April is Stress Awareness Month and also the start of our All About You wellbeing campaign. We’re kicking off with a post about recognising and combatting stress, with some helpful techniques and links to support services.
What is stress?
Symptoms of stress vary from person to person, and it's not always easy to recognise when you are suffering from stress. In our modern fast-paced lives, we often shrug it off as 'being busy', having a lot to do or thinking that stress is a normal part of daily life.
According to the NHS, stress 'can affect how you feel emotionally, mentally and physically' and can be caused by many things, including exams, work, personal issues and big life changes.
Sometimes, stressful situations are unavoidable, but it's important to tackle the stresses in your life and to find coping methods that work for you.
To find out more about stress and the symptoms to be aware of, the NHS website has lots of guidance.
How to combat stress
The first thing to do is to realise and accept when you are stressed. Keep check of yourself and familiarise yourself with stress symptoms and your triggers. Working out your triggers can help you avoid unnecessary stress or find solutions and coping mechanisms that work for you.
Mind, the mental health charity, says, ‘Working out what triggers stress for you can help you anticipate problems and think of ways to solve them. Even if you can't avoid these situations, being prepared can help.
Remember that not having enough work, activities or change in your life can be just as stressful a situation as having too much to deal with.’
Food and exercise
Eating a well-balanced diet is important for your general wellbeing. Keeping an eye on your junk food, caffeine and sugar intake can make a difference to coping with stress. Make sure you have regular meals and step away from the energy drinks!
Exercise is known for being a great stress buster. From gym sessions, running and playing sports to gentle strolls with friends or family, staying active and getting some fresh air can do wonders for your general health and wellbeing.
Meditation and downtime
This is an important one! Hands up if you’re guilty of working or staying on your phone until the minute you go to sleep? Our minds and bodies need time to relax on a daily basis, especially before bedtime. The blue light from your digital devices can keep you awake and working late can make it harder for your brain to switch off from the stresses of the day.
Get into a routine of spending the hour before bed relaxing, whether that’s doing some yoga, meditating, having a bath or reading a book, for example. Try and find time in your daily routine to work in some meditation or relaxation time.
Sleep and wellbeing are closely linked. If you’re not getting enough shut-eye each night, you’ll spend the following day feeling tired and lacking energy. This can make the simplest of tasks difficult and can make it harder to combat stress and fatigue.
A decent night’s sleep starts with your bedtime routine; try going to bed at the same time each night and waking at the same time each morning so that your body knows when to expect to go to sleep. Switch off from digital devices and try to avoid working in your room, particularly in the late evening.
Check out these tips for sleeping better.
Interests and hobbies
Often when we’re stressed, our hobbies and interests fall by the wayside. Whether we’re too busy or we’re too tired, we stop doing the things we enjoy. Try to make a little bit of time for yourself during the week, even if it’s just half an hour a day reading a good book or a couple of hours at the weekend for your hobby or favourite activity.
As much as me-time is important, it’s also vital to stay connected with others. Don’t feel tempted to shut yourself away; talking is a great way to relax and isolation can lead to further stress.
Connect with friends or family, whether that’s over a meal or over Skype/FaceTime. Joining a society at university is a great way to meet new like-minded people. Make sure you’re scheduling in a little bit of time to socialise each week, after all, a problem shared is a problem halved. Talking to others can often give us perspective and can give our serotonin (our happy hormone) a boost.
Asking for help
This is possibly the most important point of all. If you feel you are struggling and need help, please speak out. You won’t be the first or the only person to seek help for stress and there are plenty of support services you can access to help get you back on track.
- Your tutor or line manager – it’s worth talking to your tutor (or line manager if you are staff) so they are aware if you are struggling. They can point you in the direction for accessing further help and they can make sure you receive any necessary extra support with work or assignments
- Student Services – we have a wonderful team of confidential advisers, support staff and counsellors at the University for all students and staff to access, so please do book in a chat with them if you need some impartial advice
- Mind – the mental health charity offers online help and the local Suffolk Mind branch in Ipswich can provide confidential stress and mental health support
- Your GP – have a chat with your GP if your stress is interfering with your health and wellbeing and if you need further help/support/expertise
- Self-help apps: Headspace, Calm, Pacifica, Colorfy and more can help with mindfulness and wellbeing. Check out the NHS approved apps for combatting stress and guided relaxation.