As it is Stress Awareness Month, I wanted to share my personal thoughts on stress as a subject. I’m sharing a personal perspective on the impact of stress and my main means of managing what I regard as unhelpful stress. There are some references to anxiety as they can be closely connected. It is also Mental Health Awareness Week soon (15 – 21 May), with the theme this year of ‘anxiety’.
I would suggest that stress lives with us all, and that can be helpful in preparing us to take action when there might be threats or perceived threats to us or others. This could be immediately, or when we think about things that are going to happen (or we think may happen) in the future.
Fight or flight
When we anticipate something, stress may be provoked so we can prepare ourselves. That could be the typical flight or fight response we often talk about. The fight response could be us taking proactive action. If, for example, a work deadline is causing us stress, the fight response would be to get that work completed within the deadline, alleviating the stress.
If we chose a flight response, we could seek to avoid the work and make excuses for missing the deadline. That option would probably be unhelpful – it could mean increased pressure to still do that work within a shorter deadline. Added to this, there is the knowledge / perception that your reputation has been impacted by not meeting the original deadline. Possibly, you might feel that you have let others down.
So, pressure and stress can be positive if short-lived – motivating us to make things happen, boosting energy and productivity. However, when that stress is excessive or prolonged, that is unhealthy and unhelpful.
I used to experience a lot of anticipatory stress, which over years caused lots of anxious feelings, ruminating a lot. These were all really unhelpful, having significant impacts on my physical and mental health. They affected my sleep, eating, levels of concentration, frustration and restlessness.
What I learned to do was to take control of much of that. I could often recognise the negative impact the combined stress and anxiety was causing to me and the relationships in my life.
Four key things made a massive difference to me in changing my view on stress and anxiety:
- Being grateful – for the positives in my life, including the close relationships I have; appreciating the quality time I have with the people I love most. Stress can lead to a cycle of negative thought and changing my mind-set. Getting into a habit of being grateful for the positives in my life has been powerful
- Focusing on my physical health – I started running many years ago, until recently due to a knee injury. I realised I was enjoying running (and now walking) more because of the positive impact on my mental health and it helping my stress. I also stopped drinking alcohol completely, which has improved both my mental and physical health
- Mindfulness Meditations & Qigong –I practice these regularly, and they play a significant role in protecting me against stress and anxiety. Both practices allow me to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings, in a non-judgemental way. I can observe my stress and anxiety; by tuning in to these, they reduce and often leave me
- Breathing – it’s funny to think that breathing can help with stress, as we all breathe. Focusing on the breath in particular ways can alleviate stress quite quickly. Indeed focus on breathing is a good means of overcoming anxiety or panic attacks. Breathing exercises for stress – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
The work that we do in social care is extremely rewarding and often a lot of fun. However, it can be stressful at times. We need to be open about that and communicate with each other well about that fact. When working closely with others, it’s good practise to deliberately talk about what makes each of you stressed. Letting colleagues know how they help is the brave way to face into stress.
Within our homes and supported living we have Team Welfare Plans, designed so that the manager can create a Welfare Plan with the team. Team members can also look at how stress can be alleviated and managed. They can look at how they will support one another and how they respond to events and stressors to be proactively and positively in control.
I have expressed examples of how I manage and cope with stress and anxiety. Everyone will have their own personal and different ways. We are all different and what works for me will not necessarily work for others.
‘Your anxiety and fears are not you and…they do not have to rule your life.’
Further reading: Stress Awareness Month 2023 – The Stress Management Society