April is Stress Awareness Month 2021, which has been held once a year since 1992 to increase public awareness about the causes and cures for the modern stress epidemic. Let’s face it, everyone is under a bit of stress because, just in case you hadn’t noticed, we are in the midst of a global pandemic.
Recent figures from the NHS Staff Survey, who have been working so valiantly, revealed that almost half of NHS staff in England (44%) have reported feeling unwell from work related stress, the highest rate recorded in the past five years.
Even before the outbreak, the UK was a stressed nation. According to a survey commissioned in 2018 by the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of respondents admitted to feeling ‘overwhelmed or unable to cope’ at some point that year. The media headlines since mid-March 2020 suggest stress levels are rising. A case in point being last year’s Global Drug Survey that found 47% of Brits who drink alcohol were turning to booze earlier in the day than before lockdown. Respondents also reported work performance and relationship problems, not to mention poorer physical health, because of increased tension levels.
The return to schools, workplaces and social events could also trigger increased levels of stress and anxiety for many who might be anxious about the readjustment required by the lifting of lockdown restrictions. This is in addition to regular, day-to-day causes of stress.
But what are the best ways to alleviate stress? I asked the Magenta team for the steps they take to reduce it for themselves, especially when at work:
Write a list, prioritise what you’re going to tackle first, and then tick things off. Turn off emails if you need to concentrate. And don’t forget to get up and move around during the day – doing 20 jumping jacks once an hour can really get the blood pumping.
Sit on the wall at the beach – look out to sea – breathe. Make a list. Even if the list has 10,000 things that I need to do on it, having it written down and being able to tick it off massively helps. I keep a notebook on my bedside table which helps with this as stuff I have to do always pops into my head at the end of the day when I’m trying to fall asleep.
Go outside! We all need fresh air and nature is great for rebalancing us. Regular exercise is essential for the mind, body and spirit. It doesn’t have to be intense, crazy amounts but the body needs regular movement. Meditation is a really good way of calming the mind too.
A list has to be my starting point so that I can offload what my priorities are and work out a plan of attack. It’s at this point I can also assess what is realistic. It may be that I need to manage expectations and communicating this in advance is always far easier than on the day of a deadline. At the end of a stressful or busy day I always do something for me, whether it’s going for a walk, yoga, playing a game with the kids, or anything that offers a break from the screen and gives me a chance to switch off my work brain and recharge.
My new trick for coping with stress is to breathe. I count in for four, out for eight, and repeat that rhythm a few times until I calm down. As simple as it sounds, it’s an effective technique. Other coping mechanisms include taking some time out from whatever it is that’s causing stress. Close the laptop, walk away from your desk, make a cuppa or head out for some fresh air. It’s all about reclaiming some ‘me time’ to clear your head. Once you’re back to a more neutral state, you’re in a better shape to tackle whatever it is that got your heart rate soaring in the first place.
Recently I’ve been painting at the end of the day; it’s good to get a break from screens. Reading before bed is also relaxing. Ultimately, though, it’s about talking to someone if you feel anxious or stressed about something and getting it off your chest.
As for myself, there’s nothing I enjoy more than switching my phone onto ‘do not disturb’ and going bird watching, even if it’s just in my garden. I just like to sit and ‘be’. Depending on the situation, I also love hitting a heavy weights session, mixed in with some intense cardio. I can literally feel the stress melting away.
So, for Stress Awareness Month 2021, we encourage you to take some time out just for you, be kind to yourself, and make some realistic and practical steps to reduce stress.