International Stress Awareness Week runs from the 1st to the 5th of November 2021. The aim of this week is to raise awareness of stress-related mental health issues, including the stigma associated with this condition and the importance of stress management.
Millions around the UK experience stress and it is damaging to our health and wellbeing. For example, at some point in the last year, 74% of us have felt so stressed that we have felt unable to cope (Mental Health Foundation).
What is stress?
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. When you are stressed, your body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Stress is your body’s reaction to help you deal with pressure or threats. This is sometimes called a "fight or flight" response. Your stress hormone levels usually return to normal once the pressure or threat has passed.
A small amount of stress can be useful. It can motivate you to take action and get tasks completed. It can also make you feel alive and excited. But too much stress can cause negative effects such as a change in your mood, your body and relationship issues.
These can include feelings of constant worry, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, irritability, depression, change in eating habits, muscle tension, diarrhoea and constipation and feelings of nausea or dizziness.
If you’re stressed due to work, your environment, an issue in your personal life or something else, the first step you can take to feeling better is to identify the cause of your concern. If you can understand the root of your worries, making a change to address the situation can be quick and easy.
But, for most of us, it can take time to reduce stress and anxiety - especially if you need to make impactful changes to your life. Here are some steps you can try to help you reduce stress and anxiety:
One: Take some exercise
Being active is not only good for health and fitness, but evidence shows it can improve mental wellbeing by:
- Causing a release of chemicals in the brain, which can positively change your mood
- Clearing negative thoughts and letting you deal with problems more calmly
- Helping you to set goals and targets
- Giving you an achievable goal; low to moderate intensity exercise can work as well as high intensity to reduce stress and anxiety
Two: Avoid unhealthy habits
Alcohol, smoking, caffeine, fast food and sweet treats (when consumed above the recommended levels) are poor coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety.
- Government guidelines recommend no more than 14 units of alcohol a week for men and women. This is equivalent to 6 pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine. Lowering or removing alcohol entirely from your diet can directly reduce your stress and anxiety
- Cut down or stop smoking if you do
- It’s recommended that you reduce your caffeine intake if you’re stressed or anxious. Try de-caffeinated drinks, or abstain from caffeine after midday, to help improve relaxation closer to bedtime
Three: Take time out
- Take time to relax
- Explore relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, yoga or breathing exercises
- Tell yourself that it’s okay to prioritise self-care. Take a break from stressful situations where and when you can
- Take regular breaks from work
- Eat lunch away from your desk while at work
Four: Get some restful sleep
- Improve your sleeping environment by removing distractions, such as the TV and electronic gadgets with continuous light, from the bedroom
- Switch off electronic screens at least an hour before going to sleep; the earlier the better
- Adjust your sleeping environment if it’s too hot or cold, or if there’s too much light or noise – eye masks and ear plugs can help
- Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine and sugary snacks close to bedtime
On 3 November it is also National Stress Awareness Day. We all know what it’s like to feel stressed and being under pressure is a normal part of life. But being overwhelmed by stress can lead to mental health problems or make existing problems worse.
There are many tips and ideas that can work to reduce your stress and anxiety. Some of these lifestyle changes will work better for you than others. Goal setting, writing things down and keeping a diary can also help you to make these changes, plus they’re good for reducing stress and anxiety themselves.
Published on 02 November 2021