Stress awareness month aims to increase awareness about the causes and cures for modern day stress. The goal is to empower individuals with the knowledge and tools they need to cope with stress effectively and lead healthier, more balanced lives.

Stress is a natural response that your body has when you face challenges or threats, whether they’re real or perceived.

While stress can be beneficial in short bursts, chronic or prolonged stress can have negative effects on your physical and mental health. It can lead to a range of issues including anxiety, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, heart disease, digestive problems, and weakened immune function.

Factors that can contribute to stress include work or school pressures, financial difficulties, relationship problems, major life changes, and traumatic events. Each person responds to stress differently, and what one person finds stressful, another may not. Learning to recognise stressors and developing healthy coping mechanisms are important steps in managing stress effectively.

How to combat stress

Fortunately, there are a multitude of solutions you can try if you are struggling with ongoing stress. These include:

  • Spending time with others. We are social creatures and positive social connections, and support can reduce stress and improve health in other areas.
  • Breathing exercises and meditation. It is incredible what the human body can do to under so much strain. When stressed, our bodies send a signal to our parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) which allows our bodies to respond on “flight or fight mode.” This response was useful back in prehistoric eras when humans had to flee from danger, yet we seem to generate the same response for challenges in the 21st century. One method to control or reverse our PSNS is to address our breathing. By taking long controlled inhales and exhales allows our bodies to relax and realise we are not being chased by a very hungry lion! In a similar approach, meditation or mindfulness is an approach to slow the racing thoughts in your mind and to really focus on how you are feeling in the present. This can be a quick 5-minute exercise and when done regularly, it can help develop useful skills and responses to regular stressors, such as gaining a better sense of perspective on the situation.
  • Regular physical activity can also help train your body to respond to regular stressors. Running, swimming, walking, and yoga are all examples which can help relieve stress and promote physical and mental wellbeing in other ways. It doesn’t need to be intensive and can be modified to meet everyone’s needs.
  • Address the root cause. Many aspects of our lifestyles can contribute to a wider overarching level of stress, and it may be necessary to evaluate what may be causing each “micro dose” of stress. This can include taking lessons that guide you in your personal life or at work, limiting time spent online if online activity increases your stress, and setting boundaries. However, this can also look like employing radical acceptance and focusing on what you can control instead of what you cannot in cases where you may not be able to change something – or might not be able to change it right away.
  • Art and hobbies. Having hobbies is good for your health in more ways than one; various hobbies, including creative hobbies, may promote stress relief. Outside of art, listening to music, spending time with animals, gardening, reading, social activities, and hobbies involving physical activity are possible choices. It is okay to try different activities until you find something you like.
  • Spend time outdoors and in nature. The Japanese have an interesting concept of “Forest bathing” which is becoming more popular in the West. Essentially this is immersing yourself in nature and enjoying the moment in the present. Like meditation, it allows you to notice the small things and gain a different perspective on matters. Even a small amount of time outdoors can offer stress relieving benefits.
  • Ask for help or get therapy. If you feel you are unable to control your response to stress, it is important to reach out to others and seek help. Stress is a common and shared experience for all of us, and no one should feel ashamed for struggling with or feeling overwhelmed by stress. Speak to friends, family, colleagues, Mental Health First Aiders, your GP, or a number of helpful charities.

 Please find below useful links for more information about stress and ways to help cope with it, as well as links to getting help from organisations such as Architects Benevolent Society (ABS), mind, NHS & Samaritans to name a few:

Credit: jmcare Group

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