Managing stress is not rocket science but we have to make it a priority

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (14th- 20th May) is Stress!

85% adults in the UK experience some form of stress, 39% describe themselves as “too stressed”. #

54% people say they’re worried about the impact of their stress on their health. This does not mean stress is not impacting the health of the other 46%, it might be that they are unaware of it! #

Stress is key contributing factor to mental ill-health.

Mental Health services are more stretched than ever, so just imagine, if we removed stress or managed it better, we’d reduce the rates of mental illness and those who need the mental health services would get quality support in a more timely manner and staff within these services would have lower stress levels – it’s win-win!!

Spotting signs of stress

Stress can impact us in all sorts of ways; here are just a few examples:

  • Feeling irritable, anxious, low or tearful
  • Loss of interest or apathy
  • Fatigue and sleeping problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle tension and headaches
  • Social withdrawal
  • Stomach problems
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope

If stress is impacting you’re health, it’s vital to consider whether any changes could be made.

Causes of stress

The thing most likely to cause stress changes as we age, while young adults are more likely to be worried about money, those ages over 55 are more stressed about their health (which is a vicious cycle!). Those aged between 25 and 55 feel stressed about work and money.

A number of factors impact our working life, these are the top causes of stress at work:

  • 44% caused by work load
  • 14% due to lack of support
  • 13% caused by violence, threats or bullying
  • 8% due to changes at work *

At work, some people work better under some degree of pressure, after all, “pressure makes diamonds!” But stress is strain or tension caused by adverse or demanding circumstances – this means it has gone beyond the helpful pressure that makes us work more efficiently, it is having the opposite effects and actually decreases productivity and causes people to get ill.

A lot of causes are beyond our control so it’s how we manage the stress that’s going to be important.

Managing stress

There are no magic answers, we all know how to avoid or reduce stress, it’s nothing complicated but we’re not very good at putting it into action, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to putting ourselves first and looking after ourselves!

For some reason, we put our job or other people above ourselves, we think that it is more important to look after other people; we see it as selfish if we want some ‘me time’ or if we need to ask for help or support.

But think of it this way, if you’re permanently stressed out (even just a little bit) this will have an adverse impact on your health which in turn means you cannot look after other people or be optimally productive in your job. If we all put ourselves first a little bit, it’s for the greater good!

Identify the triggers – ideally avoid them but if that’s not possible, think outside the box, is there any other way around it? We’re under constant pressure to do more work in fewer hours but there may be other ways to improve efficiency without piling on the load! If it isn’t possible to avoid the triggers, at least you’ll be on the lookout and can put other management technique into practice.

Learn to say ‘no’ – why do we find this so hard?! We’re afraid to let people down but those of us who say ‘yes’ all the time get lumbered with all the jobs no-one else wants to do. Trying saying ‘no’ in different ways and the results can be interesting, for example ‘I don’t have time this week but I may be able to do it next week’ communicates that you’re willing but not currently able and if it’s urgent, someone else will need to do it. Just this week someone tried to make their deadline more important than mine, they wanted me to do their job first even though their deadline was 4 hours after mine – I was assertive and simply explained why I was not going to change my priorities.

Develop good time management – this is one of the most important things since managing stress can take time, it’s important to fit it in! It may be about travelling more efficiently, (e.g. going to the gym on the way home rather than making it a separate trip) or making a list of priorities and how long each will take. Time management is a whole separate topic but it’s important when managing stress.

Get more sleep – work out when you need to get up, subtract 9 hours – this is the time you should start getting ready for bed, this gives you 1 hour to wind down fully and get ready for bed. Of course, this may not be possible every night but instead of picking an arbitrary 11pm (for example), we have a time in mind that will help us get the full sleep we need. Having a lie in at the weekend has been proven to be beneficial but only for an hour or 2, sleeping away the whole morning to make up for major sleep deprivation during the week just leads to lethargy.

Exercise 4-5 times per week – people often say they don’t have time but time will not materialize out of thin air – you have to make time! Instead of staying that extra hour at work, go home on time and go for a half hour walk – this will help you sleep, for one and work more efficiently tomorrow. Find an exercise you enjoy, some people love the variety a gym offers, other like the simplicity of walking or jogging, some people need to exercise alone, some with other people – there’s something out there for everyone. Lifting a beer to your lips while watching rugby doesn’t count!

Have some ‘me time’ – everyone enjoys different things; from acrobatics and art appreciation to yoga and zentangle. ‘Me time’ can also be a long soak in a hot bath or walking the dog. This is particular important for introverts in a world designed for extroverts, other people sap our energy and we need time on our own to recharge.

Practice deep breathing and relaxation – there are huge benefits to spending a couple of minutes relaxing and breathing deeply:

  • More oxygen to the brain keeps it healthy and enables clarity of thought and better concentration
  • Reduces muscle tension
  • Lowers blood pressure reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improves posture
  • Releases endorphins, improving mood and decreasing pain
  • Encourages dispersal of harmful toxins

Taking things a step further, mindfulness or meditation can also be helpful.

Take your annual leave – there is nothing heroic about working your annual leave, we have it written into our contracts for a reason – it is vital to have a change of scenery and do something different (even if you ‘just’ stay at home) in order to recharge the batteries – it benefits everyone when you come back refreshed.

Remember, putting yourself first a little bit is for the greater good!

# stats from Forth survey Jan 2018

* stats from HSE survey

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