To highlight stress awareness this year, our Mental Health First Aid Team asked the Board of Directors what stress management means to them and the techniques they use to overcome stress:

Warning signs of stress

Claire Banks, Director Responsible for our Family Team, PI Team and Disputes & Litigation Team said that her warning signs of stress present in the form of the difficulty to think clearly, a rise in temperature as well as her heart beating faster. Similarly, Kristina Stoddern’s warning signs of stress are faster breathing and a feeling of being overwhelmed, whereas Denise Scoular, Director Responsible for our Lifetime Planning Team and Property Team, will experience agitation, anxiety and become irritable.

Kristina says that the feeling of being overwhelmed “is usually just a fleeting feeling or sensation for me but is enough for me to stop, think and acknowledge consciously that I am feeling a bit stressed out. This is a crucial skill I have developed through mindfulness and really does help me to recognise the early warnings signs and make some positive changes”.

Our Chief Executive, Simon Leyland, injured his left shoulder in the past during a skiing accident and he finds that since then, one of his warning signs of stress is that he suffers from left shoulder muscular pain. In addition, Simon will suffer from a lack of sleep, which is another warning sign of his stress.

Main causes of stress

All of our Directors agree that issues arising at work are a main cause of stress, but in addition to this is what is going on in their personal lives particularly in relation to home life and family illness. Obviously, for a lot of people, a main cause of stress is having too many things going on at once, which is sometimes unavoidable because we all have a lot of tasks to do in and out of work, however it only takes a few unexpected issues to arise, which as Kristina highlighted, will trigger the warning signs of stress.

Simon, as many others do, finds a large workload can sometimes be stressful. At home, he finds assisting with his children’s maths homework (not his best subject at school) particularly stressful as well as watching politicians who don’t answer questions. Furthermore, watching Liverpool v Man United causes him stress, so he avoids doing that these days!

As it can be so easy to panic, which results in a lack of focus and tasks not being completed, it is important to try and tackle the main causes of stress. For Kristina, a to do list and taking a step back to prioritise her day will usually be time well spent. This is important to process what actually needs to be done and what can wait for another time.

Impacts of stress on mind, body and emotions

Stress impacts our bodies, minds and emotions in various ways and just as our Directors have different warning signs and triggers, they also experience the impact of stress differently.

Physically, Simon suffers from tension in his neck and shoulders; his mind becomes foggy meaning he can’t think clearly and he will sometimes become impatient.

Claire will feel tired, irritable, overwhelmed and less optimistic. Whereas Denise will overeat, feel tearful and is unable to sleep. In addition, Denise will also suffer from a constant state of anxiety. Whereas stress for Kristina results in faster breathing, a racing mind and sometimes, panic and upset. Overall, it is hard to process these emotions.

Reducing and avoiding stress

One of the best ways to reduce or avoid stress is to bring ourselves back to the present, something which Claire will practice by reminding herself that the stress won’t last and that she has been through difficult times before. Claire is able to bring herself back into the moment by slowing her actions down and listening to radio, particularly podcasts and plays. Claire will also go out walking, read or do something creative. Similarly, Denise will try very hard to put the stress or worry out of her mind by trying to relax, which naturally doesn’t always work. One way of relaxing for Denise is to enjoy a nice glass of wine.

Kristina says that taking time out and breathing is the best way for her to reduce stress. This technique sounds so simple but Kristina says that: “by focusing on my breathing for a few minutes, just taking deep in and out breaths works wonders. If you can try doing this regularly, you can focus on the breathing and quiet the mind to then allow you to regain control and take productive steps to deal with stress. It doesn’t always work and you have to keep practising, however I often find when I am feeling a bit stressed now, I almost subconsciously start to do the breathing techniques I have practised hard to master”.

Exercise is also a great technique for reducing stress. Similar to how Claire will go out walking, Kristina will go out running and play netball and will often listen to a bit of dance music when exercising, which allows her mind a break from racing thoughts and ruminating over the problems that she may be facing.

Like Claire and Kristina, Simon will turn to exercise to reduce and avoid stress, which includes running, walking and cycling. In addition, he finds eating his favourite foods and enjoying a nice glass of wine will help him to relax and as a nice distraction, he will read funny tweets.

Helpful technique: If you are struggling with keeping your mind under control, start to count when out walking or running. Just count to 10 and repeat as this gives the mind something else to focus on.

Support and comfort during times of stress

Both Kristina and Denise tend to keep their stress to themselves and not talk to anyone about how they are feeling, which admittedly, is probably not the right way to deal with it. The reason why Kristina takes this approach is to enable her to process her feelings and try and do something in her head first before chatting to her partner about how she was feeling and what she has put in place to cope. The reason why Denise takes this approach is because she doesn’t want to put anyone else under pressure or make them feel anxious. On reflection, Kristina wonders whether she doesn’t turn to her partner for support and comfort during times of stress so that he is not worried about her.

Claire will undertake a different approach as she will largely turn to her husband for support and comfort during stress, although she does also speak to other family members and friends from time-to-time. In addition, Claire finds it useful to read books by authors who can help, or she will listen to them speak, i.e. the podcasts she mentioned earlier.

Simon will often turn to his family and in particular his wife and wise mother for advice and support, or with work related matters, he will seek the help and support of colleagues during times of stress.

Avoiding unhealthy or unhelpful strategies or activities

There are various unhealthy/unhelpful strategies and activities that people will often try to avoid during times of stress. Kristina will try to avoid negativity, which is not always achievable as occasionally, she may feel like a “moan” but will try not to engage in negativity, if it can be helped. One way that Kristina will avoid negativity is through gratitude and trying to think of three things that she is thankful for that day, which then puts her back on the right path. Claire on the other hand will try not to pretend that stress isn’t happening or avoid doing the activity that makes her stressed. Additionally, Claire will try to avoid too much talking about it, and involving too many people, and rather think about it and avoid over-committing to things.

Finally, Simon said that with everything going on at the moment, particularly in relation to COVID-19, he has rationed his listening/watching of the news and politics, even though watching news and politics is something that he “loves to do”.

Thank You

Special thank you to our Directors for taking the time to be interviewed, and also thank you to all of you reading for taking time out of your day to do so.