This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, organised annually by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) and which this year runs from Monday 14 to Sunday 20 May, is focusing on stress.

Stress is something most of us will experience at some point in our lives; in fact, it’s a normal part of life and, biologically, the body’s natural response to a difficult or challenging situation.

In small doses, stress can help us stay focused and driven, and able to cope with the challenges of every-day life. But beyond a certain point, it can stop having this positive effect on us and start impacting negatively on all aspects of our life, from our mood to physical health, relationships and productivity.

Top 10 individual actions

In the Mental Health Foundation’s new report ‘Stress: are we coping?’, launched this week, the charity gives the following tips to managing and reducing your stress levels:

  1. Realise when it is causing you a problem and identify the causes

You need to make the connection between feeling tired or ill with the pressures you are faced with. Do not ignore physical warnings such as tense muscles, over-tiredness, headaches or migraines. Sort the possible reasons for your stress into those with a practical solution, those that will get better anyway given time, and those you can’t do anything about. Take control by taking small steps towards the things you can improve.

  1. Review your lifestyle

Are you taking on too much? Are there things you are doing which could be handed over to someone else? Can you do things in a more leisurely way? You may need to prioritise things you are trying to achieve and reorganise your life so that you are not trying to do everything at once.

  1. Build supportive relationships and social networks

Find close friends or family who can offer help and practical advice to support you to reduce your stress. Joining a club or enrolling in a course are good ways to expand your social networks and to encourage you to do something different. Equally activities like volunteering can change your perspective and helping others can have a beneficial impact on your mood.

  1. Eat Healthily

A healthy diet will reduce the risks of diet-related diseases. Also, there is a growing amount of evidence showing how food affects our mood. Feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of nutrients such as essential vitamins and minerals, as well as water.

  1. Be aware of your smoking, drinking and caffeine intake

Even though they may seem to reduce tension, this is misleading as they make problems worse. Alcohol and caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety.

  1. Exercise

Physical exercise can be an excellent initial approach to managing the effects of stress. Even going out to get some fresh air and taking some light physical exercise, like walking to the shops, can help when you feel stressed. You do not need to do much, walking 15-20 minutes, three times a week is a good way to feel better.69

  1. Take time out

Take time to relax. Saying ‘I just can’t take time off’ is no use if you are forced to take time off later through ill health. Striking a balance between responsibility to others and to yourself is vital in reducing stress levels.

  1. Be mindful

Mindfulness meditation can be practised anywhere at any time. Research has suggested that it can be helpful for managing and reducing the effect of stress, anxiety and other related problems such as insomnia, poor concentration and low moods, in some people.

  1. Get some restful sleep

Sleeping problems are common when you’re suffering from stress. Try to ensure you get enough rest. Writing down your to-do list for the next day can be useful in helping you to prioritise but also to park these plans before bed.

  1. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Try to keep things in perspective. Look for things in your life that are positive and write down things that make you feel grateful.

The above list is an extract from the Mental Health Foundation’s report ‘Stress: are we coping?’ You can download the full report here.

Journeys of Wellbeing

Over the next few days, we will publish the stories of participants who came to the Wellbeing Programme struggling with stress and post-traumatic stress disorder and who managed to turn their lives around.

Seeking help

If you are worried you may be suffering from stress, seek help from your GP. There are also many charities that can provide information and support, like MindRethink and Stress Management Society

The Wellbeing Programme can also help with its programme of nature-based activities. Participants get involved in conservation work, wildlife walk and nature-based crafts which are designed to help improve their wellbeing. If you feel you would benefit from joining the programme or know someone who might benefit, do get in touch with us on 01380 736098 or email Wellbeing.

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