National Stress Awareness Month - April

April is National Stress Awareness Month - the campaign aims to not only increase public awareness of stress, but highlight the causes of stress, the negative effects stress can have, as well as how to relieve stress.

How do you know if you’re stressed?

We’ve all used the phrase ‘I’m stressed’ before, but if you’re constantly stressed then you may develop stress-related symptoms which can be emotional, mental, physical and behavioural. For example: Emotional • Overwhelmed • Irritated • Anxious or fearful • Lack of self-esteem • Unable to enjoy yourself, uninterested in life or depressed Mental • Racing thoughts • Constant worrying • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions Physical • Headaches • Panic attacks • Muscle tension or pain • Difficulty sleeping • Dizziness Behavioural • Biting nails or picking at skin • Increased smoking or drinking alcohol • Eating too much or too little Some people who experience severe stress can sometimes have suicidal feelings. If you are feeling like this, then we would urge you to contact Health Assured’s 24/7 helpline to speak to one of our trained counsellors who can help.

The impact of stress

Although there is no medical definition of stress, stress can have a severe impact on a person as it can cause mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. Likewise, mental health problems can cause stress. Stress is clearly a serious issue, but there are things you can do to help reduce this.

Tips for reducing work-related stress

Talk about serious problems. If your stress is caused by something that is in breach of work regulations or your basic rights, for example bullying, then you should raise it with management or your HR department. Organise your time. If the source of your stress is feeling overwhelmed by work and you feel as though you do not have enough time to complete your work, take steps to organise your time. Make a list, determine priorities and set achievable time scales. If you have an issue determining priorities, ask a manager or colleague to help. Take time out from work. On an everyday basis, it is important to take time away from work to feel refreshed and relaxed. If you work in an office you should aim to take your lunchbreak away from your desk. Remember to take time to disconnect from work too, by not taking work home or working extra hours on a regular basis; a good work/life balance is very important.

Tips for reducing personal stress

There are also a number of things you can to do to reduce personal stress (some of these may also help with any work-related stress too). Accept the things you cannot change. You are unable to change all situations however much you may want to, so instead of trying to, focus on the things in your life you do have control over. Say no. If anyone is making unreasonable or unrealistic demands on you, practise being straightforward and assertive so you can tell them how you feel. Develop interests and hobbies. These should be completely different from the things which cause you stress, these should be doing something you enjoy. Exercise is a particularly effective hobby as it’s been proven to help alleviate stress. Improve your sleeping pattern. Sleep loss is often caused by stress, this also makes it worse, so try to aim for a regular sleep pattern. Putting your phone away at least half an hour before you go to sleep has been proven to aid a better night’s sleep. Health Assured have a 4 week programme at our Health Portal aimed on improving your sleep pattern. Build your support network. Telling people how you are feeling can make a big difference, talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling. You could also speak to work colleagues, your line manager or HR department. Health Assured are here to help and support you too and you can get in touch through our helpline.

Treatment

Although stress is not a medical diagnosis, there are ways it can be treated, most of which can be accessed through your GP. For example: • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) • Medication such as sleeping pills for difficulty sleeping, antidepressants for depression or anxiety • Complementary therapies for example yoga, meditation, acupuncture and aromatherapy

Useful websites and organisations

NHS mood self-assessment quizStressbusting website - for information about stress and techniques for coping • The Be Mindful website - for guidance on mindfulness • Mind's Infoline (0300 123 3393/info@mind.org.uk) - for information on support groups and mental health services in your local area • Health Assured’s 4 week programme on sleep

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