This week marks the start on mental health awareness week as organised by the mental health foundation. Mental health awareness week in 2018 is from 14th May to 20th May and this year the focus is on stress.
Stress affects every single one of us in one form or another, whether you’re a child, teenager or adult. It is a natural part of life however there becomes a point (different in each of us) where it can begin to overwhelm us and provoke a physical reaction and trigger mental health struggles.
Stress is my main trigger for anxiety and it is something that I have struggled with since 2012 when I started my A-Level exams. In the United Kingdom, A-Level results determine whether or not you get into your chosen University so it is a period of high stress for a lot of 16-18 year olds. What started as stress evolved into anxiety which over time also turned into depression.
In high moments of high stress I become withdrawn and focused. To some this might sound great, if you’re focused then surely it means you’re being productive, right? Not necessarily. My focus can become obsession and I find it hard to relax or do anything unrelated to my stress (e.g. revising during exam period).
What is Stress?
Stress is described by stress.org.uk as “a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches into fight or flight mode releasing hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine”. This used to be vital for human survival back when cavemen had to make a quick decision as to whether they would flee from the wild boar or fight it instead. Modern humans are less likely to be in a situation where we have to decide to fight or flee for our lives but our body still releases these chemicals when we feel stressed.
HealthLine states that prolonged episodes of stress can cause physical reactions such as headaches, heartburn, rapid breathing, risk of heart attack, pounding heart, fertility problems (male & female), increased depression, insomnia, weakened immune system, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and stomachache. These are all physical symptoms that are caused by being stressed and battling mental health yet mental health is seen in our society as a non-physical illness.
How to Reduce your Stress
1. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. When you are feeling stressed, having somebody to vent to is sometimes the lifeline you need. Whether you talk about what is worrying you or use it as a distraction, talking helps!
2. Practice mindfulness. This is a technique that has taken a while for me to get used to. It involves living in the moment, focusing only on the activity that you are doing. Colour in or doodle without letting your thoughts run away with you. Do yoga and focus on your breathing and the movement. Read a book and don’t get distracted by external thoughts. It can take time for you mind to switch off but the more you practice, the easier it will become.
3. Cut unnecessary things out. You have 101 things on your to-do list but how many do you actually need to do? Anything that acts as procrastination or unnecessary time wasting needs to go. Note that I don’t mean activities that boost your mental health such as running or writing.
4. Ask for help. Whether you’re stressed in the workplace, school or your personal life, there will be someone to help. Is there someone who can take on some of your tasks? Perhaps you could swap some of the jobs. Do you hate walking the dog but love to cook and your friend is the reverse? Maybe you could cook for your friend while they walk the dog.