Mental Health Awareness Week: Coping with Stress

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week. For 2018, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is focusing specifically on stress. I thought this was an ideal opportunity to share…

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week. For 2018, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is focusing specifically on stress.

I thought this was an ideal opportunity to share some of my own experiences with stress, tips on how I manage it, and ask you to share yours too.

Whilst stress is not a mental health illness in itself, it lends itself swiftly to depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide, as well as physical health issues such as cardiovascular disease and joint and muscle problems. Stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event, and the magnitude and prevalence of stress across the UK is substantial.

In the past year, 74% of people have at some point, felt so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

Of the adults who have said they had felt stress at some point in their lives, 16% said they had self-harmed, and 32% said they had suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Work-related stress in 201617 accounted for an average of 23.9 work days lost for every person affected.

It is estimated that around 15% of people at work have a mental health condition.

The full report by the MHF can be found here.

One of the most interesting findings from the MHF’s research revealed that those aged between 18 and 38 felt more under pressure at work than their baby-boomer co-workers (born 1946–55), with 28% stating that stress was expected in their job. Additionally, around a third of millennials (34%) said that they felt stress made them less productive at work versus around a fifth (19%) of their older colleagues. This particular statistic hit home particularly hard; I suffer from chronic tension headaches, nausea, depression and anxiety. Why are millennials more prone to stress? As proposed by a spokesman for the MHF, “millennials are more likely to have insecure contracts, low rates of pay and high entry-level workloads. The pressures they face in today’s employment market are very different to past generations”.

I think that awareness campaigns such as these are contributing to an incredible revolution in social attitudes towards mental health. However, I believe that so much more is needed to change mental health and well being, starting from radical action on a structural level. Mental health is dependant on the systems within which we live our lives. Early intervention is pivotal to the success of mental health intervention success, but the bar to accessing services is too high, and the safety net too low. Whilst I continue to support the awareness of mental health issues, we shouldn’t detract our energies from ensuring people can access services that facilitate the right treatment at the right time.

It’s not hard to find the usual advice to manage stress; eat healthily, talk to friends and family, for for a walk, but I find these recommendations hollow. I need actionable insight or it falls on deaf ears. During a stressful time, I need an established, reactive routine that I know works, not vague recommendations.

Everyone will have their quirks in their own de-stress routines, and as long as they are healthy coping mechanisms — do what works for you. You need to act as your own stress management alchemist, and set a go-to ritual or routine to reduce stress in times of need.

Here’s my de-stress ritual to provide some context or inspiration:

Firstly, I workout — if I can’t get to the gym for some cardiovascular exercise, I’ll watch a YouTube fitness video — Rebecca Louise is great for short high-energy videos to burn off some nervous energy.

This is then usually followed by a carb-loaded meal (pretty much always a pasta-based recipe) before taking a long hot shower accompanied by loud music — I highly recommend buying a waterproof bluetooth speaker that sticks to your bathroom wall, it’s life-changing.

Lastly, I will turn off all the lights except for some dimly lit fairy-lights and candles while I watch TV or read a book before meditating for 15 minutes using the Headspace app.

What is your go-to routine when you’re stressed?

Disclaimer: If you continue to feel overwhelmed by your stress seek professional help to show you how to reduce and manage the stress you are experiencing. For confidential support with mental health or suicidal feelings, call Samaritans on 116 123. This is a thought piece calling for societal change in the way mental health is treated, I am not a mental health expert.