The twitch of an eye. A sweaty palm. An outbreak of spots. Migraines. Weight fluctuations. Sound familiar?
Talk to anyone about any of these quirks of biology and they’ll invariably reply: ‘Oh, it’s probably just stress‘.
The word is whispered across office water coolers, dished out alongside coffee and cake during Sunday morning catch-ups, or used as an excuse for unusual behaviour in homes across Britain every day.
As a society we cite stress for just about everything. Although stress isn’t a mental health problem in itself, we talk about it in terms of an epidemic of toxic living, which compounds anxiety, depression and even suicidal feelings.
A UK-wide stress survey has found almost three quarters of adults (74 per cent) have felt so stressed, they were overwhelmed or unable to cope at some point in the past year.
The survey, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, also found nearly a third of people (32 per cent) had experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of stress. Meanwhile one sixth of people (16 per cent) said they’d self-harmed as a result.
Richard Grange from the Mental Health Foundation said:
Millions of people around the UK are experiencing very high levels of stress. It’s one of the great challenges of our times.
Stress is a significant factor in mental health problems including anxiety and depression. Particularly concerning was the very high number of people for whom stress left them with suicidal thoughts and led them to self-harm.
It’s also linked to physical health problems like heart disease, problems with our immune system and digestive problems.
Find out about stress and how to combat it in this video:
The stats speak for themselves. But are we all so strung out we’re actually immune and totally desensitised to dealing with stress and its potentially life-threatening effects?
Stress, the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, can be defined as feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of ‘unmanageable’ pressures.
Yet, you might be surprised to know, stress is an integral part of the human condition, and has been over the centuries humans have roamed the Earth, wrestling with cave bears and fighting for survival.
Mark Rowland, Director of Fundraising and Communication at the Mental Health Foundation, said:
As a species, we’ve been around for 200,000 years. For most of that time, mental health has not been on our radar. Too busy surviving. But we are starting to understand mental health is essential to make life worth surviving.
In one of life’s bitter ironies, our stress response – which has done so much to keep us alive – now threatens to drastically reduce the quality of our lives.
Although we no longer live in cold, dark caves and hunt for our food, the modern age has different stressors.
When we encounter situations we interpret as threatening, our body reacts with the same fight-or-flight response our ancestors had tens of thousands of years ago.
Our blood pressure rises, we begin to perspire, our breath becomes shallow, and our blood platelets become sticky.
It actually turns out these stressors – or stresses – are major triggers for poor mental health. Research has shown two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and chronic stress and emotional neglect is a key factor.
When people live in this state of arousal constantly, it can cause damage to the body, and in the long term, this stress and imbalance contributes to emotional and physical disease.
It’s clear we need to stop underestimating stress and its impact on mental wellbeing. So how can we all combat this seemingly everyday part of modern living?
There’s a lot we can do to tackle this. We want to equip people on an individual level to tackle their own stress.
That’s why we are asking for mental health to be given the same priority as physical health in the workplace and for wellbeing days to be provided to public sector day – so those who help us can help themselves.
How To Deal With Stress At Home
Louise Tyler, BACP Accredited Counsellor at Personal Resilience, told UNILAD how to keep your home life healthy, even when things aren’t going well and your relationships are put to the test.
Tyler said it’s easy to ‘slip into destructive behaviours – personal criticism, anger, name calling or withdrawing communication and affection’ but they’re to be avoided at all costs.
A good way to start tackling this stalemate is to try to stop pointing the finger at each other – ‘You’re lazy’, ‘I do everything round here’, ‘You just don’t care’, ‘You’re spending too much’.
Instead begin to look at the situation as a joint problem: ‘This is a really difficult time for us’, ‘We’re both really tired’, ‘What can we each do to help each other out?’
Tyler added it’s important to think about how you’re communicating and ask if your anger and resentment – ‘often a camouflage for other more difficult emotions, such as fear or sadness’ – are ‘out of proportion to the situation’.
Learn to calmly ask each other for help, listen without interrupting, try to understand each other’s point of view, and be forgiving of yourselves.
Life is sometimes truly difficult and some degree of tension is inevitable, but try to work as a team, avoid contempt and blame, and your relationship will start to feel like the port in a storm rather than just another problem.
How To Deal With Stress In The Workplace
Natasha Page, an Integrative counsellor and psychotherapist, shared her tips for combatting work stress with UNILAD. Whether employer culture or bad habits, now is the time to change the way we work.
Watch this inspirational spoken word advice from WHOLE brand ambassador, Jordan Stephens:
Page explained the importance of taking regular breaks and eating away from your desk:
I always encourage clients to reassess what breaks they are taking and to ensure they put self-nurture at the top of their agenda.
Getting away from the desk for lunch means you avoid having to take a phone call or getting caught up in a conversation with your colleagues.
Page also told UNILAD it’s ‘counterproductive’ to work beyond your hours, adding, ‘Sending emails during the night and staying in the office well beyond your hours is not healthy’ dubbing it ‘a sure way to increase workplace stress’.
Instead, she said, ‘manage your diary effectively’, write a ‘To Do List’ so you feel in control of your working day, and allow time for breaks in between meetings.
Page also advised socialising with colleagues and said developing emotional connections with others in the work place can boost your sense of wellbeing.
