This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme chosen by the Mental Health Foundation is stress – joy! But, before we crack on with this week’s blog post, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- How are you doing?
- …wait, how are you really doing?
- How has your sleep been lately? In fact, how do you get yourself to sleep in the first place? (Dare I mention podcasts?)
- How many things have you been holding in your mind lately? How many lists do you have next to your keyboard?
We’re asking these questions because stress has an uncanny ability to overwhelm our entire lives, affecting all elements of our wellbeing from social to nutritional, sleep patterns to our ability to focus on the task in hand.
Stress is an important emotion because it’s one that every single person has felt to varying degrees – it’s a natural response that has evolved to literally keep our homo sapien-selves alive. However, this also means it’s the emotion we’re most likely to overlook because “everyone has been through this”. The important thing to note here is just how easy it is for a mental health condition to start as stress, but end up as something much bigger and more powerful.
The key fact is that everyone experiences and deals with stress in different ways. This means that people get triggered by stress in different ways in the same way that they will process it differently once it’s arrived. So what may be stressful to you may not be stressful to Joe Bloggs, and vice versa. What’s more, you may be able to calm yourself quickly, whilst Joe Bloggs may need to scream into a pillow for some sense of satisfaction – all following the same trigger.
How we deal with stress is the important part. There are many different reasons why someone may have stress triggered (from trauma to brain chemistry – to both of those combined) so let’s focus on what to do when you’re feeling so stressed it’s overwhelming. The aim is to interrupt the spiral that can lead to evermore serious mental health conditions – so let’s start by considering stress as a little (or large!) red flag that our brain starts waving when things just aren’t feeling right.
- Talk to someone – anyone
- Whilst we are social animals, we’re not always very good at reaching out to people. If your stress is being caused by things external to you (such as work or housing pressures) you never know how much one person may be able to help. For instance, try reaching out to a colleague for extra support at work, ask your flatmate to chip in with chores. The good thing about this shared experience is that we can all understand
- Pay attention to the small warning signs
- Stress can very sneakily hang around in the background, however it’s important to notice even the smallest of signs that may snowball into something much bigger. For instance, are you losing energy much quicker at work? Are you getting emotionally fatigued by friendships? Small changes in character (that impact you negatively) are often very good warning signs to act upon
- Notice how it may be impacting your relationships
- Feeling overwhelmed or depressed can cause people to introvert themselves, as they believe they don’t deserve to be around people when feeling this way. Others may project their emotions onto other people, causing conflict and harm to important relationships. Try and observe your relationships as reflections of how you’re feeling inside. Chances are, if your friendships are fulfilling, healthy and loving, you’re probably feelings similarly inside
- Find small, daily activities or rituals that ground you
- How many times have you woken up in the morning and thought “Nope!” Again, whilst many people have felt this way, it’s important to find YOUR reason to wake up, get up and get on with your day. It may be that you need to wake up, shower and dress yourself immediately in order to feel ready to tackle the onslaught. Some may need to slowly wake up, have a long breakfast and write a list of 10 things they’re grateful for and 3 affirmations. Find your morning routine that separates you from the rest of the world
- Talk to a specialist (last but not least!!!)
- It’s all well and good speaking to close friends and family, but sometimes you need someone objective to help you understand the underlying cause of your emotions and thought patterns. A therapist is a great person to speak to – they can help you unpick those uncomfortable emotions and support you in developing new ways to think and behave that ultimately bring you happiness!