We take stress seriously at St Monica Trust. During spring in 2018 and 2019, we’ve run a stress audit, designed by the Health and Safety Executive, with our executive and leadership teams to identify and address the potential causes of stress.
We all know what it’s like to feel stressed, but it’s not easy to pin down exactly what stress means. When we say things like ‘this is stressful’ or ‘I’m stressed’, we might be talking about:
- Situations or events that put pressure on us – for example, times where we have lots to do and think about, or don’t have much control over what happens.
- Our reaction to being placed under pressure – the feelings we get when we have demands placed on us that we find difficult to cope with
How does stress affect me physically?
Stress is the body’s reaction to adverse stimuli – when we are put under pressure. The brain recognises the situation as threatening, which triggers the release of chemicals in the brain. These chemicals travel in our bloodstream down to our adrenaline glands which are located above the kidneys which in turn releases adrenaline into our bloodstream. Adrenaline changes the amount of blood going to the stomach and digestive track, meaning that more blood goes into our muscles – allowing our fight or flight response to kick in if we need to run away or defend ourselves!
However, in the 21st century there are few occasions where our fight or flight response is the best course of action. A lack of blood going to the digestive track can leave us feeling nauseous, our heart rate and breathing increases and we can feel under the weather because our immune system is reduced. Below is a video to summarise this process:
Why do certain things make me feel stressed?
The amount of stress we feel in different situations can depend on:
- Our perceptions of the situation – this might be connected to our past experiences, our self-esteem, and how out thought processes work.
- How skilled we are at dealing with pressure.
- Our emotional resilience to stressful situations.
We’re all different, so a situation that doesn’t bother you at all might cause someone else a lot of stress. For example, if you’re feeling confident or usually enjoy public speaking, you might find that giving a speech in front of a room of people feels comfortable and fun. But if you’re feeling low or usually prefer not to be the centre of attention, this situation might cause you to experience signs of stress.
Can stress can be helpful?
Stress isn’t all bad – in fact the way we perceive our stress can make all the difference. When our breathing increases, more oxygen enters the body and more CO2 leaves. The more oxygen in our body means that the more efficient our thought processes and reaction time. Research has shown that perceiving oxygen intake positively can improve health and wellbeing and even extend longevity. Watch the video below for more information:
Address some of the causes of stress
Although there will probably be lots of things in your life that you can’t do anything about, there might still be some practical ways you could resolve or improve some of the issues that are putting pressure on you.
Accept the things you can’t change
It’s not easy, but accepting that there are somethings happening that you probably can’t do anything about will help you focus your time and energy more productively. Watch the video below for more information:
Identify your triggers
Working out what triggers stress for you can help anticipate problems and think of ways to solve them. Even if you can’t avoid these situations, being prepared can help. Take some time to reflect on events and feelings that could be contributing to your stress (you might want to do this with a friend or family member).
You could consider:
- Issues that come up regularly, and that you worry about, for example paying a bill or attending an appointment
- One off events that are on your mind a lot, such as moving to a new house or taking an exam
- On-going stressful events, having ongoing problems
Write a list of the things that are bothering you.
You might be surprised to find out just how much you’re coping with at once.
Remember that not having enough work, activities or change in your life can be just as stressful as having too much to deal with.
There are other practical things we can do to help us cope:
- Ensure that we don’t become obsessed by the News and A Slave to Tech
- Stay connected with loved ones
- Take care of our emotional and mental health by relaxing, eating well, staying active, having a good sleep routine etc.
- Adopt a positive mindset
- Learn How to Master Our Time
The theme for Stress Awareness Month 2021 is ‘Regaining Connectivity, Certainty and Control’.
The Stress Management Society explains how it takes 30 days to turn actions into habits. So they have developed a 30 Day Challenge encouraging you to pick one action each for your Physical, Mental and Emotional Wellbeing to carry out every day. You could even add actions for your social and spiritual wellness too.
I’m going to start by setting a timer 3 times a day to get up out of my chair, leave my desk and get moving!
The month-long challenge will maximise your chances of turning useful knowledge and techniques into positive behavioural change. Here are some hints and tips to get you started.
What else can you do to reduce stress?
According to Verywellmind.com laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine, and growth hormone. It also increases the level of health-enhancing hormones, like endorphins.
Laughter increases the number of antibody-producing cells we have working for us and enhances the effectiveness of T cells. All this means a stronger immune system, as well as fewer physical effects of stress.
Click on the image below. Hopefully it’ll raise a smile and maybe even a giggle.
Try listening to some relaxing, peaceful music “Nature’s Morning Song” by Tim Janis and you could be feeling just like this cat looks. Click below.
The Creativity Cure book by Alton and Carrie Barron explains how creative hand use (that focuses on process rather than result) can relieve anxiety and stress. When we make something, even imperfectly, especially imperfectly, we are truly expressing ourselves, which is what helps us relieve our stress and anxiety by:
- Gaining more self-awareness
- Becoming more resilient
- Becoming more confident in your decisions
- Experiencing peace of mind, tranquility, and sense of well-being.
Give it a go. Many of our colleagues have and have produced everything from poems, to paintings to crochet to recycled bottle lamps. Perhaps you might be inspired? Take a look by clicking on the Create image on the left.
We’ve known for some time that quality sleep is associated with good physical and emotional health. A 2018 study, which reviewed 74 studies on sleep found that:
- More than 8 hours’ sleep has a greater negative impact on your health than less than 7 hours’.
- Excessive sleep could be a marker of poor health.
- Poor sleep quality is associated with an increased risk in coronary heart disease.
- Other conditions like chronic inflammatory disorders and depression can cause fatigue and impact sleep.
- Inadequate sleep can elevate blood pressure – too little of it can increase our appetite and hinder the body’s ability to regulate stress.
The Dalai Lama says “Sleep is the Best Meditation.” So… how can we sleep better? Click the image below to learn 5 tips for falling asleep quicker.
I hope these tools help you to regain control to manage your stress levels, but if you need further help, remember there’s always someone at hand.
Use the pages on this website and speak to your manager or a member of your People Directorate. It’s important to talk.