Stress: A Modern Epidemic
By Adam Lynch, Quadient Mental Health First Aider
Stress Awareness Month, which has been held every April since 1992, aims to increase public awareness of the causes of the modern stress epidemic, as well as what can be done to address it. According to a study conducted by Perkbox in 2020, 79 per cent of working British adults commonly experience work-related stress, with just one per cent saying that they never do.
In recognition of Stress Awareness Month, the following are some of my thoughts on managing stress, recognising signs of stress and how to support someone who is visibly stressed.
When it comes to managing stress, I would advise everyone to be aware of their own stress ‘bucket’. It’s a concept I first heard on my Mental Health First Aid training. Everyone has a stress bucket – different peoples are different sizes. In life, there is always stress flowing into it and everyone has a limit of how much it takes to fill. The key is being able to recognise when you are getting close to your bucket overflowing, then working out what you can take out of the bucket and also what helpful coping strategies you have that can let out some of the stress – like a tap.
I’m also of the belief that you need to be conscious of the balance of your mind, body and soul. Make sure you’re spending time on all areas, not just one. Find a moment to do something positive you enjoy, be active and eat well, then find your passion in life to focus on. Once you have a clear mind, try to understand what is causing your stress and talk to someone about it.
Signs of stress
While everybody gets stressed from time to time, different people show signs of stress in different ways. A big sign is a change in your normal way of behaving – that ‘out of character’ feeling. It could be the way you are interacting with your colleagues, the ability to focus on a task or how you’re performing at your job.
Also, physical signs like your general health, what you’re choosing to eat or how you’re taking care of your appearance. It's not always easy to recognise signs of stress in yourself, so make a conscious effort to look for signs in the people around you too. At work, line managers should know their people better than anyone and would be most likely to spot the signs.
Supporting someone who’s stressed
First and foremost, it is important to note that the signs of stress may not be obvious. As such, if you’re concerned about another person’s stress levels then there are number of things you can do to help that person. One of these includes approaching them and asking them how they are. When you notice that someone is clearly stressed out, approach them and ask them how they are. Listen - really listen - and don’t judge. There isn’t a golden phrase that you can say, it’s more important that you listen. On a recent documentary about suicide levels in the UK, there was a group of friends who had an approach to ask, “Are you okay?” twice. It’s common that we normally answer, “I’m fine” when anyone asks us this question, but when you ask a second time, “are you really okay?” it shows that you’re genuinely interested and it gives that person a chance to share if they’re struggling. This is one of my favourite ideas, and one I try and implement.
Give someone who is stressed the support and information that might help them and then encourage them to get professional help or support if it’s needed. If you don’t feel confident enough to approach them yourself, let your manager or a Mental Health First Aider know of your concern for their wellbeing.
There are lots of support organisations available that are professionally trained to deal with different types of mental health issues, including stress. Look online and share with anyone you think may benefit from them. In the UK, Mind is a good place to start.