By Emma Coates, RD. Medical Affairs and QA Manager
The first week of November sees in the annual event that is International Stress Awareness Week.
Whilst it is important to recognise and acknowledge stress at any time, it seems particularly poignant at present with Covid-19 pandemic placing more stress than ever on everyone.
This year, International Stress Awareness Week provides a platform for stress and mental health problems to be in the spotlight, with insights from around the world
Recent figures closer to home show how the pandemic has impacted on the stress levels of people in the UK.
Pre-Covid (July 2019 to March 2020) around 1 in 10 (9.7%) adults were likely to experience some form of depression. However, this has almost double during the pandemic (July 2020) with approximately one in five adults (19.2%) reporting that they were likely to be experiencing some form of depression.
Almost 85% of adults reported that feeling stressed or anxious was the most common way they’d be experiencing some form of depression
Source: Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain. Office for National Statistics, June 2020.
This article will look at some key points relating to stress and how to recognise it. Also, we’ll share some ideas for managing stress in the workplace.
What is stress?
Most of us know how it feels to be stressed and it means different things to different people. It’s not easy to give a definite explanation of what stress is. However, stress could be described as our natural response to pressure.
We often feel stressed in situations which put us under pressure, for example, when there’s a lot to do, not enough time, too many things happening all at once or having too many things on your mind.
When things stack up and we start to feel the pressure build; and it can lead to some strong response, whether that’s physical or emotional. Stress can develop from both negative or positive situations or events and won’t always impact on well-being. Some people can find stress helpful or motivating. However, it’s well recognised that stress can have a negative influence over our lives, and it is important to identify and manage it.
Symptoms of Stress
Everyone will experience different physical and emotional things when they’re feeling stressed. However, there are common symptoms that can be split into various categories: emotional, physical and behavioural.
Here are some symptoms you or others may be experiencing:
Emotional – how someone may be feeling
· Irritable, aggressive, impatient or wound up
· Anxious, nervous or afraid
· Like your thoughts are racing and you can't switch off
· Unable to enjoy yourself
· Uninterested in life
· Like you've lost your sense of humour
· A sense of dread
· Worried about your health
· Neglected or lonely
· Suicidal thoughts may be a concern if some is experiencing severe stress – please seek help if you are experiencing these types of thoughts.
Physical – how someone may be feeling physically
· Shallow breathing or hyperventilating
· You might have a panic attack
· muscle tension
· Blurred eyesight or sore eyes
· Problems getting to sleep, staying asleep or having nightmares
· Sexual problems, such as losing interest in sex or being unable to enjoy sex
· Tired all the time
· Grinding your teeth or Clenching your jaw
· Chest pains
· High blood pressure
· Indigestion or heartburn
· Constipation or diarrhoea
· Feeling sick, dizzy or fainting
Behavioural – how someone may behave
· Finding it hard to make decisions
· Constantly worrying
· Avoiding situations that are troubling you
· Snapping at people
· Biting your nails
· Picking at your skin
· Unable to concentrate
· Eating too much or too little
· Smoking or drinking alcohol more than usual
· Restless, like you can't sit still
· Being tearful or crying
(Taken from Mind, How to manage stress, 2020 https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/dealing-with-pressure/#collapsed0535 <accessed 02/11/20>
How do you manage stress?
Stress seems to be coming at us thick and fast from all angles at the moment; you and your colleagues may be finding work more stressful than usual with increased demand on your services.
Here are a few things you can consider, which may help you to manage your own stress levels whilst at work (or even at home).
Know your triggers
Working out what moves you in to the stressed out zone is key to understanding how you can manage your stress levels better.
Take 10-15 minutes to reflect and make a list.
Consider the following:
Problems or stressors that frequently crop up, which cause you worry, e.g. completing certain tasks.
One-off events that may be on your mind, such as moving to a new house or taking an exam.
Ongoing stressful events, for example, having problems at work.
Organise your time
Understanding how you currently use your time and whether there are any adjustments you can make to the way you organise your time may help you feel more in control of any tasks you're facing, and more able to manage your stress levels.
Take another 10-15 minutes to reflect and consider:
When are you at your best? – knowing when you perform best or have the most energy may help you plan when to complete certain tasks over others.
