Firstly, allow me to say a ‘Happy 1st Birthday’ to Forrest Rambles!  I’ve been writing this blog now for twelve months, and during that time we’ve explored a variety of topics, including what CBT is, depression, social anxiety, mindfulness and the power of love! 

May 14th-20th is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the topic for 2018 is ‘stress’ so I’ve decided to make this the focus of this months Ramble.

We are all familiar with the feelings of stress, with things getting on top of us, tension building in our bodies, feeling exhausted, tearful and unsure how much more we can cope with.  In our modern, fast paced world, with its ever-changing demands and the high expectations we put on ourselves, it’s hardly surprising that stress has become an endemic problem.

An important thing to point out is that stress isn’t a mental health problem, it’s actually a natural response to our environment which during evolution we have needed to help us survive.  The stress response is a complex biological reaction we have when we feel that we are in danger.  This response helps us to realise that something is wrong and get ourselves to safety.  The problem is that we are now experiencing this stress response far too frequently. It’s like an alarm system which is too sensitive, and this can lead to problems such as anxiety, low mood and sleep difficulties.  It can also affect our physical health as it impairs our immune response, making us more prone to infections and serious long-term health conditions.

There are lots of causes of stress, and they can be different for different people. Common causes include work, moving house, having children, illness, bereavement, debt, or family problems.  We can’t eradicate stress from our lives—in fact a certain amount of stress can be good for us as it motivates us to get things done—and some people thrive under pressure. However, if stress is becoming too much for us, the good news is that we do have the power to change how we respond to it and manage it.

When I’m talking to clients about stress I like to use the ‘stress bucket’ metaphor.  Basically, we all have a bucket which can hold a certain amount of water (stress), if the water stays within the bucket then all is well, and we can manage the demands we are facing.  However, if the water starts to overflow (with too much stress), then we are in trouble and we start to feel affected by this.  All is not lost though as we can adapt our bucket by adding ‘taps’ to the bottom of it to release some of the water, thus increasing our capacity to hold more.  So, these ‘taps’ might represent things such as jogging, time with friends or anything else which we feel lowers our stress levels.

So, have a think, what do you do to lower your stress levels?  How can you prioritise this and make more time for it?  If you are stuck for ideas here are my top stress-busting tips …

Problem Solve: if there is something happening in your life right now which is causing you stress such as debt or relationship problems then consider what steps you can feasibly take to resolve the problem and take action!

Get a good night’s sleep: make sure you are in a good routine of getting up and going to bed at similar times each day.  Have a relaxation period before going to bed such as reading or having a bath.  When you go to bed make sure there are no distractions like TV or lap tops as this will only keep you awake longer.

Healthy diet: like a car our bodies need fuel to keep us going so make sure you are putting the right fuel in!  Plenty of fluids, fruit and veg and a sensible balanced diet are what is called for.  Avoid excessive amounts of sugar, fat, caffeine and alcohol.

Connect with people: make a point of spending time with other people and making plans together so you have things to look forward.

Make time for hobbies: whatever you enjoy doing, make time for it, or perhaps try something new!

Exercisethis doesn’t have to be a big work out at the gym. Just a simple walk round the block will help you to feel more energised and increase feelings of positivity.

Get in touch with nature: here in Crosby there are lots of parks to explore, and we are lucky enough to have the beach on our doorstep and Formby pinewoods just down the road.

Mindfulness: I wrote about this in the April Ramble so take a look there for more info.  There’s lots of research to show that just sitting mindfully for ten minutes a day can help us to feel calmer and to cope better with stress.

If you’d like to explore Stress further then The Mental Health Foundation has lots of useful resources. You can also join their social media campaign for 14th – 20th May, buy a green ribbon badge to show your support, or even organise your own ‘curry and chaat’ event!