16 May Managing stress – Mental Health Awareness Week
We’re in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Week and this year the big question being asked is ‘Are we coping with stress?’. Most of us feel stressed at some point in our lives, but what happens when it becomes a constant state of being? Unmanaged and overwhelming stress can lead to mental health issues that can seriously impact people’s lives.
In our blog this month, Lisa Wilson, Sun Healthcare’s Mental Health Services Manager, provides some practical advice for managing stress and getting help for a friend or loved one.
Signs of stress
Stress is the body’s survival response to a dangerous or overwhelming situation – fight or flight. When you feel this sense of overload or anxiety your body shuts down any unnecessary brain functions and focuses on survival. When someone is feeling stressed it can manifest in a number of ways, look out for:
- Irritability and snapping at people
- Feeling tearful and crying
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Reverting to ‘support’ such as caffeine, unhealthy food, alcohol and other addictive behaviours
- Physical symptoms such as low energy, tremors, rapid heartbeat, headaches, aches and pains.
These signs of stress are your body’s way of telling you to slow down, make some changes and get some help.
How to cope with stress
Dealing with stress early on, before it gets out of hand, is important. Don’t think that you can just keep on going – stop, reflect and take action. Often, managing stress is about having a few good coping mechanisms that work for you. Also, having a strong network of friends or people to support you makes a real difference.
Here are some simple tips that you could try for yourself or support a friend to try:
Start with the everyday simple things
We often overlook the basic care that our bodies require, but starting by looking at your most simple human needs is essential. Be honest with yourself, can you say that you:
- Prioritise sleep – try to get 8 hours a night
- Eat regular, healthy meals – breakfast, dinner and tea
- Drink lots of water
- Get some form of exercise.
Believe it or not, making time to sleep, eat, drink and exercise can have a massive impact on how you manage and react to stressful situations.
When you feel stressed the body and mind is overloaded and incapable of functioning fully, it is therefore important to make time to relax. This might seem easier said than done, but planning some relaxation time – and sticking to it – will pay dividends for your health.
If you are worried about a friend or family member then you could encourage them to try some form of relaxation with you, some of the most effective methods are:
– Going for a walk – being out in the fresh air, seeing nature, gently moving your body – all of these things work to naturally reduce stress. Walking also has the added benefit of taking you outside and away from the pressures you are facing, giving a new sense of perspective.
– Breathing exercises – you’re likely to need some support to get started with these, but there are plenty of free apps for meditation and relaxation that can help. Also, incorporating positive affirmations into the breathing e.g. “I live a calm, healthy and balanced life” can help focus your mind.
– Take up a hobby – find a class or activity that makes you feel happy and indulge yourself in some true ‘me time’. Doing something new distracts your brain from your daily worries and gives you a valuable break from the noise inside your head.
Build your support network
Having people to talk to is critical in dealing with stress and recovery. Don’t struggle on alone – talk to people who you can trust and share your concerns. We all know the old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, this is true to a certain extent! The act of letting go and releasing your worry into the world (instead of keeping it locked up inside your head) will reduce the anxiety you feel. Then your friends or family might have suggestions for how to cope or might lend a hand.
Even if your support network can’t do anything to change your situation, they can always offer a hug or a smile and that helps too. Make sure you keep in touch with friends, don’t decline offers to go out and accept the support people offer you.
When you can’t cope
If you have tried making changes to your life and mindset, but still feel stressed, or if you feel desperate or are worried for someone you know, then it is time to seek professional help. The first step is to go and talk to your GP or to encourage your friend/family member to go. GPs will be able to refer you to sources of help such as therapy and medication, if necessary.
What we do
At Sun Healthcare we offer specialist support to people with severe and enduring mental health needs. We do this via our Community and Supported Living Services and through some of our residential homes, such as Tapton Grove in Chesterfield and Havenfield Lodge in Barnsley. We believe in a compassionate and person-centred approach to recovery and rehabilitation. For information about referrals to our services call us on 01226 323 670.
Find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week.