Stress Awareness Week – 8 tips for better control
“Stress is not a state of mind… it’s measurable and dangerous, and humans can’t seem to find their off-switch”
– Neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky in the documentary Stress: Portrait of a Killer.
The International Stress Awareness Week (5 – 9 November) highlights the impact that chronic stress has on our health today. Around 500,000 of us in the UK now suffer from work-related stress. GPs estimate that that for one in four patients, the underlying cause of symptoms is stress, anxiety or depression and that one in four of these patients is declared unfit to work. Patients say that the top three causes for their condition were work (34%), loneliness or isolation (32%) and strains on relationships with friends or family (30%).
Stress and stressors
Sustained exposure to stressors ruins our health in a multitude of ways, causing systemic inflammation and provoking or exacerbating health conditions like joint pain, heart disease, hypertension, impaired immune function, infertility, and depression and mental health conditions like anxiety, self-harm and suicide.
Stress is our body’s non-discriminatory physiological response to a perceived threat. A stressor is an agent that provokes a stress response. Day-in and day-out we endure:
Psychological/emotional stressors: lack of purpose; dysfunctional relationships; money worries; unfulfilling jobs; disconnection from family and community.
Physical/environmental stressors: the food we’re eating today; heat/cold; altitude; lack of sleep; lack of exercise; pollution; the side effects of toxic pharmaceuticals; and the plethora of commercial personal and home care products.
How does chronic stress hurt us?
The physiology of chronic stress not only promotes and underpins disease but actually prevents the process of healing. When our body is in a state of chronic stress it’s flooded with catabolic hormones, which break down muscle for energy, reduce our thyroid function and slow, or shut down, important metabolic processes. These hormones also provoke systemic inflammation, which pre-disposes us to developing chronic illness.
A recent report published by the UK Mental Health Foundation – ‘Stress: are we coping?’ – looked at over 4,000 adults and information from other organisations’ research. Their report considered all aspects of stress in the UK, but highlights the importance of work-related stress:
- Roughly half a million of us in the UK are suffering from work-related stress.
- Lack of reward and control are common causes of stress in the workplace.
- 89% of women and 76% of men are stressed at work, with African-Caribbean women reporting the highest incidents.
- Stress at work can often lead us to depression or anxiety from job insecurity, lack of respect or feeling undervalued.
- Last year, every one of us affected by work-related stress lost an average of 23.9 working days.
International Stress Awareness Week
Each year, the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) holds its International Stress Awareness Week, which aims to raise the profile of stress, achieve publicity about stress and stress prevention, and promote the importance of wellbeing for individuals and organisations. This year, the week runs from 5th – 9th November.
Feeling stressed out? I used to think that the root cause of most of my patients' health complaints was poor diet – now I'm convinced it's stress. My new book, #TheStressSolution, is on this exact topic. It's out in January, but you can pre-order now. https://t.co/pGAVnsasg2
— Dr Rangan Chatterjee (@drchatterjeeuk) October 22, 2018
ISMA works to: raise the profile of stress-related issues, both in the home and workplace; combat the stigma often associated with personal stress; and change attitudes towards the management of stress in the world of work.
They offer a number of free resources on their website to help, but I thought I’d pick out eight ways in which you can take immediate action to reduce the burden of stress in your day-to-day home and work environments.
Eating a healthy diet with whole, unprocessed, organic foods in season and beneficial drinks are the very first steps. Feeding our bodies with convenience, processed, packaged, chemically ‘enriched’ and ‘fake’ foods, vegetable and seed oils and fluoridated, unfiltered tap water, too much caffeine, sugary drinks and an excess of alcohol are major stressors in today’s lifestyle.
Getting regular exercise works off the biochemical and physical changes that can wreak our bodies in the stress response.
Enjoying adequate, restful sleep through creating a regular sleep routine not only removes a major stressor but allows our body and mind to repair and cope with stressful situations.
De-stressing practises and relaxation also help the body return to its normal healthy state – good techniques include powerful breathing exercises massage and a variety of complementary therapies. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT – check out this post for a simple video demonstration) is an excellent stress management tool; studies have shown EFT significantly reduces cortisol levels and psychological distress.
Learning to ‘BE’ and nurturing our inner and outer connectedness by creating a supportive social network is what gives purpose and meaning to our life. And not least, remembering that for every animal their nest is a place of safety – and that includes the human animal.
