April is Stress Awareness Month, and Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub is joining with health care professionals and health promotion experts across the country in profiling public awareness about both the causes and cures of stress.
Mental Health Foundation advises that approximately three-quarters of UK adults feel so stressed at some point each year that they feel overwhelmed or unable to cope. Add the implications of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic into the mix, and it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the country is in the grip of a modern stress epidemic.
To bring the subject into focus, Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992. The thirty-day campaign seeks to give people a better understanding about stress, encourage compassion to those affected and spotlight stress-relieving techniques and support services.
Every day, thousands of people in Greater Cumbernauld are experiencing high levels of stress and it is damaging their health. Stress is one of the great public health challenges of our time, but it still isn’t being taken as seriously as physical health concerns.
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.
Some common stressors include experiencing something new or surprising, something that you perceive to threaten your capabilities or character and lack of control over a situation. We come across these stressors in many different environments. Examples of areas of life that can affect our stress levels include work, family, health and finances, to name a few.
Today, we are battling new stressors as we try to navigate our new normal in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It is natural to feel worried about becoming ill or our job security, especially when surrounded by news regarding death tolls and economic recession, and we’re isolated from our loved ones.
Each person will have a different resistance to stress. Our bodies produce stress hormones (cortisol and catecholamines) that trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response. This can be both positive and negative; sometimes stress motivates us and helps us achieve our goals, but there are times when exposure to stressors becomes too frequent or too intense to deal with. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Typically, we respond to these stressors with physical, emotional and behavioural responses. Physical responses can often manifest through symptoms like headaches, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, sexual dysfunction and sleeping problems. Emotionally, stress can cause depression, panic attacks, anxiety and other forms of worry. Behaviourally, stress can become harmful when people respond with unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive drinking or comfort eating.
Nobody is immune to stress, yet we don’t always notice when it is happening to us. Since stress is a normal part of human existence, it is important to arm ourselves with knowledge so that we recognise when stress rears its ugly head. If you are someone who feels stressed a lot of the time, learning some simple coping strategies can make a huge difference to your quality of life.
Although stress is normal, it can be quite challenging to overcome. There are a number of self-help techniques which can be applied by individuals to help cope with stress, build resilience and lead a happier life. In the section below, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub considers and presents 10 stress-busting tips.
MANAGING STRESS: STEPS THAT CAN BE PRACTISED TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE
Maintain A Positive Attitude
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Having a positive, optimistic attitude helps you cope more easily with day-to-day stress. Do you really need to worry? Make sure you challenge those unhelpful thoughts. Try to keep things in perspective. Look for things in your life that are positive and allow those good thoughts to consume your mind in a healthy way, rather than always thinking about the negative.
The feeling of not being in control is one of the main causes of stress. Taking control is empowering. It helps you find a solution that benefits you. Combat your stressors by identifying those with a possible practical solution, those that may get better over time, and those you can’t do anything about. Take control by taking small steps towards the things you can improve. Accept the things that you can’t change and concentrate on the things you can control.
Manage Your Time
Learning how to manage your time can help you feel more relaxed and in control, whether at work or at home. Are you taking on too much? Ask for help. Try creating a ‘to do list’, prioritise tasks and plan your day. Make sure you take time out as well though. This will help to break your day up into easier chunks and help to you keep focussed.
Avoid Unhealthy Habits
Ensure that you don’t rely on substances, smoking, overeating and even caffeine to relieve your stress. These habits may seem like a good coping mechanism at the time, but in the long-term can be detrimental. Using an unhealthy habit as a crutch can lead to addiction and doesn’t tackle the root cause of your stress.
Take Time For Yourself
Whether it’s once a week or once a day, taking time out for yourself benefits your physical and emotional health. Meditation, relaxation and mindfulness apps, yoga, aromatherapy, massage and breathing exercises can all be used to help you relax. Take time each day to think about the positive things in your life. Not all stress-relief exercises work for everyone, so experiment with different ideas until you find something that’s right for you.
Social support builds people up during times of stress and enables us to cope better. Having a network of family and friends is vitally important in helping us deal with stressful situations. Poor social support has been linked to anxiety and loneliness has been shown to increase the risk of depression, suicide, substance use and cardiovascular disease. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, there are still ways to connect with others digitally, such as through joining a club, enrolling on a course or volunteering.
Look After Your Body As Well As Your Mind
A healthy diet and exercise are two factors that have a positive impact on mental health. When you are stressed, it can be easy to fall into bad eating habits. In this respect, fruits and vegetables are always good and don’t make you feel guilty after eating them. Exercise, whether it’s a home workout, a walk in the park or cycling with the family, is good for your mind and mood.
Improve Your Sleep
Fatigue, the inability to think straight or concentrate and other symptoms of sleep deprivation can make you feel stressed. Do what you can to maximise your sleep. Wind down with screen-free time before bed and practice breathing and relaxation techniques to help you drop off. Keep your bedroom as a cool, calm haven with no reminders of the work you have yet to do lying about the place.
Keep A Journal
It can be common to remember only the bad things and focus on what didn’t go right instead of what went well. Keeping a journal where you write your thoughts down and always recording successes and things you are grateful for will make sure the positive things are foremost in your mind. This acts as a reminder that whatever stress there is, good things are still happening to you and you are still progressing and succeeding in life.
Access A Helpline
If you are finding that feelings of stress, anxiety and worry are overwhelming you or someone you know at this time, there are plenty of free telephone support services available. These include Samaritans, a service which people in distress can contact 24-hours per day by telephoning 116 123, and Breathing Space, a confidential helpline for adults feeling anxious or depressed accessible every night and weekend by calling 0800 83 85 87.
Of course, sometimes stress can exacerbate mental or other health issues which require specific intervention, and in such instances it’s important to contact your GP or seek help from another suitable professional. NHS 24 can be contacted at any time of the day or night by telephoning 111 free of charge.
Meanwhile, signposting to a suitable local service can be obtained by contacting Well-informed on 0800 073 0918 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Furthermore, a range of mental health resources can be accessed by visiting the Elament website or the new Lanarkshire Mind Matters website.
Moreover, if you live in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth or surrounding villages and want to learn skills to help cope with low mood, stress or anxiety, participating in a Living Life to the Full course beginning this April at Cornerstone House could be perfect for you.