What is Stress Awareness Month and Why is it Important?

Most of us experience stress to some extent every single day. It can be easy to tolerate this as ‘just one of those things’ or the inevitable consequence of a busy, hectic lifestyle. But overtime stress can accumulate, become chronic and take its toll on our mental and physical health. To raise awareness of this, businesses and organisations are campaigning to spread the word this April during Stress Awareness Month – here’s why…

What is Stress?

Stress is our innate response to threatening situations. When faced with a threat, our body is genetically programmed to enter ‘fight or flight mode.’ This causes a series of biological responses: our heart rate speeds up, adrenaline and stress hormones are released, breathing rate increases, and energy levels are elevated.

This was all good and well in ancestral times when we needed survival mode to kick in – think running away from a tiger! – but in the modern world it is a series of micro-stresses (in comparison to running for your life) which activate this same stress response.

The problem with this is that our modern lifestyles repeatedly activate the same stress response, only to a lesser extent. The biological impact of micro-stresses builds up over time to become chronic and can become a major problem for overall health and wellbeing.

What is Stress Awareness Month?

Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992. That’s almost 30 years of a whole month being dedicated to raise awareness about stress, it’s causes and the impact it can have on our health and wellbeing.

Despite this, stress remains a major contributor to mental ill-health, with growing research showing the alarming correlation between stress and physical illness too.

Research by Mental Health Awareness has found that 74% of UK adults[1] have felt so stressed at some point during the last year that they have felt overwhelmed and unable to cope.

What Impact Does Stress Have on the Body and Mind?

Everyday stress can be manageable for those who are emotionally resilient and mentally well, but stress can be problematic for those who do not have effective coping mechanisms in place. Research has consistently shown that chronic stress is heavily correlated with a number of physical and mental health conditions.

Like most mental health conditions, if not all, stress has a long way to go before it can be taken as seriously as physical illness. This is worrying considering that stress has been identified as a risk factor[2] for:

·  Anxiety & Depression – 50-60% of people who suffer with stress experience feelings of anxiety and depression

·  High Blood Pressure & Heart Disease – Stress is correlated with negative lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking alcohol and poor diet – these are often used as coping mechanisms[3]

·  Insomnia – Stress & sleeplessness is a vicious cycle, with 43% adults struggling to sleep due to stress and 45% of adults feeling stressed due to a lack of sleep in the past month[4]

·  Digestive Disorders – Stress exacerbates the symptoms of gut disorders such as IBD, IBS and Coeliac Disease, it can also contribute to constipation and diarrhoea

·  Poor Immunity – When experiencing stress, we release a hormone called cortisol, which reduces the body’s antigens and ability to fight off infection

Stress Awareness Month 2021: Regaining Connectivity, Certainty & Control

Each year Stress Awareness Month occupies a new focus, helping to provide support in an ever-evolving world of stress, as well as highlight the impact stress can have on many other aspects of life.

The focus of this year’s Stress Awareness Month is regaining connectivity, certainty and control. A study conducted by the Stress Management Society found that 65% of British adults reported experiencing more stress this past year, unsurprisingly, due to COVID-19[5].

These people self-reported that the main causes of their accelerated stress levels were feelings of disconnection, uncertainty and lack of control – hence this year’s campaign aims to support people’s journey to regaining connectivity, certainty and control.

It is important to acknowledge that just as the current pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have contributed to stress, so will the easing of lockdown. The journey back to a busy, sociable and demanding lifestyle may not be easy for those who have been lonely, isolated and devoid of human contact for some time now.

What Can You Do to Make a Difference This Stress Awareness Month?

Stress is undeniably one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, so what can we do as individuals to make a difference this Stress Awareness Month and beyond? Here are some simple suggestions to support this cause and bring a focus to reducing your own and others’ stress this April.

·  Stop Trivialising Stress – Whether aloud or in your own mind, get out of the habit of shrugging stress off as ‘just one of those things’

·  Start a Conversation About Stress – At home and in the workplace, let’s start talking about stress more openly

·  Prioritise Self-Care to Manage Your Own Stress – Stress Awareness Month isn’t just about others, be sure to use it as tool to focus on your own stress management too

·  Share Your Coping Mechanisms with Others – And when you find something which helps you to manage stress…share, share, share with others!

Work Related Stress

You don’t need to delve into the statistics and reports to rationalise that work can be, and is for most, a great source of stress. Here are the facts:

·  79% British adults commonly experience work-related stress in the UK

·  Work-related stress is the most common form of stress

·  Work-related stress is on the rise in the UK – up 21% from 58% to 79% in the past 2 years

Making mental health a positive conversation in the workplace can help to nurture an environment which puts employee health and wellbeing at the forefront of business priorities – above targets, deadlines and growth.

Creating a workplace which proactively discusses and challenges stressful situations can help to reduce stress and its impact on colleagues. This April, let’s take a proactive approach to managing personal and professional stress, in what has been perhaps the most mentally challenging time the modern human has ever faced.

You can learn more about Stress Awareness Month and download your own 30 Day  Challenge: Regaining Connectivity, Certainty and Control here (https://www.stress.org.uk/national-stress-awareness-month-2019/).

[1] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/

[3] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-stress

[4] https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep


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