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Mental Health Awareness Week – Strategies for Managing Stress

This week it is Mental Health Awareness Week and the focus this year is on stress. In the second of two articles, Pam Palfreyman, Cygnet’s Occupational Health Group Lead, looks at strategies for managing stress. These include physiological, behavioural and psychological strategies.

Pam writes:

It is important to understand and recognize your own unique signs of stress, and learn how to manage the signs and symptoms before they impact on your health and wellbeing.

There are a number of strategies you can use to help you manage your own stress levels:

Physiological Strategies:

  • Nutrition: eat properly and be aware of how your diet and eating habits can affect you. Weight control is important so try not to comfort eat, or forget to eat at all. Regular food intake is important for emotional wellbeing.
  • Take regular exercise. Exercise is an effective anti-anxiety treatment, lifting mood, increasing energy, sharpening focus and relaxing the mind and body.
  • Get sufficient sleep. Have a warm drink before bed. Avoid caffeine and smoking at night.
  • Don’t increase your drug or alcohol intake.
  • Relaxation methods: e.g. deep breathing, visualisation, breathing exercises, meditation, warm baths with candles, music etc.

Behavioural Strategies:

  • Assertiveness: don’t be too hard on yourself. Say no sometimes and delegate work.
  • Time management: don’t rush. Take a few minutes to pause and think.
  • Take breaks & prioritise work tasks.
  • Leave work at work. Be aware of your working hours. Overworking may increase your stress level.
  • Review what is really causing stress for you? You could be surprised! Think about what action you could perhaps take to change things. Is much of your stress is caused by you? Are your expectations of yourself and others realistic for example.
  • Go to the source of the stress if you can, and try to change or eliminate it. If not, look at how you respond to stressful situations and see if you can change your response.
  • Cultural/spiritual traditions may offer helpful and comforting guidelines.

Psychological Strategies:

  • Be aware of your own warning signs – maybe this could be a sudden feeling of anxiety, extreme tiredness, feeling very tearful, catching every cough and cold, feeling run down. Take preventive action!
  • Express your thoughts and feelings – don’t bottle them up. Talk to someone else; write down your thoughts; keep a diary or draw your experiences.
  • Challenge your thinking: e.g: are you thinking in all or nothing terms, jumping to conclusions, mind reading, looking only at the negative side of things, overestimating the chances of disaster, expecting yourself to be perfect.
  • Are your beliefs in a particular situation: logical, realistic and helpful to you?

When to seek further help

  • If the symptoms of stress regularly affect you and you feel unable to cope.
  • You think you may be suffering from depression.
  • You are using drugs, alcohol, gambling, or other self-destructive behaviour to deal with your stress.

Where to seek help

If you are developing signs of stress, anxiety and depression it is important to seek help as soon as possible by seeking the advice and support of your GP. If you are in distress and need immediate help and unable to see a GP then you should visit your local A&E. Other services and organisations that offer advice and support to to people suffering from mental health problems include:

  • The Samaritans – Tel: 116 123
  • Rethink Mental Illness – Tel: 0300 5000 927
  • Mind infoline – Tel: 0300 123 3393

Finally remember, a little stress in your life is not a bad thing. But if you get to a point where you feel that everything is going downhill, stop and take a walk. It might be the difference between falling off the cliff and hanging on.

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