Let’s talk about stress 18 May 2018 Advice This week Norwood is supporting #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. This year’s theme is Stress: Are we coping? No matter your age, gender or class, stress finds its way to sneak up on us all and if left ignored it can lead to bigger problems. Unfortunately for those of us who just want a quick fix, the news is, there isn’t one! What’s important is for each individual to work out what works for them. Take time to try different techniques out and be patient—one method will work for you. There are general points such as getting enough sleep, some exercise and avoiding unhelpful ways of stress management such as food or alcohol, that we all practice as part of our daily routine. One of the keys to coping with stress is quite simply to understand it. The amygdala (a part of the brain that’s involved with the experiencing of emotions) is like an alarm bell. When it’s triggered it sends messages to our body to prepare for flight or fight. Adrenalin causes over 20 immediate biological responses floods our system and our capacity to think clearly is turned off. Getting to know triggers can be really important, as is realising that our brain is doing this to protect us; it’s doing what it’s designed to do. The trouble is that it reacts to lots of things that aren’t actually physical dangers by preparing us to run away or fight. Triggers can be external or internal such as a thought/feeling. Get to know your own breathing techniques, slowing down your breathing and the physiological reactions that have been triggered, it’s important to prevent the anxiety becoming overwhelming. Practising techniques for deep breathing when we’re not stressed is essential. This helps the techniques come to us more easily when we need them. Also, practice calms the whole system down, like bringing down the thermostat on a heating system. This means that stress levels don’t go so high when we’re faced with difficult experiences and stops the build-up of stress chemicals in the body. Focussing on sensation can be helpful when we get “uptight”. What can you see (objects, colours), hear, smell? Can you focus attention on the feeling of your feet on the floor or the sensation of sitting in a chair? Although it can be upsetting and draining, it’s important to understand that some anxiety is normal. It would be strange not to be a bit anxious in certain situations like during job interviews, taking exams, or meeting people for the first time. It’s when anxiety becomes overwhelming and gets in the way of doing what we want to do that it is a real issue. It’s important to manage stress because the build-up of stress chemicals can have an impact on the immune system, sleep and our general physical health. High levels of stress also impact on our capacity to think. Stress, when it builds up, can end up being discharged in all sorts of unhelpful and antisocial ways. If you feel that you are affected by stress then talking to someone about it or reaching out to an organisation like Norwood is a great first step. To read more about Mental Health Awareness, visit their website here.