The phrase ‘Stress Awareness Day’ always makes me laugh a little; after all, who on earth is unaware of their stress? But that’s not what it really means; stress awareness day is more about being aware of the stress others might be experiencing – and how we can do small things to help alleviate it.
There is a wealth of advice online (and available from your Doctor, Counsellor or a mental health representative in your workplace, as well as via charities like Mind) about how to better manage and reduce stress – and some things work better than others, and for others, so the best advice I can give is to try a few different methods and keep doing what works for you.
The obvious first steps are to speak to someone you trust (a friend or loved one, your manager at work, a counsellor or your doctor, if things are really getting on top of you) and to make a plan for changing the things that are stressing you out. If you’re overworked, your manager could help you to move things around and get more down time. If you’re financially stretched, a partner could sit and do a new budget with you to reduce the pressure. If you’re just fizzing with anxiety, some exercise and a decent meal will go a long way.
Exercise is the one that usually annoys me; when I’m feeling overwhelmed and someone suggests I go for a walk, get some fresh air and get my body moving, my blood pumping, and just take a break from computer screens and work, it often irritates me. What’s more irritating is that when I do that, and get the fresh air and a good stomping walk through some woodland, it always helps. Every time. And whoever suggested it was right. How annoying!
The strange reluctance of the stressed to avoid the things we know will help is common – so don’t think you’re alone, or that you’re the only person who grumpily slips into a little bit of self-destruct when you’re overwhelmed. We’re all guilty of it to some extent – and that’s why it’s so important to be honest with how you’re feeling, and how you’re sometimes reluctant to change anything.
But stress can have a hugely negative impact on our health (mental and physical) and can have serious repercussions on our future success, health and potential for contentment. There are always steps we can take to reduce stress – and even when we don’t really want to admit it, we know they help and that we should be giving ourselves a little break.
Breaks, rest and down time
Too many of us are guilty of pushing ourselves too much, for too long. Working long hours, eating lunch at our desk, committing to too many things that burn us out.
It’s absolutely vital to take breaks, regularly and consistently. Take proper breaks, away from your desk, from your screens, from the bombardment of information we are subjected to in our everyday lives. Step outside, sit somewhere peaceful, breathe real air and give yourself chance to just exist outside of what you’re doing or achieving, and just be.
I know. I KNOW. Ugh. But, as I said above, it really does help – even (if not especially) at the times we least want to do it. Now, I’m not saying you need to commit to a gym routine and build yourself a solid 6 pack with bulging biceps – but a ten minute stroll in the outdoors can make a huge difference in your mental wellbeing and your ability to manage stress.
Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and in our busy modern lives it can be hard to find a way to fit that in, but making your own needs a priority means that you’ve got more in the bank to give to everything else, so really there’s no good enough excuse.
Walk to work, walk the dog, get the couch to 5k app, buy a mini trampoline, follow a YouTube yoga video, join a dance class – whatever it is, pick something that makes you smile, and try to make it a regular part of your routine so you are getting your heart pumping and boosting the happy hormones that keep your body and mind running smoothly.
Hands up who has lain awake late into the night, thinking about mistakes made in the past, worrying about things we should have done and haven’t, or dreading tomorrow’s to-do list…? Yeah – me too, and it’s so damaging.
Sleep is the best ingredient for mental (and, again, physical) health – and it’s vital for our bodies to recover from the exertion of the day and heal small hurts, build new cells, process the general functions that keep things ticking along. It’s also vital for our minds to process everything we’ve been doing, store away memories, tidy up thoughts and organise everything we’ve experienced. Sleep deprivation is incredibly harmful, and over time consistently getting too little sleep increases the chances of heart disease, reduces our productivity and wellbeing, makes us irritable and disorganised, and causes all manner of problems.
Prioritising sleep means you might need to change your routine; avoid any kind of screen for an hour before bed, drink a warm herbal tea, spend some time reading a favourite book, have a warm bath, whatever it is that winds you down and gets your relaxation going so that your mind recognises that now is the time to switch off. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep, and maintain a similar schedule even if you’re tempted by a massive weekend lie in or a late night now and then.
It’s been a really difficult couple of years, and it’s no surprise that statistics show that stress levels have increased nationally, with more people than ever reporting that they are experiencing stress and struggling to manage it.
The more openly we can speak about the stress we are experiencing, and the more we can support each other with it, the better we will all cope, and the more likely we will be to thrive beyond this period of history.
If you would like me to write more articles on how to better manage stress send me a message or respond on my social media channels and I will create some downloadable content for you to use in your own lives.
If you are struggling with stress and need someone safe to speak with, please get in touch – you can contact me through this website, through Facebook, LinkedIn or email on firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me on 07849 037095 (you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person)4rf because I can help you to process the things you are feeling overwhelmed with and make a plan for moving through them, and building a more resilient tomorrow.