Mental Health Awareness Week: address your stress

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By Maureen Smojkis, Lecturer in Mental Health
Department of Social Work and Social Care, University of Birmingham


Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May 2018) is co-ordinated by the Mental Health Foundation to tackle the stigma that is often associated with mental health conditions. Mental health is a topic that has become more visible over the past decade, in part due to the increasing open discussions by those in the public eye and social movements, such as Time to Change.

Prince Harry’s discussion about the impact of his mother’s death to Bryony Gordon on her podcast series ‘Mad World’ demonstrated how loss, something experienced by all, can affect feelings, thoughts and behaviour. Prince Harry offered a candid insight into his mental health experience and reinforced the statistic that 1 in 4 people in the UK are affected by mental illness. Furthermore, according to NHS statistics, the number of prescriptions given by GPs for mental health conditions has doubled in the past decade.

This year the focus of Mental Health Awareness Week is stress, something that we will all experience at some point; a mind-body process that can be useful in certain circumstances. Stress is the fight or flight response to a perceived threat that triggers the physiological response to prepare us to either stay and fight or remove ourselves quickly from a situation. A prolonged period of stress can lead to being:

  • Tired but wired, finding it hard to relax and unwind
  • Irritable, having a short fuse, unable to deal with stressful situations
  • Cravings for sugary and starchy food or caffeine
  • Weight around the abdomen
  • Poor sleep
  • Exhaustion even from walking

If we do not address the initial symptoms of stress, this may lead to anxiety and depression or physical health problems.

Address your stress:

Life can sometimes be a struggle, how we are feeling can affect relationships with our friends, family and colleagues and can impact on how we function in the workplace. It is important to acknowledge that we will experience a range of emotions in relation to life events, there is a strong possibility that we will experience loss, bereavement and life transitions, including starting or leaving a job or changing relationships.

To help us on our journey, it is important to begin by developing self-understanding and recognising our own signs of how both positive and negative events can affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

A certain amount of stress doesn’t harm us, but experiencing continuous stress or being in a stressful environment can be damaging to our physical and mental health. The University has resources (including a stress self-help guide) that can be used to understand your stress and how you can start to tackle it.

Here are some top tips to managing stress in the workplace:

  • Eat foods that give you prolonged energy
  • Drink caffeine free drinks
  • Take regular breaks, stay connected to others i.e. friends, colleagues
  • When things are difficult in the workplace try to take three minutes to do a mindfulness breathing exercise or go for a walk
  • Take time to do stretching exercises at your desk or in a private space
  • Ensure that you have enough sleep
  • Speak with a colleague or your manager if you have concerns

Finally, it is important to be kind to yourself and others. If you can see that a colleague is not OK, ask them how they are. Focussing on kindness to both ourselves and other people stimulates areas of the brain and body that are conducive to positive health and well-being (Gilbert 2013).


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