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Five tips for dealing with stress

This week marks the start of Stress Awareness Month. In this co-produced blog Dr Seb Thompson, Cygnet’s National Psychology Lead for CAMHS, looks at some of the effects of stress, and Amber, one of the young people at Cygnet Hospital Sheffield, gives her top five tips for dealing with stress.

So let’s talk about stress: a concept that is actually quite hard to define and concretely conceptualise yet everyone knows what stress is, and what it feels like. At some point in their lives everyone has felt it – whether at work, at school, at home, in our relationships. Whether it be the physical sensations of anxiety, the racing thoughts, the tense muscles, the inability to relax and enjoy what we normally like, the dread of facing another day, feeling trapped, isolated, rundown, burnt out.

Stress can manifest itself in many forms, but we have all felt it. Sometimes stress creeps up on us. Sometimes it is more sudden and seems like it comes out of nowhere. Sometimes it overwhelms us and incapacitates us. Sometimes our minds just shut down because they cannot cope with yet another stress related thought. Our resilience is compromised.

Indeed there are models related to mental health disorders called ‘stress vulnerability models’ and the idea behind these is that ultimately too much stress negatively impacts our mental health and can stop us functioning in the way that we want to.

I’m sure we have all heard that a little bit of stress can be a good thing, right? It can increase productivity and creativity. A lot of workplaces purposefully rely on this and I don’t necessarily disagree with this as a principle. But what happens when that little bit of stress become a lot of stress, and then that lot of stress becomes a paralysing amount of stress? What happens when stress is impacting our mental health?

I recently sat down with Amber, one of the young people on Unicorn Ward, one of the adolescent wards at Cygnet Hospital Sheffield, to discuss the impact of stress and she gave me some of her top tips on dealing with stress. This is what she said.

1 – Distraction

Taking a break from what you are doing and the thoughts in your head can be helpful. Distraction techniques can be a useful way of doing this. I find listening to music on headphones, or watching movies can be helpful as they provide a break from stressful thoughts and feelings and allow me to reconnect with things that I enjoy.

2 – Use temperature to regulate emotions

I’ve found that altering my body temperature can be an effective way to ground myself and not let stressful thoughts build up and become overwhelming. I sometimes use ice as a way of bringing my focus back to the here and now.

3 – Change of environment

Sometimes a simple change of environment can help. Going outside or even just changing rooms can help get you out of a stressful mindset. When I’m outside and connecting with nature it can really help to put stressful thoughts and worries into perspective.

4 – Talk about it / express your emotions

Stress is something that builds up and tends to get worse the more we hold it in. Talking about my thoughts with people I trust can help alleviate some of the worry or stress. I also like to draw, or create something, and this can also be a really helpful way to express how you I’m feeling.

5 – Exercise

I enjoy exercise, in particular boxing, and this can make me feel ‘lighter’ after doing so. There is something about physical exercise that helps with seeing difficult situations differently.

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