What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to change. Naturally, we use physical, mental and emotional responses to deal with any change that requires an adjustment or response and therefore, stress is a normal part of life. Stress can stem from anywhere including our environment, body and thoughts and can also be a consequence of positive changes such as moving house, the birth of a baby, new job or promotion at work.

The first step to start feeling better when we experience stress is to identify the cause. Both negative and positive stress can be caused by work and home life but regardless of the reason why we encounter stress, the most important thing to do is take control of the situation as doing nothing will only make our problems worse. In the next section, we will therefore look at stress management.

Stress Management

The most unhelpful way to combat stress is to turn to an unhealthy way of trying to cope, such as smoking or drinking. Good stress management lies with building emotional strength, being in control of your situation, having a positive outlook and having a good social network.

Stress can be addressed in a number of ways by:

Being active: exercise enables us to clear our thoughts and help us to deal with problems more clearly.

Taking control: this is self-empowering and a crucial part of finding a solution because it helps to overcome the feeling of loss of control, which is a main cause of stress and greatly impacts wellbeing.

Connecting with people: ensuring you have a good support network and keeping in contact with people (colleagues, friends and family) provides a support base to talk through problems and get different perspectives on things when we need it most. We can often have a good laugh with our support networks too which is good for relieving stress!

Having ‘me time’: this means ensuring that we spend plenty of time doing things that we really enjoy. Consider setting aside a couple of nights a week for relaxation or exercise, for example.

Avoiding unhealthy habits: relying on alcohol, smoking or caffeine as a way of coping will only provide temporary relief but won’t tackle the cause of stress and instead, the use of alcohol/smoking/caffeine is likely to create new problems.

Helping other people: although we are living in unprecedented times, we have an opportunity to help others through volunteering and community work, or even by doing a favour for a neighbour, colleague, friend or family member. Doing a favour for someone does not have to be a grand gesture, you could just help somebody cross the road or help with somebody’s shopping. The more we give, the more resilient and happy we will feel.

Remaining positive: by looking out for the positives in life and which you are grateful for. Try writing one thing down at the end of every day which went well for you, or that you are grateful for, as this will overcome unhelpful thinking.

Accept the things you can’t change

As COVID-19 continues to dominate our daily life, it has never been more apparent that there are some things in life that we cannot control, or predict. However, even with this knowledge, we can become victim to our own thoughts by thinking negatively. In this section, we will focus on how to stop ourselves spiralling into negative thought patterns.

When our minds jump to the worst-case scenario, anxiety, stress and depression may heighten due to activation of the fight or flight response. However, we need to overcome this negative thinking by:

Looking for evidence: we will always experience challenging times, and naturally, there will periods of life that are more challenging than others, which is something that we have no control over. However, what we do have control over is how we respond to the challenging situation.

At present, a lot of us may have feelings of hopelessness and/or fear, which largely stems from the unknown. By looking at the evidence, we are checking to see what is real, i.e. where is the evidence that this thought/feeling/scenario is actually going to materialise. By understanding the fact that the worst case scenario is highly unlikely to occur will help to stop you becoming overwhelmed.

Focusing on what you can control: there are a lot of things that we can influence and control in our lives. This includes how we react and behave towards the actions of others. Furthermore, we can control our life by following a healthy lifestyle and looking after ourselves. A healthy lifestyle is important as it makes us more likely to positively respond to a challenging situation.

Avoiding social media: constantly reading the news or checking social media can trigger negative thoughts. So, if you are aware that certain things act as a trigger for negative thoughts, anxiety, stress and depression etc. then it is best to take some time away as by using your time to read the news and check social media, you may just be making yourself feel worse. However, that being said, social media can be a good support network, so be mindful of cutting yourself away from it and instead, focus on viewing content that makes you happy on social media.

Bringing it back to the present: it is impossible to know what is going to happen in the future, so try and keep your focus on the present moment. Simple exercises will help with anxiety and reduce stress by helping to keep us in the present. Try: firmly putting your feet on the floor, naming 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch and 2 things you can smell.

Why stress management is important

One of Maxwell Hodge’s main priorities is to perform well and remain profitable in a challenging market and one of the best ways for this to be achieved is by being supportive and inclusive. This means putting diversity and inclusion at the centre of mental health and wellbeing to foster a culture of openness, which is a growing concern for organisations as one in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health issue each year but two-thirds have no one to speak to about their mental health.

We want everyone at Maxwell Hodge to be able to talk openly about their mental health and wellbeing whether that be with a friend, a family member or a member of the Mental Health First Aid Team. It is important to remember that despite what we may be feeling or going through, particularly in our personal lives, there are people around us who want to listen and support us to become the best version of ourselves.