Stress, are we coping?
This year the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week (14 – 20 May), hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, is stress. Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetime, and stress is a key factor in this.
For many people stress is a part of everyday life, but do we really manage our stress effectively? By tackling stress, we can go a long way to tackle mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and, in some instances, self-harm and suicide.
The Powys Mental Health Planning and Development Partnership, in collaboration with other partnerships across the county, is exploring how we can all tackle stress and help to improve our mental health. Stress is not a mental health problem itself but is a survival response to keep us safe. But it should not become a way of life. The Partnership asked its members what stress looks like for them and how they manage it.
How do you recognise stress?
- For me it’s about when the day to day things I usually cope with fine start eliciting a greater than normal response. So, maybe I am rushing around and hit my funny bone really hard on the door frame (never funny) and it makes me really anger or want to cry – when usually an expletive muttered under my breath will suffice. Those moments really stand out for me and I know there is something else going on.
- Usually when I start to lose patience and things annoy me more than usual, particularly my husband! I know that I have been moaning a lot when he says things like ‘can you not ring your mum?’ which means he has done his best to support me but it I now requires a higher level of management. This ‘intervention’ usually works as I can take a step back and get some great advice from people who know me best however sometimes there are physical signs too.
What does stress look like for you?
- Personally, a sense of frustration, a loss of sense of humour and feeling powerless are symptoms I look out for.
- It’s like my emotional cooking pot is full. There is no room for anything else. And when something else does happen my emotions can spill over much more easily with less of a filter than they usually have. If I'm stressed I may feel like I have too many things to do and not enough time, so I don’t seem to stop or get any time to myself. That makes it hard to unwind which can then affect my sleep, making me feel worse in the morning and on the cycle can go unless I do something about it.
- It usually presents in anger / frustration towards a loved one.
What do you do to combat it?
- The most important technique for me to combat stress is to recognise the early warning signs and to take immediate action. I generally use ‘Resilience’ as a coping mechanism. This can be by taking a short break, speaking with friends and colleagues or exercising. For me, it’s being able to adapt to changing circumstances.
- Exercise – specifically going for a cycle ride.
- Learning how to breathe properly. This sounds weird but if I take a minute to close my eyes, breathe in though my nose for 7 seconds and then slowly out through my mouth for 8 this really helps. Walking the dog in the countryside or at the coast makes me feel good too.
- In the past exercising whilst listening to loud music (on headphones) has also helped – this is a good standby in the winter when severe cold or rain encourage stresses to multiply because I can’t get outside in the garden. There are loads of NHS exercise classes for beginners on YouTube and they don’t all involve balancing on a yoga mat with hardly any clothes on looking like a Downward Dog.
What shouldn’t you do?
- Think it will go away if I don’t do anything about it.
- Bottle up worries / concerns – share with others for discussion / solutions.
- Panic. Life is hard. There will be stress in life, embrace it as a natural thing, accept it as a part of you and don’t see it as a failure to cope with things.
- Buy five large chocolate cakes and eat them all at one sitting!! Buy a one way ticket to El Calafate, however tempting it might seem at the time… Scream at your line manager that you hate your job and you’re leaving right now, never to return. In other words…. Don’t be too impulsive. Take time to step back, assess the situation, seek help if that’s appropriate, and then make a plan of action to address the cause of the stress. Then collect empty plastic bottles to turn into mini cloches to keep the mice off the peas and beans…
Do you do any of the Five Ways to Wellbeing to combat stress? If so, which one works for you and why?
- Connect – unwind with friends and husband – talk things through – doing something nice together. Be active – running and walking. Take notice – being in nature.
- Be active. Being fortunate to live in Powys, the opportunities for exercise throughout our glorious surroundings is endless. Being able to walk the Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons or the River Wye footpaths. Being able to get away from things through walking either with our dog or with family is calming and fulfilling. I find exercise an important part of my physical and mental well-being.
- Being creative - More recently I have been getting creative, remembering how much I used to love Art in school I thought I’d give it a go now. Finding the time to paint is good because I’m preparing to make a relaxing bit of space and time. I get everything I want to done and the whole time I’m doing this I’m looking forward to creating something.
What would be your top tips for managing stress?
- Exercise – it’s hard to motivate yourself to start but if you can find a way to build it into your weekly routine it can be hugely effective. Particularly if you can get out into Nature. For many people exercise seems to use up excess emotion leaving you feeling calmer and more in control. Nature has been shown to have many beneficial effects, not just on our mental health, but also on our physical health. We evolved in Nature (green trees and soft curved lines) not urban environments, and we relax and feel better when surrounded by it.
- Do something you love and get lost in it – be it football, craft, reading…. You will be totally absorbed by it for a while so you don’t think of anything else.
- As a Police Inspector, I must be accessible to colleagues and a point of contact and support when people are under stress. I must recognise incidents which could have a negative impact on a person’s well-being and ensure that the correct support intervention is provided.
- I personally rely on making a list of things to do and I then prioritise what must be done first. This helps me to turn what appear to be unmanageable tasks into something less formidable.
- Try and get away from whatever you are working on for 10 – 15 minutes at lunch time – go for a short walk, run or cycle – whatever takes your mind of what you are currently doing!
- When you wake up in the morning (and go to bed at night) think of 2 – 3 things that you are really grateful for.
- Be as kind to yourself as you possibly can. Imagine you are another person (or animal if that’s easier) you love and care for. You want to do the best you possibly can for that person/animal. So what would you do? I am often guilty of putting myself under further pressure if I’m stressed, as if it’s all my fault and I need to suffer further! But whilst I might sometimes be responsible (I can’t grow 30 of my favourite vegetables successfully and fit everything else in my life, but maybe 10 would work) sometimes the stress has an external source. Pluck up courage and talk to anyone involved in making your life stressful, or, if that’s not possible, try and stay out of that person’s way!
Any other comment?
- Laugh. With colleagues. At that very funny radio comedy. At your own jokes even if nobody else thinks they’re the slightest bit funny. When the cat’s head gets stuck in a margarine pot (but do rescue that cat promptly). When you all try a new sport and end up on your backsides, your head, in fancy dress or covered in apricot jam…. Be weird and wonderful and wacky sometimes, because you can (only if it’s legal though!) Just because life is hard sometimes, remember to take a breather and HAVE FUN!!
Tell us what you do to relieve stress in the comments box below.
Together for Mental Health is the Welsh Government’s 10 year strategy to improve mental health and well-being in Wales.
In Powys, there is a Mental Health Planning and Development Partnership in place to deliver the strategy locally and prioritise activity to meet the needs of Powys communities. One of its main objectives is to build strength and resilience, promoting mental and emotional health and wellbeing of individuals and communities across the county.
Thank you to Mary Griffiths (Mid Powys Mind), Inspector Brian Jones (Dyfed Powys Police), Louisa Kerr (Powys Teaching Health Board), Jackie Newey (Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations) and Joe Wellard (Powys County Council) for their contributions to this blog post.