Training Yourself To Recognise You're Stressed And Take Action!
16 May 2018
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week; you may have seen something about it in your workplace, on social media or in the press. In recent years there’s definitely been more awareness around mental health issues. From the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry’s support for Heads Together, to Zoe Ball’s cycling challenge for Sport Relief, mental health is increasingly in the spotlight.
However, while you may be more aware of the issues affecting other people, are you in touch with your own mental health and wellbeing? Many people, especially those in the caring professions, spend all their time looking after other people and neglect to think about themselves.
How Stress Affects Your Mental Health
The theme of this years Mental Health Awareness Week is stress, asking the question ‘are we coping?’ Stress is a problem for all of us. Very few people can claim to lead stress-free lives. Whether it’s the demands of a busy job, financial or health concerns, or relationship and family issues, at some point most people go through stressful periods.
We all deal with stress in different ways. Some of us are really good at recognising when we are under pressure and taking action. That might mean asking for help or someone to take some of the strain, for example by delegating work to another person in your team. Or perhaps your stress coping mechanism is to build in some ‘me time’ in form of exercise or relaxation, giving your body and mind time to recharge and reset. However, many people don’t recognise the signs that they’re suffering from stress at all, and this can lead to long term anxiety, depression and even physical health issues.
It is therefore really important to recognise when you’re feeling stressed and take action as early as possible. By remembering to check how you’re feeling every so often and by understanding the triggers that can cause you to get stressed, you can do a lot to protect your mental and physical health.
How To Spot Whether You’re Stressed
Don’t wait until you have a stress-related meltdown to identify when you’re feeling stressed! There are more subtle signs that you are under pressure and starting to feel overwhelmed…
Emotions – stress affects our emotions in different ways, so don’t expect to have the same symptoms as other people. Feeling sad, anxious, angry, or fearful are all common reactions to stress. You might not have extreme emotions; instead you may feel just not like yourself. If you know that you’ve been under pressure for any reason, check in with your emotional state to make sure you’re coping and if you notice anything different take steps to avoid these feelings becoming a problem.
Physical symptoms –many people react to stress with physical symptoms such as stomach issues, headaches and fatigue. You may also find that you crave unhealthy foods, are drinking too much alcohol or have problems sleeping. Some symptoms can be very frightening, such as palpitations or rapid breathing; and stress can also cause high blood pressure. Try not to panic as that can make your symptoms worse, instead reassure yourself that your physical symptoms are a result of stress and try breathing exercises to get back to normal. If you find it difficult to manage these symptoms and they’re affecting your health, see your GP.
Behaviour – fluctuating emotions and physical issues will naturally have an impact on your behaviour. You may find that you have a ‘short fuse’ and get angry with people over little things, or that you cry very easily, or that you avoid company and become more withdrawn. Many of the side effects of stress will be more obvious to your colleagues, friends and family who know what you’re ‘normally’ like. If someone mentions that your behaviour has changed, take note.
5 Things To Do If You Think You’re Stressed
Now that you’re aware of how stress may manifest itself, here’s how to take action and make sure it doesn’t have a long term impact on your mental health.
1. Identify the cause
If you think you may be suffering from stress, the most practical thing to do is work out what’s causing it and if possible find a way to manage it. For example, if you’re going through a stressful time at work you may be able to delegate some of your responsibilities, or speak to occupational health for advice. Try to find practical solutions that take the pressure off. You may not be able to completely remove the stress from your life, so aim to lessen its impact by making it more manageable.
2. Give yourself a break
We’re not superhuman, even though many of us do a good impersonation of it! Try to make your life easier by not taking on more than you can handle at a given time. If a heavy workload is causing stress, try to find ways to make things stress free in other areas of your life. For example, don’t commit to helping out at the school fair or pack too much into the weekends, until your workload has lessened.
3. Lean on friends, family and colleagues
Ask for help. Close friends, family and colleagues will want to help. Whether that’s taking the time to listen so you can offload some of your anxiety and fear, or by offering practical help such as doing the school run, stocking your fridge with healthy meals, or taking on some of your work responsibilities. You don’t have to tell everyone what’s going on in your life either; instead call in a few favours and once you’re back to your normal self you can be there for others when they need a favour in return.
4. Be healthy
Unfortunately when we’re feeling stressed we often resort to unhealthy habits. We eat comfort food, drink too much, and put off exercise. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help us manage stress better, so try to make the effort to prioritise your health and wellbeing during stressful times. If your employer offers a cycle to work or gym membership scheme, perhaps now is the time to signup and give your physical and mental health a boost?
5. Find support
If you are struggling to manage stress by yourself, get support before it has a more significant impact on your mental health and wellbeing. Your GP can help, perhaps by referring you to a counsellor or for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). You may also find support is available through your employer; they may have programmes and resources available to help you manage stress. Occupational health may also be able to point you in the direction of support.
It’s great that mental health issues are more widely recognised and people are talking about them more. However, it can still be difficult to recognise when your own mental health is suffering and get the support you need. If you recognise any of the symptoms described above, there’s nothing to lose and lots to gain by taking action to improve your mental health and manage your stress levels.
If your employer uses the Vivup portal you will find all their currently available resources and schemes in one place. Login or sign up today to find out more.
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