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Let's get on top of those stressful feelings for Stress Awareness Day.

Learning about what causes stress is the first step to learning how to deal with it.

Today marks National Stress Awareness Day, an internationally recognised day that aims to spread awareness and understanding of the very debilitating symptoms of stress. Of course today is also the last day before the UK enters a second phase of lockdown restrictions, so we thought it was important to mark this occasion and provide some resources for anyone feeling stressed or anxious at the moment.

Stress is a natural reaction to our in-built fight or flight mechanism. It can be triggered by a physical or emotional threat, often when we feel as if we are losing control of a situation. In normal circumstances stress can help us focus, make decisions and work at our best capacity. It’s only when it develops into a regular occurrence that it starts to become a negative experience, so it’s important that we learn to cope with any stresses that we may be experiencing.

There are a range of symptoms that people experience whenever they’re feeling stressed. These can include a racing heart and rushes of adrenalin, sleep difficulties, feeling very hot, difficulty concentrating, and muscle tension or pain. Of course experiencing any of these symptoms is also stressful so we can easily end up in a downward spiral that can feel difficult to stop.

Everyone will experience stress on a regular basis - you just might not notice it. You may not necessarily realise your heart is beating quickly, or that your breathing has sped up, but you might notice you become a little bit more tense. Everyone’s ability to absorb stress is different, but you may start to notice those feelings and symptoms affecting your ability to function day-to-day. If you’re worried throughout most of the day about different things, and unable to concentrate on other feelings, that’s going to affect your mood and your sense of wellbeing.

Letting stress build up over a continued period of time can also eventually lead to long-term health problems, both mentally and physically. Research has shown that stress can contribute to a number of health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and depression. Your body can cope with short-term stress just fine, but when that rush of adrenaline becomes a constant and regular occurrence it eventually has a long-term effect on the body and the brain, and you may struggle to switch the threat response off and be able to relax.

Of course during the current pandemic it’s understandable that feeling stressed is going to be a normal reaction to the ongoing uncertainty, so what can we do to cope before things get too much? Birgette Wendon-Blixrud, senior therapist at the Suffolk Wellbeing Service, has a number of tips to help people cope as we enter this second phase of lockdown:

“Staying active is very good for our wellbeing – whether that’s going for a run, or a walk, or whatever activity it is that you enjoy. There’s no doubt that keeping active and staying in a routine is very positive for us. Secondly, it’s also important to stay connected with others. It’s been a challenge to do so during the pandemic, but finding alternative ways of keeping in touch with those close to you is very important and can prove extremely positive. Thirdly, we have to be kind to ourselves. I think this is something we dismiss fairly regularly, and we’re often very kind to others, but we sometimes don’t apply those same rules to ourselves. We can be very self-critical, and I think it’s important people realise all emotional responses to what’s going on right now are very normal. It’s not helpful to have a go at yourself for feeling a certain way, as this isn’t a normal situation for us to be in. Finally, I’d also suggest practising mindfulness. It can be a very helpful tool for our wellbeing, and there’s a number of ways we can all use it to help us stay present in the moment, which is something we need more than ever right now.”

The NHS also recommends yoga, tai-chi and meditation as ways of keeping stress at bay – if attending a class is not practical right bow, try searching for free resources on YouTube. Even a few minutes of slow breathing and a good stretch every morning can help lower a racing heart rate and allow you to focus on more positive parts of the day ahead.

Here are some links to resources that can help you manage your stress and discover whether your stress lovels are perfectly normal, or need another look:

• Online tools for managing stress from the US organisation Mental Help can be accessed here

• A mood self assessment tool created by the NHS can be found here

• Measure the level of stress in your life using the Perceived Stress Scale here

• Learn more about mindfulness and meditation here

I hope you feel that you are able to cope during these challenging times - please reach out if you require any more information.

Best wishes for now - Deb

(Any thoughts? - leave your comment below!)

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