Let's Talk About Stress, Baby
April is the month of stress. Well, technically, it is National Stress Awareness Month, a theme that has been held every April since 1992 to raise awareness of the causes and cures of stress.
Various reports say that the World Health Organisation declared stress “the epidemic of the 21st Century”. Though I couldn’t verify this on their website, it’s hard to imagine that the characteristics of modern, post-pandemic life wouldn’t contribute to greater levels of stress. Through my own life and speaking to my friends, I feel that stress is becoming something people are more conscious of. In fact, the pandemic has led to what is dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’, with studies showing 1/3 of employees considering a career change and over 40% of employees more likely to leave their current job within three years, citing workplace stress and non-flexible working styles as the motivation.
But what actually is stress and what does it do to our body?
Boiled down, stress is a physical reaction in response to a stimulus, or a stressor. The hypothalamus, a small region in your brain, is responsible for this response, and releases nerve signals and hormones that activate your adrenal glands (near your kidneys) to release stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones then help turn off ‘non-essential’ functioning, like your digestive system, or increase energy supplies.
This response can be helpful in a dangerous situation, but prolonged exposure to high-levels of the stress-hormones can be pretty detrimental to your health, studies have shown. It puts you at a much higher risk of long-term health problems, from heart disease to memory impairment. That’s why stress can be so serious and why campaigns like the National Stress Awareness Month are so important.
Not all stress is created equal either, women are twice as likely to suffer from severe stress and anxiety, according to a 2016 study  (yay patriarchy!). This is thought to be as a result of taking on more domestic and emotional labour. Although, it’s worth noting that it’s less socially acceptable for men to discuss their emotions, so this gender difference may be different in actuality. Stress is further exasperated by race, with black, asian and latinx people reporting higher levels of stress and more stressful major life events than white people . This statistic is sad, but not surprising in a country where an openly racist man was elected as prime minister (comprehensive list can be found here).
According to the NHS website, stress can lead to symptoms that fall into 3 categories: physical, mental and behavioural change. Under physical falls headaches or dizziness, muscle tension or pain, stomach problems, chest pain, faster heartbeat and sexual problems. Mental symptoms can include difficulty concentrating, struggling to make decisions, feeling overwhelmed, constantly worrying and being forgetful. Finally, in terms of behavioural issues, stress can cause irritability, over/under sleeping, over/under eating, avoiding certain places or people and picking up ‘bad’ habits to relax, like drinking or smoking. Sound pretty awful right? If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms right now, keep reading for some tips on how to lighten the load…
OWF’s Top Wellbeing Tips:
It can be really hard dealing with stress, even finding the motivation to do things to mediate your stress can feel, well, stressful sometimes. I have put together a list of 9 wellbeing tips from across the internet and personal experience to give you some inspiration and maybe give you that little boost to do at least one thing to care for yourself today.
- Try reaching out and talking about your feelings. This could be to someone you trust, your family or your GP. You could also contact Samaritans, call: 116 123 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org if you need someone to talk to.
- Sometimes exercise can be the last thing you want to do, but those endorphins really do help! Try just going for a walk with a friend or some simple stretches to get the blood flowing.
- Set some boundaries – especially with work. Working from home means that the lines get blurred between ‘on’ and ‘off’ time, but distinguishing this can be super important for being able to relax of an evening.
- Manage your time. Saying no to things can be hard, but you should prioritise yourself (at least occasionally). If all you want to do is curl up and watch Netflix all evening, I’m sure your friends would understand you cancelling on them this one time.
- We’ve all heard it a million times, but scrolling through socials for hours on end isn’t doing your stress levels any good. Put your phone on do not disturb every now and then and be present (even if it is just for an hour).
- Getting a good night’s sleep or having a lie in is one of my favourite things to do to destress (when I’m lucky enough for it to happen!). Check out Mind’s tips for good sleep here.
- Keeping up some sort of routine can help your life feel less chaotic and stressful. Try implementing some habits every morning and every night to help give a rhythm to your day, it can be as simple as making your own coffee of a morning.
- Check out the resources on the Stress website, which includes a 30 day challenge for April where you do one thing for you physical, mental and behavioural wellbeing each day. They also have a daily de-stressing planner which I am definitely going to be using in the future!
- I know it sounds silly, we are all breathing unconsciously right now. But I have found that sometimes just taking one mindful breath can have a huge impact on how I’m feeling. Try closing your eyes, noticing your feet on the ground and fill your lungs all the way up and then slowly release. Better, right?
Hopefully you’re now feeling less and not more stressed, or at least inspired to make some changes in your life to improve your wellbeing. If you are going to implement some of the tips listed here, let us know over on Instagram!
Look after yourself x
1. Remes, O., Brayne, C., van der Linde, R., Lafortune, L. 2016. "A Systematic Review of Reviews on the Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders in Adult Populations" Brain and Behaviour, Vol.6, No.7, pp.1-33
2. Williams, D. R. 2000. "Race, stress, and mental health: Findings from the Commonwealth Minority Health Survey" in Minority Health in America: Findings and Policy Implications from the Commonwealth Fund Minority Health Survey Hogue, C., Hargraves, M., Scott-Collins, K. eds. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp.209-243