Make a to do list – to help you see what things you need to do and organise them in terms or priority and time allocation required.
Set achievable, smaller targets – Rome wasn’t built in a day. Each smaller step in the process to completing a task or project is important. Completing those will make you feel more in control and less overwhelmed.
Vary your activities – humans aren’t robots! We need variety and stimulation, therefore, varying your activities may help to keep you focused in the long run.
Take a break – it’s ok to down tools and have a cuppa or go for a walk.
Ask for help – it’s ok to ask for help. Sometimes two heads are better than one and many heads make light work.
Address some of the causes
Let’s face it, there are many things in life that you won’t be able to do anything about. But there might still be some practical things you could do to resolve or improve some of the issues that are causing or contributing to you feeling stressed.
Take 10-15 minutes to think about the causes you can do something about some and some ways to manage or resolve them.
Sometimes taking these through with a friend, colleague or family member can help.
And remember, some things take time to change or resolve, so don’t be disappointed if this doesn’t happen first time you try to make a change.
Accept what you can’t change
It’s easier said than done but sometimes you have to accept that life will throw things at you which you won’t be able to change or do anything about.
However, recognising these will help you to focus your time and energy more productively.
Again, take some time out to think about these and start to think differently about them, moving them off your priority list.
Adapted from Mind, How can I deal with pressure?, 2020 (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/dealing-with-pressure/#collapseaa9eb <accessed 02/11/20)
What else can I do alongside my colleagues?
Whilst this article can’t address all of the stress busting requirements your department or team may have, here are some fun but important suggestions for managing stress during these challenging times. Here at Nualtra we’ve created our own ‘Wellness Warriors’, who are a team of wellness advocates within the company who support and promote healthy minds, bodies and working relationships for us all here.
You may already have a similar team in your department but if not, it’s well worth considering, as it forms a point of reference for wellness and potentially creates a safe space for people to talk about stress.
Here are a few more suggestions for improving stress levels at work for both you and your colleagues:
Get moving: Physical exercise can help relieve tension and relax your mind.
Engaging in physical activity every day is important. This could be a socially distanced walk +/- colleagues or if working from home, an online fitness class during lunchtime or after work. Walking meetings are also a good way to feel energised and refreshed whilst at work and when appropriate.
Setting some fun challenges for you and your colleagues may encourage an increase in exercise and interaction amongst you all, for example, a weekly walking/step challenge.
Stay connected: However you feel about it, we all need some kind of interaction with others throughout the day or from time to time.
If possible, catching up with a colleague, friend or family member at a safe distance or on the phone can help to lift your mood and ease your mind.
Remember - It important to keep up to date with the latest government guidelines in your area if you want to meet up. If meeting in person is not possible, staying in touch by phone, video calls or social media is still a good thing to do throughout the day.
Be kind to others: We’re all feeling the strain at the moment and other people may need support and help, just like you. Fostering an open approach to stress and wellbeing within your department or team is vital for anyone who needs support to feel confident to share their concerns.
Supporting and helping others can allow us to take a break from our own hectic thoughts and schedules. It can help us to gain a different perspective and even better equip us to handle stressful situations of our own.
Also, carrying out acts of kindness will boost endorphins, resulting in you receiving a ‘helpers high’ - the uplifting feeling you feel after helping someone.
Self-care: During stressful times it’s not uncommon for the things we love to get side-lined.
It’s ok to make time for your hobbies and the things you enjoy doing. Scheduling in time for you to relax isn’t selfish or something to feel guilty about, it an important part of your wellbeing. Learning something new such as a musical instrument or a craft may be a good way to improve your mood and stress levels.
Planning in some time for the things you love will give you something to look forward to and can help you shift to a more positive mindset.
Relax your mind: Mindfulness has been a buzz word in healthcare for a while now and you may encourage patients practice it as part of their care plan. However, it’s worth introducing some mindfulness and breathing techniques into your own routine. It can help you to stop worrying about the future and allow you to focus on the present. There are a variety of wellbeing apps, online videos and tutorials that can help you deal with difficult emotions and relax your mind.
Adapted from – https://isma.org.uk/isma-international-stress-awareness-week <accessed 02/11/20>