[Mental Wellbeing, Stress, Wellbeing]
All of us get stressed sometimes. Whether we like it or not, it's a part of every day life and in smaller doses, stress can actually be good for you. From mental alertness and motivation to increased learning and physical development, moderate levels of stress are a contributory factor.
The fact is, too many of us are not experiencing simply moderate amounts of 'motivational' stress. We are feeling 'up against it' in our work and personal lives, and as a result, adrenals work over-time, mental and physical wellbeing suffers and relationships fall apart. That feeling of being out of control simply isn't enjoyable. How did it get to this?
In November 2017, the HSE (Health & Safety Executive, UK) revealed its latest statistics on the impact of work-related stress in the UK. The research revealed that 526,000 workers were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This was the highest rate in 16 years, rising by 7% in just one year. It is now the most common work-related illness.
In another study by Royal London in 2017, we saw more detailed behaviours. 85% of UK GPs reported a rise in patients with symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression over the past five years. Most tellingly are the statistics which reveal that 29% of patients said they didn't believe GPs could help and one in six people ask for their diagnosis to be concealed on their fit note.
Feeling a bit lost?
It is clear there are a lot of people that are unsure of how to manage the symptoms of stress and quite frankly the pace of 21st century life seems to be only getting faster. How then, do we deal with it effectively when over a quarter of people are waiting for 6 months before getting help, and many of those feel their GP is unlikely to help?
Approaches such as mindfulness to gain better control of one's mindset are important but I believe, for many, that many of the factors which contribute to a stressful environment aren't addressed in one single approach, however powerful.
A combined and supported approach is important which include mindset and mindfulness but also look at understanding stress, its effects, one's personal triggers as well as learning approaches about to how to manage those triggers effectively on a daily basis whether it's the strains in a relationship, bullies at work, workload or work/life balance.
There are other elements too, these include:
- Re-balance the push and pull by focusing on re-connecting with your own goals and priorities (rather than those of your employers or others).
- Inner critic or coach? What is the language that goes through your head and what does it do for (or against) your mental wellbeing. Ruminating, dwelling or catastrophising can contribute considerably to stress. Learning to manage this narrative is key.
- Learning to turn 'the noise down'. This could be as easy as going for a walk (get some deep breaths in!) or learning to re-direct your mind and emotions with meditation, or stroking the dock. What helps you do an inner 'control.alt.delete'?
- Habits - start to become more conscious of the habits that are contributing to stress, could it be eating badly (it really does contribute to stress), too much coffee, feeling compelled to work without breaks, drinking too much alcohol, having reactive responses to others around you without pausing for reflection...all of these contribute to your stress load. You might have other habits that you know are 1) pushing you harder, 2) not enabling you to have a break, 3) not allowing you to switch off, 4) putting others first and not accounting for your own needs, or perhaps 5) having to do everything and not asking for help.
- Sleep - sleep needs to be factored in, even diarised if you're under pressure. The fact is lack of sleep really will exacerbate. your stress symptoms. Think panda and prioritise your shut-eye!
- Connection - connect with others (increases oxytocin which reduces cortisol and adrenalin), laugh and perhaps disconnect with those who cause you stress, and if you can't, learn ways to handle those situations more positively for your health and mental wellbeing.
- Exercise - top tip, consider what time of day and type of exercise you're doing. High intensity exercise again increases your cortisol load. If you're exercising, balance it out with more nurturing types of exercise (e.g. yoga or walking) and don't do it too late at night or that cortisol spike will impact your sleep quality.
- Environment - can you find a different environment to work in, what environment makes you feel less stressed (a tidier one for me - and sunshine through the window). When can you get at least 15 minutes of peace, how can you make your bedroom a sanctuary. Essentially, how can you choose an environment where you thrive AND be productive?
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Let's not allow insanity to happen. To create change in our lives, to relieve the stress, we need to make changes that will not only positively our own experience of each day and improve our health but will also have a knock-on effect that benefits our home life, relationships and sense of self-worth. The impact will be incremental but no less powerful. It's time to find your inner Panda. It's time to sit down, look at the world around you, pick up your bamboo shoot, chill and contemplate: 'Is this what I really want? And what can I change to gain more ease and make life less stressful?'