April is stress awareness month, an annual thirty-day period established in 1992, that serves the purpose of increasing public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) describes stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures and demands placed on them”, and symptoms often include heart palpitations, a dry mouth, headaches, odd aches and pains and loss of appetite for food. But stress is often regarded as part of everyday life.
According to the HSE, in 2017/18 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health cases and 57% of all working days lost due to ill health.
Research commissioned by wellness brand Healthspan has found that more than 40 per cent of people believe they suffer from anxiety, with more than 20 per cent saying they are more anxious now than they were five years ago. The poll of 2,000 adults found that 62 per cent of people believe life is becoming increasingly more anxiety-provoking.
Long term stress can cause high levels of circulating cortisol and adrenaline. Both hormones are produced by our adrenal glands (located adjacent to our kidneys), and can decrease white blood cell production, which can lead to a lowered immune system. Stress can also lead to the mental state deteriorating, leaving the body craving a relief like smoking, drinking alcohol, or eating sugary foods.
Mental health charity, Mind, say many people who experience stress and mental health problems also experience issues with sleep: “Stress can cause your thoughts to race around your mind, making it difficult to sleep. You’re also more likely to experience disturbed sleep, nightmares, sleep walking and insomnia.” Try Healthspan Night time 5-HTP which many people find helps, or Magnesium which can aid in the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll recommends this simple exercise: ‘When we’re anxious, we tend to breathe shallowly through the chest. Combat this by breathing deeply through the diaphragm. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Now breathe in through your nose so that your belly lifts – when you exhale, your stomach should dip back down. If you notice your chest rising and falling, then concentrate more on drawing the air into your abdomen. Deep breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which highjacks the anxiety response associated with anxious feelings.’
Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, swimming or riding a bike, five times a week can reduce stress levels and risk of depression by 30 per cent, according to the NHS. Running your local parkrun on a Saturday morning gets your weekend exercise in!
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