April 2021 marks Stress Awareness Month, which has been held in the UK since 1992, to highlight both the causes and cures of stress.
The Stress Management Society recently found that 65% of adults in the UK have felt more stressed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, in March last year. Therefore, this year’s theme for Stress Awareness Month is ‘Regaining Connectivity, Certainty and Control’.
Many people can experience feelings of stress from both small and large incidents. Traffic jams or watching your favourite sports team lose to bigger life events such as being under pressure from work, worrying about a family issue, or experiencing poor health. However, if these feelings of stress are ignored, you may start to feel worse as time goes on and notice a change in your emotional and mental well-being. You may feel unfocused, irritable, and overwhelmed. If you continually brush these feelings aside, you may start to experience physical symptoms of stress such as headaches, exhaustion, muscle pain or a change in appetite. A prolonged and constant feeling of stress is known as ‘chronic stress’, which can have a detrimental effect on your health and lead to illnesses such as depression or high blood pressure. (VeryWell Mind, 2020)
So how can we use this year’s theme to deal with stressful times in our lives? With the COVID-19 pandemic adding extra strain to many people’s day-to-day lives, it is important to recognize if you are stressed and learn how to deal with it. Working from home, home-schooling, not being in a routine, missing your loved ones or dealing with grief can all contribute to added unwanted stress.
Here are some tips in line with this year’s theme;
Connectivity - It is easy to feel disconnected from others due to lockdown, social distancing and even not seeing a person’s friendly smile underneath their mask.
- Organise a socially distanced walk or hike with a friend or family member in your bubble. Even grab a takeaway hot drink and treat.
- Stay in touch with your loved ones through texting, calling or zoom. Using Zoom can be fun but may seem daunting, especially if you have never used it. Click here for a simple beginner's guide.
- Attend an online class such as yoga, mindfulness or baby sensory if you are a parent.
- If you’re feeling disconnected and it’s taking a toll on your mental health, AWARE offers online support groups, which will allow you to connect with others who can relate to how you’re feeling. You can find more information on them here.
Certainty – The COVID-19 pandemic was unexpected and has created a lot of uncertainty around day-to-day life and the future.
- Take each day as it comes and plan nice things when you have some free time such as cooking a nice meal, planning a picnic with your bubble or watching your favourite movie.
- Try your best not to worry about postponed future plans such as holidays, weddings or your favourite concert. Although it can be disappointing, the majority of events will happen eventually! Try to focus on the positives of rescheduling, for example, it gives you more time to plan and save money.
- If the uncertainty of the current situation is leaving you feeling stressed, reach out and talk to someone close to you. It’s always good to talk and opening up to someone you love and trust can make you feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
Control – Feeling like you have lost control can be overwhelming but it is completely normal. The sense that we can’t control the outcome of COVID-19, has left a lot of us feeling anxious.
- Stick to a routine to help you feel a sense of control in your life. Creating simple daily practices can prevent you from feeling out of control, such as journaling, picking up a new hobby or eating healthier.
- Do your bit in helping to stop the spread of the virus. Practicing social distancing, wearing a mask when needed and regularly sanitizing can help you feel like you are contributing to keeping the virus under control.
- Control the amount of media you consume. Switching off your phone, limiting screen time and reducing news notifications can help you manage the amount of stressful content you are consuming. Instead, why not try one of AWARE’s ‘Living Life to the Full’ courses to learn how to manage your emotions and better your mental wellbeing. It is a 6-week free-to-attend course, and we would love to have you join us! Register here: https://aware-ni.org/living-life-to-the-full
AWARE provides resources if you are feeling stressed. Click here for tips on managing stress.
You can also visit the COVID Wellbeing NI Hub for more information.