With many people worried about money, job security and the fast approach of Christmas, it’s no surprise that our stress levels are on the rise.
Stress is now the most common cause of long-term sickness absence from work and the number of people complaining about the problem has doubled in recent years.
Carolyn Barber runs workshops across Portsmouth designed to help people learn how to boost their mental and emotional health. She aims to inspire people to exercise their mind more and take time out from our hectic lives.
‘Research tells us that the most common responses to stress are to do nothing, just live with it, eat comfort or junk food, or spend time alone – all strategies which are pretty certain to make things worse,’ she says.
‘Probably two out of three adults in the UK would benefit from improving their mental wellbeing.
‘Sure, we might jog along okay, but we experience stress and anxiety on a fairly regular basis. We might lack motivation, feel stuck in a rut, or worry about what the future holds.’
On Wednesday, the spotlight will be turned on the problem for National Stress Awareness Day. So if you’ve been feeling under pressure, here’s Carolyn’s top tips to help reduce stress.
1. Appreciate what you’ve got going for you
Let’s start with a big one. The more you talk about what’s wrong, what you don’t like, what’s likely to go wrong, what other people keep doing wrong, the more negative you’ll feel.
Identify the things you do like, however small these may be. Practice mentioning these to others and recognise what’s going right – you’ll be amazed how this can help you and others feel more supported and relaxed.
2. Make the most of the people you know
Having positive, supportive relationships as well as a wider social network is really important to good mental health. Why not make contact with someone you haven’t seen for a long time? If you’re out socialising, be interested in others and try talking to someone new.
When we’re feeling stressed we often lose touch with those we most enjoy being with. We feel as if there isn’t the time or we don’t want to burden others. Yet it’s those connections which help us to feel better whether it’s sharing anxieties, getting things into perspective or just having a good laugh. Spending time with others who care and support you is a guaranteed stress buster.
3. Find a challenge
When we’re feeling stressed we often retreat into doing things the same way and feel unwilling to do things differently. Set yourself a goal that you’d like to achieve over the next month. Think of something you’d really like to learn, or something new you haven’t done before. Stretch your comfort zone and lo and behold it will expand.
4. Take time out
It’s so easy to get caught up in negative thoughts and emotions when we’re feeling stressed and sometimes this results in behaviour we regret later. If you feel this is happening to you, step out of the room, or out of the house and breathe deeply. Count to 10 slowly.
Practising relaxation or meditation for short periods on a regular basis is a very effective antidote for stress. Ideally, find time each day to go out for a walk anywhere with grass and trees, or by the sea, to help restore your sense of inner balance.
5. Have fun
Make a date with yourself to have fun and be creative. Try painting, or some other form of art. Whatever you’d love to do, give yourself the gift of some time to do it.
n Carolyn Barber runs programmes and community-based classes to promote good mental health through her social enterprise, Take Five.
To find out more, log on to meetrelaxlearncreate.co.uk.