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  • Writer's pictureStress Management Society

Understanding stress

Stress is a nearly universal human experience. We all, at some point in our lifetime, have experienced stress.

However, it is important to debunk a common myth: stress is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. Without the stress response, humankind wouldn’t have survived to experience the twenty-first century. Our cavemen ancestors used the onset ‘Fight or Flight’ stress response to equip them to deal with threats and danger, such as a sabre-toothed tiger.

This is why it is important to understand stress and learn how to manage it to be able to avoid its harmful effects.

Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes several reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.

Through the release of hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, the caveman gained a rush of energy, which prepared him to either fight the tiger or run away. That heart-pounding, fast breathing sensation is the adrenaline; as well as a boost of energy, it enables us to focus our attention so we can quickly respond to the situation.

In the modern world, the ‘fight or flight’ mode can still help us survive dangerous situations, such as reacting swiftly to a person running in front of our car by slamming on the brakes.

The challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations. When blood flow is going only to the most important muscles needed to fight or flee, brain function is minimised. This can lead to an inability to ‘think straight’; a state that is a great hindrance in both our work and home lives. If we are kept in a state of stress for long periods, it can be detrimental to our health. The results of having elevated cortisol levels can be an increase in sugar and blood pressure levels and a decrease in libido.

Stress depends on the circumstances we find ourselves in

For example, to help us learn about the true impact of Covid-19 on people’s mental health and wellbeing, we collaborated with Huawei AppGallery to conduct insightful research. Our survey of 2,000 nationally representative British adults was carried out by OnePoll in January 2021. The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding of the state of the nations’ wellbeing.

We identified that:

65% felt more stressed since the Covid-19 restrictions began

53% felt more anxious than usual

44% were more depressed than usual

The three main causes of concern were disconnection, uncertainty and worrying loss of control.

The pandemic affected almost every country across the globe, and while

it’s unknown how many will be impacted physically, practically everyone will be

affected mentally and emotionally. The prolonged isolation for some, over-crowded

homes for others, sustained levels of heightened stress and anxiety, as well as financial hardships, strained relationships, grief, and loss have created a ‘perfect storm’ for mental health issues. These circumstances have heightened the mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and PTSD, as well as non-diagnosable conditions such as loneliness and grief for billions of people around the world.

Living through the uncertainty of a global pandemic and wars have left many of us feeling that our day to day lives and future happiness are outside of our control. We worry about the safety of our loved ones, health risks, financial security, our ability to cope with enforced isolation, and many other things. Constant worrying causes stress, which in turn changes the way we think, feel and act until we feel we are no longer in control of our lives.

So, stress affects our physical and psychological wellbeing and it can manifest itself in numerous ways. Some physical symptoms can be skin rashes, headaches, abdominal pains, frequent colds and infections, aches, pains, tense muscles etc. While psychological symptoms would include our emotional and cognitive symptoms such as constant worrying, racing thoughts, forgetfulness, disorganisation, having difficulty relaxing, becoming easily agitated and feeling of losing control…

The Stress Management Society’s mission is to equip, inspire and empower individuals to focus on what is within their control!

It is quite clear that we currently do not have control over everything in our lives, yet what we do have control of, is what is happening internally and what we are doing to manage stress and look after our wellbeing.

Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 to raise awareness of the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. The last two years have been the most challenging we have faced and in 2020 our services were overwhelmed by people that are struggling and seeking support. This year our theme is Community. We have chosen this theme because lack of support can cause loneliness and isolation, which in turn lowers people’s wellbeing, impacts mental health and can lead to mental illness. Social isolation is an important risk factor for both deteriorating mental health and suicide. As we emerge from the pandemic, the community support experienced by many people during this challenging time must continue. Although restrictions have mainly been lifted, people need support now more than ever as they adjust to a new way of living.

We have prepared many useful resources that are free to download and help you to manage stress more effectively.

If you are passionate about learning more about mental health and being able to help yourself and others join us for our public Mental Health Awareness Workshop. This workshop will give you a clear understanding of the importance of mental health towards overall health; debunk mental health stigma and help you grasp the most common mental health issues. You will be introduced to the framework that works! Where we will discuss how you can effectively assess and approach people showing obvious signs of mental ill-health.

The Stress Management Society

We have been dedicated to leading effective universal change with our passionate approach to recognising and reducing stress and promoting wellbeing since 2003.

We are a non-profit organisation with a proven and long-standing track record in helping private and public sector organisations manage workplace stress. We use our expertise in stress reduction to help organisations improve mental health, wellbeing, motivation, and performance within their workforce.

We pride ourselves on being the UK’s leading resource for advice, support and guidance for Workplace Stress. We offer wellbeing advice, news, guidance as well as access to best practice strategies to support you in creating a culture of wellbeing within your organisation. We have a team of highly experienced consultants and trainers to support your wellbeing projects. Everything we deliver, we do so in a clear and accessible way so that organisations and individuals can apply and benefit from our solutions and recommended interventions quickly and easily.



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