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International Stress Awareness Week – starting Monday 4th November

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International Stress Awareness Week – starting Monday 4th November

This week is International Stress Awareness Week.

International Stress Awareness Week takes place in the first week of November every year.  ISMA created the Week to raise awareness of stress, stress prevention and the importance of wellbeing for individuals and organisations – ensuring those who are suffering from stress seek advice.

Resilience and mental wellbeing in times of uncertainty …

The theme for this year is Resilience: the power to succeed!


Noun; the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Consider the importance of resilience in both our corporate and personal lives, and the overwhelming need to cultivate the power of bouncing back from on-going challenges. The aim is to keep resilience high on the national agenda, together, as part of the promotion of wellbeing in the workplace.

What is stress?

At the most basic level, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. What contributes to stress can vary hugely from person to person and differs according to our social and economic circumstances, the environment we live in and our genetic makeup. Some common features of things that can make us feel stress include experiencing something new or unexpected, something that threatens your feeling of self, or feeling you have little control over a situation.

When we encounter stress, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones that trigger a ‘flight or fight’ response and activate our immune system. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations.

Sometimes, this stress response can be an appropriate, or even beneficial reaction. The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense, like running a marathon, or giving a speech to a large crowd. We can quickly return to a resting state without any negative effects on our health if what is stressing us is short-lived. Many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting effects.

However, there can be times when stress becomes excessive and too much to deal with. If our stress response is activated too regularly, or it persists over time, the effects can result in wear and tear on the body and can cause us to feel permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure, it can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.

Feeling this overwhelming stress for a long period of time is often called chronic, or long-term stress, and it can impact on both physical and mental health.

Stress is a response to a threat in a situation, whereas anxiety is a reaction to the stress.

What makes us stressed?

There are many things that can lead to stress. The death of a loved one, divorce/separation, losing a job and unexpected money problems are among the common causes of stress.  But not all life events are negative and even positive life changes, such as moving to a bigger house, gaining a job promotion or going on holiday can be sources of stress.

The signs of stress

Emotional changes

When you are stressed you may experience many different feelings, including anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, or frustration. These feelings can sometimes feed on each other and produce physical symptoms, making you feel even worse. For some people, stressful life events can contribute to symptoms of depression.

Work-related stress can also have negative impacts on mental health.  Work-related stress accounts for an average of 24 days of work lost for every person affected.

Behaviour Changes

When you are stressed you may behave differently. You may become withdrawn, indecisive or inflexible. You also may not be able to sleep properly. You may be irritable or tearful. Some people may resort to smoking, consuming more alcohol, or taking drugs.  Stress can make you feel angrier or more aggressive than normal. Stress may also affect the way we interact with our close family and friends.

Bodily changes

When stressed, some people start to experience headaches, nausea and indigestion. You may breathe more quickly, perspire more, have palpitations or suffer from various aches and pains. You will quickly return to normal without any negative effects if what is stressing you is short-lived, and many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting adverse effects.

If you experience stress repeatedly over a prolonged period, you may notice your sleep and memory are affected, your eating habits may change, or you may feel less inclined to exercise.

Who is affected by stress?

All of us can probably recognise and relate to at least some of the feelings described above and may have felt stressed and overwhelmed at some time or another. Some people seem to be more affected by stress than others. For some people, getting out of the door on time each morning can be a very stressful experience. Whereas others may be able to cope with a great deal of pressure.

Some groups of people may be more likely to experience stressful life events and situations than others. For example, people living with high levels of debt or financial insecurity are more likely to experience stress related to money. People with pre-existing or ongoing health problems may be more likely to experience stress related to their health, or stress due to stigma associated with their condition.

How can you help yourself?

There are some actions to manage the immediate, sometimes unpleasant, signs of stress and identify, reduce, and remove stressful factors that may cause you to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. If you feel comfortable, talking to a friend or close colleague at work about your feelings can help you manage your stress.

However, sometimes individual actions on their own are not enough to reduce long-term stress for everyone. We can often be affected by factors that are beyond our direct control. Communities, workplaces, societies, and governments all have a role to play in tackling these wider causes of stress.

  1. Identify the causes
  2. Review your lifestyle
  3. Build supportive relationships
  4. Eat Healthily
  5. Be aware of your smoking and drinking
  6. Exercise
  7. Take Time Out
  8. Be Mindful
  9. Get plenty of rest and sleep
  10. Go easy on yourself

Seeking professional help can support you in managing effectively. Do not be afraid to seek professional help if you feel that you are no longer able to manage things on your own. It is important to get help as soon as possible, if you need it, so you can begin to feel better.

The first person to approach is your family doctor. He or she should be able to advise about treatment and may refer you to another local professional dependent on your local provision.

There are other great support services including MIND and the Samaritans too.