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Stress Awareness Month - What is stress and why it matters

We can all feel stress. It is a natural human reaction to pressure or threats. Stress straddles the line between physical and mental health. When we are stressed, hormones are released that fasten our heart rate, increase blood sugar levels and heighten blood pressure. However, stress is also an issue that affects our mental health greatly. This could be due to the unpleasant situations that cause stress. Common examples include


·      Bereavement and grief

·      Struggle to manage responsibilities

·      Excessive pressure put on individuals

·      Societal problems (e.g. times of economic upheaval, natural disasters)


We have seen people face excessive stress from the latter - caused by worldwide

events like the Corona Virus Pandemic and more recently inflation and the cost of living crisis.


But how should we approach stress as a mental health issue?


Firstly, myths about stress should be busted. It isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. The fact we all have to deal with stress, does not mean we shouldn’t seek help if it is necessary. Stress can be different for everyone, so comparing ones’ experience to others’ experience is unhelpful. Finally, stress is not the best motivator to achieve more - there are better ways to push yourself and thrive.


It is also important to see stress as not in itself a mental health issue, but as something that can cause mental health issues or be a symptom of mental health conditions. Stress can cause anxiety, depression and in in the most severe cases, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mental health conditions like OCD, where there are often feelings of fear, obsessive thoughts and seeking reassurance are often stressful to manage.


Stress can leave us feeling anxious, irritable and impatient. It can lead to feelings of neglect, losing interest in life and loneliness. Existing mental health problems can be exacerbated. But it is important to remember we are not alone.


Stress being inevitable can be compared to the rain. The rain is inevitable but we can deal with it, whether the storms, prepare for it. Most importantly, we can come out on the sunnier side, knowing they aren’t as far off as we fear.


If we fear stressful times are coming, whether this is in personal or professional circumstances, we can take actions to circumvent the worst excesses of stress and the nasty symptoms it can cause. It is important to prepare, both practically and mentally, for what is coming. This involves being realistic and ready for all scenarios we could potentially face, even those that are unpleasant. We can also not set expectations for ourselves that aren’t realistic and will simply lead to disappointment. In scenarios, such as exams or job interviews, that are often deeply stressful, we can lower the stakes of what we are about to do. This means putting less pressure on ourselves and taking a stoical attitude to what is outside of our control.


It is important to remember that if stress feels chronic, debilitating or overwhelming, help is there. Many find therapy useful in these scenarios and we at Power to Live are eager to listen to your concerns and find pragmatic solutions that can help you live a more fulfilling life. Power to live Foundation is a charity that offers low-cost behavioural therapy that focuses on helping you take back control of your life.

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