Creating a comfortable and supportive home environment (it doesn’t need to be perfect to be beautiful) is a key part of a creating holistic well-being.
2. Learn to manage your time more effectively, know your limitations and learn to say “NO”
We waste so much time on unproductive and unimportant tasks, especially when we’re stressed. So, it makes sense to prioritise your day (at work and at home) and do the important jobs first. The unimportant ones can wait, and often they will disappear completely, leaving you time to do other, more important and useful things.
Don’t put off unpleasant tasks – avoiding things you really don’t want to do and worrying about not having done them, causes a great deal of stress. Give these tasks a high priority and do them first, so they won’t be casting a shadow over everything else.
And, having done them, you can congratulate yourself – think the dreaded tax returns!
Another frequent source of stress is that we don’t want to let people down, so we often end up taking on and doing more than we can comfortably manage. Learn to delegate effectively and be assertive so that you can say ‘No’ without upsetting or offending.
3. Find out what causes YOU stress
Show yourself a little love and take time to really think about what worries you. Then work out how you can change your thought processes and behaviour to reduce it. A stress assessment can help you to fully understand the causes, the implications for your health and how to manage, cope and make necessary changes.
4. Avoid unnecessary conflict and accept the things you cannot change
Choose your battles – is it really worth the stress? We all make assumptions based on the stories we tell ourselves – find out the real cause of the problem and deal with it directly. Step back and try to resolve disagreements and disputes so everyone wins.
Despite our very best efforts, some things are beyond our control and leaving, changing or re-framing a difficult or unsettling situation is not always possible. If this is the case, recognise and accept things as they are and put your attention on all that you do have control over.
5. Take time out to relax, recharge and find time for your family and friends
You’ll find that you can perform more efficiently and productively at work if you regularly take short 10-minute breaks. You’ll easily make up this time you used to relax and refresh. ALWAYS take your annual leave entitlement, with at least one holiday of 10 or more continuous days.
As we’ve seen, fostering social connection is a major player in the de-stressing game. Time spent with family and friends can push work troubles out of our minds and onto the back burner, giving us a break to see things differently and from a fresh perspective.
Activities with our nearest and dearest can help us relax and unwind, without pressure or expectation. Enjoy the laughter, share experiences and create many happy memories and boost your immune system in the process – it’s often severely depleted by chronic stress.
6. Make a contribution
Remember the saying “what goes around, comes around”? Research shows that in performing random acts of kindness and in giving or helping others, we help ourselves. Help a neighbour, give time to an older person, get involved in voluntary work. No time? Give up an evening’s rubbish TV.
Quantum science has shown us that we are all connected energetically – above all, treat others with kindness. And breathe: breathe in love; breathe out kindness… it works!
7. Develop a positive thinking style
If something’s niggling away at you, re-framing it to look at it differently can lead to a solution. And there’s an old saying “A problem shared is a problem halved”, so try talking your problem(s) over with somebody before they grow out of all proportion.
Often, talking to a family member, friend or colleague will enable you to stand back and see things from a different and less stressful perspective, together with fresh, unprejudiced input.
Of course, if the problem is genuinely too great to handle alone (or with family or friends), it may be necessary for you to consider professional help to achieve a desirable outcome and reduce the likelihood of physical and/or mental ill health.
8. Ditch chemical stimulants – alcohol, nicotine and caffeine – as coping mechanisms
Booze, cigarettes and coffee are sticking plasters, not solutions; in the long-term, reliance on these ‘self-medications’ just adds our problems. Despite what we think, caffeine and nicotine are stimulants – too much and the body reacts with a stress response, causing or increasing symptoms of anxiety.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is actually a depressant: our brains rely on a delicate balance of neurochemicals and processes and alcohol can disrupt that balance, affecting our thoughts, feelings, actions and our long-term mental health.
Don’t struggle alone – reach out
However large or small it is, struggling on alone with any health issue (physical or emotional) is stressful, exhausting and as we have seen, can ultimately lead to illness.
Health coaching can help you to get a clearer perspective on your issue(s) and by identifying your goals, priorities and next steps, it can support you in making sustainable changes for better health. Having a mentor, coach and ally at your side can make the difference between wishing your life was better and creating a much better life.
If you’d like to find out whether coaching is for you, click below and book yourself in for a 30-minute health clarity consultation – you’ll be glad you did.