Updated: May 6
There is much societal progress to be made still in terms of how we view mental illness. There is very much a notion still that if you can't see it, it doesn't exist. It is as though as humans, our pain is only valid if we have something to 'show' for it. But the mind and body are so closely linked, that it should come as no surprise that any one of us can be carrying around the burden of mental illness while the rest of world in unaware and worse - unwilling to acknowledge it if they do know. We can make ourselves physically ill from mental ill health, the same as we can become mentally ill with physical health issues, especially if they are chronic.
Stress is just one type of mental ill health and one that many people will encounter at some point in their lives. And as with most mental illness, your stress experience may not be the same as another's, in the same as what works for you as a remedy may not work for another. But there is one thing that appears to help almost all of us when it comes to managing stress.... talking.
By talking through our feelings and thoughts it really can help us to feel better and less alone, and given that most of us will experience stress at some point, we are perfectly placed to help others. The stigma attached to mental ill health means that we tend to shy away from talking to people about mental health matters, whether we are the one that is experiencing it or not. We often ask people if they are OK, not really wanting any other answer than yes. But it is crucial that we stop asking rhetorically. Often, people say they don't know what to say when someone answers that they're not OK, but remember you are not there to diagnose, judge or take on someone else's predicament. You are simply a sounding board, a listening ear. Not only is talking very effective, if is free. It is the easiest way for us to help ourselves and each other.
"I can see why that would be hard for you" or "is there anything I can do to help you" are perfect examples of what to say. And you can also signpost people to services such as Mind, Samaritans or CALM. Just asking if they are aware that there are services available and offering to help find the numbers can be seen as support.
This approach is far better than trying to 'fix' their issue by suggesting they need to change lifestyle, lose weight, or implying that their reason for feeling stressed is silly or invalid.
In a workplace environment it can really help to have Mental Health First Aiders on hand to assist anyone who may need support, especially if there are immediate concerns for welfare. Not only is it helpful, but Employers should be ensuring they meet their duty of ensuring the health, safety and welfare of their employees, as per the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. The Act itself does not have to have changed in order for it to be interpreted differently throughout the changes of the decades, and mental health should be managed and supported the same way as physical first aid in the workplace.
There are however, a number of steps we can take to help ourselves, and this can help you to feel optimistic and in control. These are:
1. Connect with others
Try to avoid using technology to do this though, as much of the enjoyment we get from connecting with others comes from physically being near others.
2. To to be active
What this looks like to you might be completely different to the next person, and it doesn't mean going to the gym for an hour every day on cardio machines or lifting weights (unless you want it to!). Making a commitment to walk each day, setting a fitness challenge with friends or joining up to a dance class can all count as daily exercise. Exercise is amazing because it improves both our physical and mental health at the same time, increasing chemicals in our brain that make us feel happy.
3. Learn New Skills
It doesn't have to be a degree level course you embark on (which could just add more stress!), but it can be beneficial to set goals and learn new things. Choose a subject matter that interests you, not something you feel obliged to do. This could be a new language, cooking a new recipe, a new hobby, or developing a new skill. It can also be a great way to meet new people.
4. Acts of Kindness
Giving back to others has long been shown to improve our own wellbeing and this can often be incorporated into connecting with others and learning something new! You could consider volunteering in your local community, making time to help and support family members or friends or simply 'paying it forward' in some way.
Mindfulness isn't all about sitting cross legged and meditating, it can be as simple as trying to be more self aware. How are you feeling, giving yourself a little you time, and treating yourself kindly, and the way you would treat a good friend. Often we put harmful expectations on ourselves, over and above what we would ever expect of others. Sometimes it can just be about slowing down, just for a moment and really paying attention to yourself, your feelings and your surroundings.
There's always more we can do...
Remember with Stress it is important to rid yourself of unhealthy habits. Don't rely on drugs or alcohol as controls as they can quickly escalate to become a secondary problem. If you know the sources of your stress, take control where possible. If it is work, speak to someone, if it is people, consider speaking to them, removing them or reducing the time you spend with them. This won't all always be possible, but you are often in control at least to some extent of being able to influence your own levels of stress.
Help is at hand if you need someone to talk to.
If you feel as though you are alone and in need of support.
Samaritans (24hrs a day, every day)
111 623 or text SHOUT to 85258
MIND (9am - 6pm Monday - Friday)
0300 123 3393
CALM (5pm - Midnight, 365 days a year)
0800 58 58 58
If you would like to know more about mental health or mental health first aid, please contact us.