Stress Awareness Month

I want to start by asking how’s everyone doing? No, really how are you?

I’m not sure about anyone else, but the first quarter of 2024 seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye and I can’t tell you how happy I am to see the first glimpses of spring making an appearance; the lighter, longer and hopefully warmer days are upon us!!

Given the workload and speed in which the days and weeks seem to be passing, I had to remind myself over the weekend that I need to plan my down time to rest and recharge, it seems even I fall foul of not listening to all the mantras and approaches I share as a health coach.

I’m sure many of you, like me, take your career, relationships and health seriously, but I think if we are honest with ourselves many of us ignore the signs or red-flags of burnout and we struggle along to the point of overwhelm and exhaustion.

Let me tell you nothing good ever comes from this, it’s a sure-fire way of reducing our productivity and capacity to cope with our everyday everyday lives. Situational factors are the biggest contributors here, so things like changes in your job, your circumstances at home, your health often need addressing to resolve these underlying issues.

Increasing our stress intelligence is key to combating the perils of burnout and as April marks Stress Awareness Month, it’s important to shed light on the prevalence of this modern-day epidemic in the UK, to understand the scale of its effects.

Research tells us that one in 14 adults (7%) say they feel stressed every single day, with a staggering 74% citing they feel so stressed they feel overwhelmed or unable to cope. The most common cause sits firmly with work-related stress with 79% saying they frequently experience this type of stress, money worries come in at 60%, while 48% cite family worries as a factor.

Tuning into ourselves so we can learn how to spot the early signs of stress, allow us to take preventative measures rather than allowing it to progress into fall blown burnout. Stress can manifest itself both physically and psychologically, which impacts both our behaviours and thinking with symptoms presenting themselves in multiple forms:

·      Physical symptoms can include headaches, chest pains, nausea, stomach issues or heart palpitations.

·      Emotional symptoms include feelings of irritability, anger, overwhelm, fear or low self-esteem.

·      Behavioural changes may be apparent in eating habits, the use of drugs or alcohol, sleep issues, making mistakes.

In order to take proactive steps to protect ourselves from stress factors we first need to get clear on when it is causing us issues, making a connection with any symptoms with our current situation and not ignoring them.  Next it helps to identify the causes and understanding what practical action can be taken, but also relinquishing the things which are beyond your control or influence.  The final step revolves around taking stock of your lifestyle to identify if you are taking on too much, if you need to shift or reorganise your priorities differently, so that your energy is ploughed into the “big rocks” of your life.

Here are some strategies which can contribute to combating stress:

Eat Healthily – Nothing new here, but often it’s the things which help us feel good, that conversely become the things we tend let slide when symptoms of stress appear.   Maintaining a well-balanced diet, rich in nutrients, essential minerals and vitamins will safeguard our immune system and will aid a feel-good mood.

Exercise – This is a hugely effective way to relieve stress and as is always my go-to, however, this doesn’t mean you should pound the treadmill for hours; it could simply involve a walk in nature, some gentle yoga, whatever feels right for you.  Equally for some of us (myself included) I find a high-energy workout does wonders to clear my head and alleviate feelings of tension and anxiety.

Sleep – Sleep disruptions are common so ensuring you are adopting good sleep hygiene and a routine which is conducive to rest and repair is essential.  Ensure light, temperature and noise are in line with your preference in your bedroom, creating the right environment is essential.  It’s also a good idea to give yourself at least 2 hours without your gadgets before you go to sleep as the use of electronics is a melatonin (sleep hormone) prohibitor.

Mindfulness Meditation – This can be practiced anywhere, anytime, and studies tell us that it can improve the effects of stress, anxiety and other symptoms such as low mood, impaired cognitive function and insomnia.  A regular practice helps us develop an awareness of our thoughts, emotions and body sensations, this enables us to tune into how we are truly feeling, allowing us to better manage challenging periods.

Breathe – In the moments when the sensation of overwhelm or anxiety feel like they are all consuming, remove yourself from the situation, person or environment and activate your vagus nerve which switches on your parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system), which is responsible for calming you down.  Why don’t you try the box breathing technique; simply close your mouth and inhale through your nose to the count of 4, hold your breath to the count of 4, exhale completely through pursed lips to the count of 4, then hold for 4 more counts.  Repeat for a few cycles.

The key to any long-term sustainable change is the discipline to remain consistent and maintain small positive actions daily.  This helps us to build resilience and improve our emotional quotient (EQ), self-awareness and self-regulation.  We become more versed in how to manage our emotions in a positive way, whilst becoming more effective at communicating and navigating our way through difficult times.

Remember if you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out to family or friends, be kind and less critical to yourself and be mindful of all the wonderful things you have in your life that you are thankful for.

Take care everyone!

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters” Epictetus

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