause.
What is stress?
Stress is pressure that you’re exposed to day to day. It could be caused by work pressures, family problems, or money worries, and when stress builds up it can cause some very negative physical and emotional symptoms.
Is a bit of stress good for you?
A little bit of stress can be motivating, but only if its temporary. If stress is prolonged, that’s when it causes real problems. Prolonged stress weakens the immune system, causes digestive problems and mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
Are you stressed?
Everyone is different, but here are some common signs of stress
- Feeling constantly worried or anxious
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling unable to concentrate
- Experiencing mood swings
- Feeling irritable
- Eating more or less than usual
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Drinking or smoking more
- Experiencing aches and pains
If you have any or all of these symptoms for more than a few weeks, you should speak to your GP for advice.
Managing and reducing stress in your life
It’s impossible to completely avoid stress, so the best thing you can do is to build resilience against it so you’re more able to cope. Here are some ways to protect yourself against stress in your life:
You are what you eat, and this applies to your mood too. There’s an increasing amount of evidence that what we eat is closely linked to our mood, so you can improve your chances of feeling better by making sure you get eat enough fruit and veg for vitamins and minerals, and some oily fish. Omega 3 fatty acids in oily fish can help to keep the brain healthy and prevent low mood.
When you’re stressed, you might end up smoking more or drinking more alcohol, and neither are good for your physical or emotional health. Rather than reducing stress, they can make it worse and cause more problems like addiction.
Exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress, especially if you’re out in the fresh air. Taking a gentle walk among nature is one of the best stress-relievers there is.
Have some ‘me’ time
You might spend your life running around after other people, but you also have a responsibility to yourself. Take time out to do things that you enjoy and that you find relaxing. Learn to say no and learn to know when you need a break.
Being mindful is about being aware of our thoughts and feelings but not judging them or allowing them to overwhelm us. It might seem like it’s easier said than done, but if you practice it regularly, you’ll learn to be able to manage difficult situations and feelings a whole lot better. Research has found that mindfulness meditation can reduce stress, anxiety, insomnia, and low mood.
Get a good night’s sleep
Trouble sleeping is a common problem when you’re stressed. Try getting into a good bedtime routine, and make sure that your bedroom is comfortable enough for sleeping. If your mind is working overtime when you’re in bed, get up and do something that’s not too stimulating such as reading or listening to relaxing music. You can also try having a notepad next to the bed, so you can write worries down. They’re better out of your head and down on paper.
Be kind to yourself
Everyone has bad days; not every day we spend on earth is full of sunshine and happiness. That is life. If you’re having a bad day, or your inner critic starts tearing strips off you, stop and think. If you told a friend the same things you tell yourself, you’d feel terrible, so act as if you are your own good friend. Give yourself a break, appreciate the good things in your life, and try to keep some perspective.
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