April is Stress Awareness Month
Stress & Your Mental Health
The first Stress Awareness Month was in April 1992 and it has been held every year since then. According to the Mental Health Foundation 74% of adults living in the UK have felt so stressed at some point over the last 12 months, that they felt completely overwhelmed or unable to cope. That figure has really shocked me, but I'm guessing that it is so high because of concerns over coronavirus, people not being able to socialise, losing their jobs, etc. I feel quite strongly about mental health issues, and know that stress can cause a lot of other problems if it isn't recognised. So for the whole of April I'm going to do some extra Googling to find some tried and trusted ways to reduce stress, and share them with you. And if I can help one person de-stress just a little, then that's a good thing.
Stress is a significant factor in mental health problems including anxiety and depression. It is also linked to physical health problems like heart disease, problems with our immune system, insomnia and digestive problems. Individually we need to understand what is causing us personal stress and learn what steps we can take to reduce it for ourselves and those around us - www.stress.org.uk
What is Stress?
They say that some stress isn't necessarily a bad thing, otherwise our cavemen ancestors probably wouldn't have survived. Imagine if they'd had zero stress levels when there was a sabre-toothed tiger close by! When you're stressed, the body thinks it's being attacked and releases a mix of hormones and chemicals, such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, that get your body ready to fight or run. It was these hormones that gave our distant caveman relatives a rush of energy, to either fight the tiger or run away. (Hmm, I think I would be the runner, not the fighter).
In today's world, ‘fight or flight’ can still help us survive dangerous or threatening situations, like when you slam the brakes on when someone runs in front of your car. However, if your body goes into a state of stress in non-stressful situations blood flow is altered and brain function is minimised. That's why some people say that they can't think straight when they're under pressure. If we feel stressed for any length of time, that's when it has a knock on effect and cause other health problems. For example high cortisol levels can increase sugar and blood pressure levels. On the other hand, instead of 'flight' our hormones might make us feel like we should 'fight' instead. We might get more aggressive towards other people, and although it might have helped our ancestors fight off tigers, stress in the wrong situations could have a serious impact on our personal and business relationships.
Recognising the signs
There are a few signs to look out for if you think that you or someone you know might be suffering from stress. Obviously we can all have ‘bad days’, so I'm talking about where people might show these signs over a few days in a row. But the sooner we recognise the problem, the sooner it can hopefully be mended.
Lack of concentration
Starts tasks, but doesn't finish them
Drinking and/or smoking more
Panics at the slightest thing
Shows signs of anxiety
Aches and pains
High blood pressure
Isolating themselves from others and not wanting to socialise
Sleeping too much, or not enough
Loss of sense of humour
Prolonged stress undoubtedly makes people ill. It is now known to contribute to heart disease, hypertension and high blood pressure. It affects the immune system, is linked to strokes, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), ulcers, diabetes, muscle and joint pain, miscarriage, allergies, alopecia and even premature tooth loss. www.stress.org.uk
Test your stress level
I found a simple online test, so you can check your current stress levels. It's probably one of the better ones I could find. It uses the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) which is a highly recognised psychological tool for measuring the perception of stress, and widely used by the NHS and other medical services.
There is a lot of useful information out there, and like I said earlier, I think it's important we recognise the signs and work out ways to reduce our stress levels. Some activities will work better for some than for others, but it's a case of finding out what works best for you.
If you have got a favourite way to get from 'stressed to de-stressed' I'd love to hear it, and you might even get a mention in the next blog !
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