International Stress Awareness Week 2018

It’s International Stress Awareness next week on the 5th-9th November 2018, and we have been fortunate enough to talk to some really inspiring people in and around mental health. Tune in next week when we release an interview each day, as well as practical workplace tips for stress management.

First, we take a look at stress as a whole.


What is stress?


At the most basic level, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. What contributes to stress can vary hugely from person to person and differs according to our social and economic circumstances. Some common features of things that can make us feel stress include experiencing something new or unexpected, something that threatens your feeling of self, or feeling you have little control over a situation.

When we encounter stress, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones that trigger a ‘flight or fight’ response and activate our immune system. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations.

Sometimes, this stress response can be an appropriate, or even beneficial reaction. The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense, like running a marathon, or giving a speech to a large crowd. We can quickly return to a resting state without any negative effects on our health if what is stressing us is short-lived. Many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting effects.

However, there can be times when stress becomes excessive and too much to deal with. If our stress response is activated repeatedly, or it persists over time, the effects can result in wear and tear on the body and can cause us to feel permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.

Feeling this overwhelming stress for a long period of time is often called chronic, or long-term stress, and it can impact on both physical and mental health.




What does stress look like?


Stress is not an illness, but the psychological impact can lead to conditions such as anxiety and depression. Stress, anxiety and depression can also increase the risk of conditions like heart disease, back pain, gastrointestinal illnesses or skin conditions.


Symptoms of stress (Taken from the NHS)


How you may feel emotionally

Irritable and “wound up”
Anxious or fearful
Lacking in self-esteem

How you may feel mentally

Racing thoughts
Constant worrying
Difficulty concentrating
Difficulty making decisions

How you may feel physically

Muscle tension or pain
Sleep problems
Feeling tired all the time
Eating too much or too little

How you may behave

Drinking or smoking more
Snapping at people
Avoiding things or people you are having problems with


What causes stress?


There can be a variety of causes of stress. For example, financial problems, difficulties in personal relationships or moving house can all cause stress. Work can also cause stress. We spend over a third of our lives at work and here at Be Empowered know well the affect work can have on our mental health and wellbeing. The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) has identified the six primary causes of work­ related stress to be:

* The demands of the job -­ staff can become overloaded if they cannot cope with the amount of work or type of work they are asked to do.
* Amount of control over work -­ staff can feel disaffected and perform poorly if they have no say over how and when they do their work.
* Support from managers and colleagues ­- levels of sickness absence often rise if staff feel they cannot talk to managers about issues troubling them.
* Relationships at work – a failure to build relationships based on good behaviour and trust can lead to problems related to discipline, grievances and bullying.
* How a role fits within the organisation -­ staff will feel anxious about their work and the organisation if they don’t know what is expected of them and/or understand how their work fits into the objectives of the organisation.
* Change and how it is managed -­ change needs to be managed effectively or it can lead to huge uncertainty and insecurity.



How to manage stress


You can’t always prevent stress, but there are lots of things you can do to manage stress better. First and foremost, don’t be too hard on yourself and take time to realise the causes of your stress, what you can do to help and what is out of your control.


Some things that may help:

  • share your problems with family or friends
  • make more time for your interests and hobbies
  • take a break or holiday
  • take some regular exercise and make sure you’re eating healthily
  • make sure you’re getting enough sleep
  • try mindfulness – take a look at our mindfulness article here
  • use calming breathing exercises
  • download some apps designed to help with stress and anxiety


Take a look at these great stress busters from the NHS.


If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, seeking professional help can support you in managing effectively. Do not be afraid to seek professional help if you feel that you are no longer able to manage things on your own. Many people feel reluctant to seek help as they feel that it is an admission of failure. This is not the case and it is important to get help as soon as possible so you can begin to feel better.

Go to your GP or visit NHS website for more information.



Ceri Morris
Be Empowered