Finally, Page debunked why a good ‘work life balance’ is vital, saying:
Engage in activities outside of work, whether a sporting activity or something else you enjoy, and recognise the emotional impact of things outside of the workplace.
Taking time out to reflect on what parts of your stress are because of work-related issues or personal issues can help you to acknowledge what really going on for you.
How To Deal With Stress In World News
Rav Sekhon, an integrative counsellor and registered member of BACP, told UNILAD how to cope when world affairs seem at their most fraught in our lifetimes.
To help support BME communities and manage the ‘upsetting and sometimes traumatic’ effects on a person’s mental health xenophobia can cause, Sekhon shared some advice with UNILAD.
He brought our attention to the effects of prejudice in society, saying:
World affairs may impact the stress levels of people living in British society, particularly those from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities.
For example, terrorism – world events like this impact our everyday lives whether we’re aware of it or not.
Due to acts of terrorism, prejudice towards people from BME communities has worsened. The national statistics do represent an increase in hate crime.
There’s a lot of hate and fear directed towards people, often unfairly, due to that person fitting into some form of stereotype of what a terrorist looks or sounds like. This is the sad reality.
He encouraged using support networks to talk about how ‘being part off an ethnic minority can be really tough’, whether they be mates, family, or local services.
Sekhon hopes his advice will lead to ‘a healthier you’, concluding:
Be yourself – excuse the cliché. Part of this is about accepting your identity and being comfortable with it. We have little ability to control world affairs, but we can control how we fit into the world.
The negative vibes aren’t worth your energy. If the abuse is serious, you can report this to the police and it can be dealt with by the authorities.
How To Deal With Stress Online
Counsellor, Psychotherapist and founder of Ranmoor Therapy, Chloe Goddard McLoughlin, told UNILAD social media can create an artificial need for people to feel available 24/7.
Our self-imposed obligation to like and respond to messages as they happen, she said, can be damaging.
Explaining the emotional impact of this constant stream, she said:
This drip drip of notifications can create low key stress that impacts directly on our wellbeing.
While the hyper connectedness of being online creates an illusion of being closer together, it is no real substitute for the more valuable elements of human contact which add to our sense of security such as eye contact, voice and touch.
Goddard Mcloughlin continued:
The relative anonymity of being able to comment on people’s content online often brings out the troll in us. There’s not much room for reasoned debate or consensus online.
The capacity for reasoning is an essential skill for young minds. Yet social media can undercut this by presenting the world in high definition and rewarding those who shout loudest with likes.
Not only should we be acknowledging and combatting our own everyday personal stresses, we’d probably all benefit from considering our own Stress Footprint.
What Is Your Stress Footprint?
The Stress Footprint, according to the Mental Health Foundation, is the second-hand stress others unknowingly pick up from you, and you unknowingly pick up from others.
‘We are social and empathetic creatures and often feel and mimic the emotions of those we’re around, such as tension caused by feelings of stress’, Mark Rowland explains.
#JoinTheMovement for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. Tell us about your stress footprint. The Stress Footprint is the second-hand stress others unknowingly pick up from you, and you unknowingly pick up from others. We are social and empathetic creatures and often feel and mimic the emotions of those we're around, such as tension caused by feelings of stress. So, where did the idea for tracing your stress footprint come from? … Last month, Mark, Director of Fundraising and Communications, wrote a blog on our theme for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek 2018: stress. One of your comments stood out – ”Why don’t you consider the stress you cause, not just the stress you experience?“. This prompted a second blog. Mark decided to do a very unscientific survey. He wanted to know from colleagues, friends and family about: the stress he causes them, how often it happened and in what ways he could act differently in the future. The results: "I learnt four lessons from tracing my stress footprint. Lesson 1: it creates a vulnerability exchange. Lesson 2: it helps me to spot patterns in how I react to events. Lesson 3: It helps me to notice and manage my own anxiety. Lesson 4: It's helps me to learn the art of rupture and repair." Mark "My son said what he found helped the most was when I'd tuck him into bed and take time to say sorry for getting frustrated". Let's start with you and me… Trace your stress footprint today. Walk a little lighter tomorrow. Swipe up in stories to read Mark's full blog. #mentalhealth #mentalhealthmatters #stress #family #friends #anxiety #vunerability
Everyone knows a problem – or a stress – shared is a problem halved.
But understanding stress, where it comes from and what can happen if we ignore our worries and the stresses of others, should help us all act accordingly when things become overwhelming.
As an informed and understanding society, we can together make the unmanageable seem manageable.
Talking is often the first step to moving forward. While talking about mental health is vital, UNILAD are calling for action this Mental Health Awareness Week.
We are petitioning the government to improve mental health services offered on the NHS for young people, who sometimes have to wait ten years from the moment they experience their first symptoms to get adequate treatment.
We have written to Jeremy Hunt MP to tell him about our petition and demand the government take action. You can help by signing our petition, in partnership with WHOLE, here. To find out more about our campaign you can read our manifesto.
You can speak to someone confidentially about your mental health and wellbeing by calling one of the following numbers: Samaritans – 116 123 , Childline – 0800 1111 (UK) / 1800 66 66 66 (ROI), Teenline – 1800 833 634 (ROI).