Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, this week is Mental Health Awareness Week (14th-20th May 2018) focusing this year on stress. This is caused by our bodies reaction to pressures of an event or situation around us – you know, that ‘flight-or-fight’ response where your palms may go sweaty, your heart races a bit faster and your mind feels as though its running a million miles an hour? Maybe you’ve got a study deadline, you’re running late for your train, or your workload is just getting a little bit too much to handle. We’ve all been there and it affects every one of us at some point in our lives.
Stress can have a negative consequence on various aspects of general health and well-being, not just mental health. Health report that 70% of visits to the GP and 80% of serious illnesses are linked to stress. The Mental Health Foundation argue that by tackling stress, you help tackle mental health problems such as anxiety & depression.
(Image by the Mental Health Foundation)
Individuals can manage stress in different ways, unhelpful coping mechanisms which can worsen health outcomes include smoking or drinking alcohol. However, not all stress management techniques are unhealthy. Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster argues that good stress management includes building emotional resilience, taking control of the root cause of stress, having a supportive social network and adopting a positive outlook.
Here are some healthy suggestions of how to practice Professor Cooper’s ideas effectively;
Recognise The Root Cause
To take control of the root cause, you first need to recognise what this may be. Focus on why you may be feeling stressed and evaluate whether or not this could be managed in a different way. An example would be for workplace stressors; could you manage your time better? Simple ways to manage this would be to prioritise your workload from most urgent to least urgent or to communicate more effectively with your colleagues.
Connect With Others
Having a support network is helpful for anyone, especially those affected with poor mental health. A support network can come from family, friends, partners, colleagues, loved-ones. Individuals can also connect with professionals for specialist support such as doctors or charity workers.
I probably recommend this in 90% of my blog posts. My short post ‘Selfish or Selfless’ discusses how self-care is a protective factor for health, with reference to stress. A time-out from stressors can help manage the physical consequences of the ‘flight or fight’ response and help to have a positive-outlook on matters. Healthy self-care measures can include reading a book, practicing yoga or going for a brisk walk.
Get Some Sleep
Is there anything worse than tackling a situation when you’re absolutely exhausted? Yes, stress can cause a restless night’s sleep but in taking time-out to wind-down before bed can help in getting a good night’s kip. I’ve posted about the importance of sleep before and how important this is in my post ‘Time To Catch Some ZZZ’s?‘. Big Health also report sleep to be beneficial in building emotional resilience as Professor Cooper suggests. They explain how the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response) becomes hyper-reactive with a lack of REM sleep.
Not only can getting active help with physical fitness, the NHS have reported research findings which suggest that any form of daily activity is linked to a lower risk of psychological distress. This can vary from a brisk walk, running, swimming, playing hockey, even boxing.
Remember, not all stress is bad. Stress can provide motivation to perform better and succeed, but managing this in a healthier way can help to protect your mental health and well-being.