Everyone deals with some stress at some point in their lives, but sadly, too many of us face a regular battle and stress remains one of the most common mental health struggles in the UK. As a result, stress relief is something that more and more of us require, especially as pandemic restrictions are lifting and many people are returning to the office or social events after a lengthy period at home.
There’s never been a better time to reflect on your emotions and try to maintain calm and wellness in your life than during Stress Awareness Month. In this article, we’ll delve into the meaning of Stress Awareness Month and the steps you can take to relieve stress and anxiety as life returns to ‘normal’ in 2022.
So, What’s Stress Awareness Month About?
Since 1992, Stress Awareness Month has taken place during April every year in the UK. The purpose is to raise public awareness of the causes and cures of modern-day stress during the thirty day period.
Stress Awareness Month is more relevant than ever. The past two years, during the COVID-19 pandemic, have seen UK mental health services completely overwhelmed. Social isolation is a major risk factor in deteriorating mental health. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of adults in the UK have felt so stressed in recent times that they have been overwhelmed with feelings of an inability to cope. Worryingly, 32% of UK adults also said they had experienced suicidal feelings linked to stress, with 16% of adults saying that they had self-harmed.
Although many pandemic-related restrictions have now been lifted, adjusting to a new way of living can also feel incredibly overwhelming and people need support now more than ever.
You might wonder why healthcare professionals still require a platform such as Stress Awareness Month to increase public awareness since stress is one of the most common health struggles in the UK. Sadly, stress, anxiety and other mental health disorders are still not taken as seriously as other health conditions.
Stress is primarily a physical response to a situation, and believe it or not, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When the body is experiencing stress, it considers itself under attack and ‘fight or flight’ mode kicks in; a complex reaction featuring several hormones preparing the body for physical action and providing an intense rush of energy. This is an instinctive survival response; consider a caveman finding himself face to face with a predator, for instance, this energy release is crucial for either fighting the predator or running away (hence, fight or flight). Stress, therefore, is a naturally life-saving physical response.
During an episode of stress or anxiety, you may find your heart pounding and breath quickening due to increased adrenaline levels. Fight or flight remains a very useful mechanism during genuinely dangerous situations in the modern world and can help us react quickly. The trouble is when the body finds itself in this state during situations that pose no serious threat. During a presentation at work, for example, fight or flight mode may trigger. As blood flow is suddenly only available to the muscles needed to defend yourself or run away, the function of your brain is minimised and often, you cannot think clearly. This may be a temporary response during a work presentation, however, many of us are kept in a state of stress for even longer periods due to hectic modern lifestyles. This is when stress becomes seriously detrimental to health, with prolonged raised cortisol levels leading to high blood sugar and high blood pressure.
What Can Help to Reduce Stress?
There are many steps that we can take to reduce stress. We have listed some of our favourite proven methods that are effective in decreasing symptoms of anxiety and stress.
- Keeping active - regular exercise can reduce some of the emotional intensity experienced during stressful events. This helps to clear your mind and deal with your problems more calmly.
- Connecting with others - talking things through with others can help ease your troubles and find solutions to your problems. Simply laughing with friends, family or colleagues can also provide excellent stress relief.
- Avoiding ‘avoidance behaviour’ - avoidance behaviour is an action that a person takes to escape from difficult feelings and thoughts. Common avoidance behaviour is turning to alcohol, caffeine or smoking as a way of relieving stress and coping. In the long term, avoidance behaviour doesn't solve your problems; rather, it can create new ones. It's tempting to seek temporary relief, but ultimately, you must tackle the source of your stress.
- Practising gratitude - research has shown that positive thinking can significantly benefit your general mood. Try to focus on the positive aspects of your life that you are grateful for. You can show appreciation by writing down three things that have gone well for you or for which you feel grateful at the end of every day. Many people create a gratitude diary as a method of relieving stress and lifting the mood.
- Accepting that which cannot be changed - some situations cannot be controlled or changed; it's a fact of life. Try to focus on the things that you can control, rather than obsessing over situations that you simply have no control over.
Does CBD Help Stress Levels?
During the past year in the UK, more and more people have turned to CBD oil as a form of stress management. But can CBD really help?
CBD is a naturally occurring cannabinoid of the hemp plant which is known to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and stress. In a 2019 study, for instance, 300 mg of CBD was found to significantly reduce anxiety in 57 healthy adult males. Since stress and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, any evidence that CBD can reduce your anxiety is likely to have a positive impact on your stress levels too.
CBD is capable of influencing your stress levels by interacting with your endocannabinoid system – a complex biological system that is responsible for regulating mood, appetite, sleep, metabolism and many more physiological and neurological processes. Research has shown that CBD’s interaction with endocannabinoid receptors can result in uptake of serotonin – this is known as the ‘happy hormone’ since it is linked to feelings of happiness, contentment and general wellness.
The 30 Day Challenge
April marks the start of Stress Awareness Month 2022 and the 30 Day Challenge launched by the Stress Management Society. During the 30 Day Challenge, you are invited to pick one action to carry out each day that will contribute to your physical, mental and emotional well-being.
The reason behind this month-long initiative is that it takes 30 days to turn actions into habits. This maximises the chances of these newly-learned techniques becoming positive behavioural changes.
What Else Can I Do For Stress Awareness Month?
There are a number of positive steps which you can undertake to raise awareness during Stress Awareness Month. Simply talking more openly about stress and mental health helps to reduce the stigma. Checking in with those who may be suffering from stress or anxiety – showing compassion, empathy and sharing your coping mechanisms can make the world of difference to somebody with a mental health disorder. Furthermore, it might help take the focus off your personal difficulties and put matters into perspective. And most importantly, look after yourself – make time to relax, exercise and eat a healthy diet, even when you are feeling well.