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It’s really important that we’re tuned into our stress levels. If we recognise the signs that we’re beginning to experience stress, we can work out what’s triggering it and address it before it becomes a problem. That’s the theme of this year’s National Stress Awareness Day (2 November 2022).
Stress is what happens when the demands placed on us are greater – or seem greater – than the resources we have to deal with them. It’s a major issue in the UK. Research from Mental Health UK has found that 74% of people have felt overwhelmed and unable to cope as a result of stress.
Once upon a time, stress kept us alive, giving us an adrenaline boost that fuelled the ‘fight or flight’ response we needed when we faced danger. It can sometimes be helpful today, for example if we find ourselves in an emergency situation, but most of the time it’s a response we can do without – and it can have a negative impact on our quality of life, mental wellbeing and our health overall.
Building our resilience is one way we can prepare for and overcome stress. Resilience is the idea of developing our tolerance to pressure, before it actually turns into stress, to equip us to manage it better. Here are some practical ways you can do this.
Having an awareness of the symptoms of stress, and being able to spot them in yourself and others, is a very valuable first step.
It can be tempting to ‘bury our heads in the sand’, but this often makes the problem worse in the long run. Take some time to reflect and write down the things that are bothering you. It could be things like paying bills, a heavy workload, or difficult relationships. Sometimes just getting these things out of your head can be helpful.
Sort all of the triggers you noted down into groups with the similar theme, with headings such as ‘work’, ‘finances’, ‘wellbeing’. Next, list the different tasks you need to tackle under each heading.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! When we have lots to do it can be tempting to try and get through everything at once, particularly if we’re trying to do things for other people. But often when we take on too much we end up finding everything harder. Splitting your tasks into more manageable chunks could help you feel more in control. Arrange your list in order of importance, so you can see which activities are most pressing, and focus on these first.
It’s important to not take on too much at once, or give yourself goals that you can’t possibly reach. Every activity you set yourself should be SMART:
• Specific – really clear and focused.
• Measurable – how will you know when you’ve completed it?
• Achievable – is the goal reachable? Don’t set yourself up to fail; start small if you need to.
• Resourced – do you have what you need to achieve the goal?
• Timely – setting deadlines will keep you motivated and moving forward.
Whether it’s crossing it off your list with a flourish, tweeting about it, or rewarding yourself somehow, acknowledge when you’ve achieved something before moving on to the next task.
Learning to recognise and respect your own limits can do wonders for reducing stress. Don’t feel guilty for saying no when someone asks you to do something that you either can’t do or don’t feel comfortable doing.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, opening up to a friend, family member or colleague about the pressures you’re experiencing could lighten the load or provide a fresh perspective. You could ask whether they could lend a hand, perhaps by taking a smaller task off your plate so you can take care of something more urgent.
Take time for yourself away from your to-do list. Distracting your brain with things you find enjoyable can be a great way to break the stress cycle. Reading a book, doing some drawing, taking a bath…anything that makes you feel relaxed should be a regular priority. Your brain needs the opportunity to recharge, and this will make you more productive when you return to your list.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you learn how your thoughts and feelings around certain situations could be affecting your stress levels, as well as give you strategies for managing your symptoms and triggers. Find out more about how ieso uses online CBT to reduce stress here.
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