This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (14th-20th May) the focus is on Stress and how we can cope with stress better to improve our mental health.
While stress isn’t a mental health problem in itself, it often leads to depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide. It can also lead to physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease and joint and muscle problems. – Mental Health Foundation
The Mental Health Foundation have released a research report into Stress, named Stress: are we coping? This report has found that out of the people they surveyed the top stressor was Long term health conditions
Long-term health conditions (either
one’s own, or those of close family and
friends) was the top stressor reported
in our survey, with 36% of all adults who
reported stress in the previous year
citing it as a stressor.
As we all know, living with a long term health condition can be extremely stressful, add in the extra fact that you’re living with an illness that has a lot of stigma, misunderstanding, lack of funding into research, that’s ‘invisible’ and stress can play a major role in our lives. Stress is bad for our bodies, it can not only exacerbate mental health conditions, it can exacerbate our physical health conditions too, when you’re stressed your muscles will tighten, causing more muscle pain, which isn’t great when you’re already living with a condition that causes widespread, chronic pain. To read the research report yourself, visit the Mental Health Foundation’s website here: Mental Health Foundation Website
But what can we do about stress?
TOP 10 INDIVIDUAL ACTIONS (from the Mental Health Foundation)
1) Realise when it is causing you a problem and
identify the causes.
You need to make the connection between feeling tired or ill
with the pressures you are faced with. Do not ignore physical
warnings such as tense muscles, over-tiredness, headaches
or migraines. Sort the possible reasons for your stress into
those with a practical solution, those that will get better
anyway given time, and those you can’t do anything about.
Take control by taking small steps towards the things you
2) Review your lifestyle.
Are you taking on too much? Are there things you are doing
which could be handed over to someone else? Can you do
things in a more leisurely way? You may need to prioritise
things you are trying to achieve and reorganise your life so
that you are not trying to do everything at once.
3) Build supportive relationships and social
Find close friends or family who can offer help and practical
advice to support you to reduce your stress. Joining a club
or enrolling on a course are good ways to expand your
social networks and to encourage you to do something
different. Equally activities like volunteering can change your
perspective and helping others can have a beneficial impact on your mood.
4) Eat Healthily.
A healthy diet will reduce the risks of diet-related diseases.
Also, there is a growing amount of evidence showing
how food affects our mood. Feelings of wellbeing can be
protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate
amounts of nutrients such as essential vitamins and minerals,
as well as water.
5) Be aware of your smoking, drinking and caffeine intake.
Even though they may seem to reduce tension, this is
misleading as they make problems worse. Alcohol and
caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety.
Physical exercise can be an excellent initial approach to
managing the effects of stress. Even going out to get some
fresh air and taking some light physical exercise, like walking
to the shops, can help when you feel stressed. You do not
need to do much, walking 15-20 minutes, three times a week
is a good way to feel better.
7) Take time out.
Take time to relax. Saying ‘I just can’t take time off’ is no
use if you are forced to take time off later through ill health.
Striking a balance between responsibility to others and to
yourself is vital in reducing stress levels.
8) Be mindful.
Mindfulness meditation can be practiced anywhere at any
time. Research has suggested that it can be helpful for
managing and reducing the effect of stress, anxiety and
other related problems such as insomnia, poor concentration
and low moods, in some people.70 Our ‘Be Mindful’ website
features a specially-developed online course in mindfulness,
as well as details of local courses in your area: https://
9) Get some restful sleep.
Sleeping problems are common when you’re suffering from
stress. Try to ensure you get enough rest. Writing down your
to do list for the next day can be useful in helping you to
prioritise but also to park these plans before bed.71 For more
tips on getting a good night’s sleep read our guide ‘ How to….
sleep better at: www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/howsleep-better
10) Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Try to keep things in perspective. Look for things in your life
that are positive and write down things that make you feel
Now, remember these are general tips, and not specific for when you’re living with chronic illnesses, so maybe take a couple of the tips and try to put them into practice, but remember that you know your body and what you can and can’t do. I personally have found Mindfulness great for aiding my mental health and dealing with the stress of living with multiple chronic illnesses, and whilst it hasn’t lessened my pain or symptoms it has helped me to cope with living with them. It’s also been extremely important to me to have a good support network around me who understand what I’m going through.
Step away from toxic people and know that it’s okay to focus on your wants and needs.
If you need some help with your mental health, please seek it, you can self refer to Talking Helps in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Talking Helps Newcastle is the NHS talking therapy service for Newcastle residents, delivered by a partnership of Insight Healthcare; Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.
Who is the service for?
Everyone goes through difficult times; sometimes our problems affect our day-to-day lives and we feel that we can’t cope. If you are in this situation, you are not alone. We can help you if you are experiencing common issues such as:
- low mood
- relationship difficulties
- family problems
Talking Helps Newcastle is a free, confidential service available to anyone aged 16 and above who is registered with a GP surgery in Newcastle.
You can refer yourself by filling in their online form on their website here: Talking Helps Newcastle. Alternatively, you can ask your GP for a referral to us or contact us directly by phone on 0300 555 1115 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please remember, your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
You are not alone, if you need help please reach out.