We are taught to put a bandage on a wound to stop infections and we are taught to brush our teeth daily to prevent tooth decay. Right from the very first day of our lives we are taught how to keep our bodies safe and healthy. But what are we taught to prevent our mental health from declining?
This week is mental health week, something that effects many of us; whether that is directly experiencing mental health problems ourselves, or maybe it has effected somebody close to us. This years focus is based solely on stress. Stress is a term thrown around daily, but it can lead on to serious mental health issues. We have all had stressful periods in our lives, and we often just brush them off, but how are we really coping with the rising pressure of society?
A recent study by the Mental Health Foundation showed that the younger generation (18-38 year olds) feel more under pressure at work, with a quarter of the 4500 people questioned stating they are expected to work through stress at work. Only 14 percent of those questioned said that they felt comfortable talking to their manager about their stress levels. The study also showed that 75 percent of people have felt so stressed that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope, with a third of people in the UK also experiencing suicidal feelings as a result of stress. So to sum things up, this is a big problem in today’s world.
Stress is a very individual thing. Peoples tolerance to situations is different. In some instances stress can be helpful, it can push us to perform better and it can help us through nerve wracking experiences. Often we can return to normal after short moments of stress without any negative effects on our health. However, sometimes we are exposed to stressful situations for a lengthy period of time and depending on our resilience, our genetics, our environment and our experiences it can have debilitating effects.
Without getting too scientific, stress effects our hormone levels. We activate our ‘fight or flight’ response when faced with difficult or challenging situations and this elevates our cortisol levels. When this is at a high level for a prolonged amount of time it can have a very negative effect on our physical and mental health. Physically in can effect blood pressure, our heart health, our energy levels and our immune system. But mentally it can also have a huge impact, and this is only just being recognised.
Depression and anxiety can be caused by stress. Being exposed to high pressure situations or feeling like you cannot cope with things can deeply effect your mood and your every day life. Our ability to stay positive and bounce back from difficult situations is impaired when we are under high amounts of stress. Depression and anxiety are incredibly serious conditions that effect individuals in many different ways. The problem is that these issues are often over looked, or often not really taken seriously. Doctors are quick to prescribe anti depressants but this doesn’t really help us build up our resilience or address the root causes of our problems. We still live in a society that pushes us to our limits and celebrates being busy and overworked.
So how can we manage our stress levels and take control of our mental health? Well the answer is different for everybody but here are some tips to help you maintain a healthy mind and prevent stress getting the better of you.
1. Recognise the warning signs. If you are getting sick often, feeling tired, feeling demotivated and struggling to cope then these are the signed that you need to act on. If you catch yourself not quite feeling your usual self then it is key to take some time and figure out what is causing this. This enables you to take action and prevent the situation from getting worse.
2. Make time for the things you love. This could be anything! Spending time with loved ones, going to the gym, watching your favourite box set, going for a walk – anything that truly makes you happy. This allows your body to relax and distracts you from any stresses that you have in your life.
3. Talk. Whether that is to your loved ones or to a professional, talking through your worries and issues helps a lot. This can help you see things from a different perspective and can help you to think a little clearer.
4. Get moving and eat well. Exercise and diet can have a huge impact on your health and well-being. Eating plenty of fresh fruit and nutrients helps to keep your body healthy and exercise is known to bring stress levels down. It is so tempting to slob out and eat rubbish when you are feeling low but it is so important to give our bodies the nutrients that it needs.
5. Go easy on yourself. Now I always say it, but it is key to be kind to yourself. We are often very hard on ourselves, however when you are feeling low and stressed kindness is key. Beating yourself up for feeling they way that you do will only make things worse. Treat yourself in the way that you would treat your best friend.
These are just a few little tips that I have felt helpful when experiencing stressful situations. They key things is to take control of your situation and your life. We are the only ones that truly know what is best for ourselves. There are plenty of other ways to manage mental health and prevent issues from building and you can find the full study that MHF did here: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/file/3432/download?token=709ABkP8
Mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of and I urge you to speak about your experiences and ask for help, you will never be alone!