Stress Awareness Month is held every April to increase public awareness about the causes, impacts and cures of stress. It is a feeling that can affect people both physically and emotionally and has many different causes, the most of common of which include the death of a loved one, divorce/separation, losing a job and financial difficulties. It is well documented that stress is a significant contributing factor for mental health issues including anxiety and depression as well as physical health problems such as heart disease, insomnia, nausea and fatigue. Prolonged periods of stress can have a damaging, long-term impact on our health and therefore it has become one of the greatest public health challenges in modern times as 74% of UK adults felt ‘overwhelmed or unable to cope’ as a result of stress.[1]

It seems that Stress Awareness Month is particularly pertinent this year given the current climate surrounding COVID-19. For many, this period will bring heightened stress whether due to health concerns, financial uncertainty, being separated from loved ones or a wide range of other factors. It is therefore more important than ever that we each find ways to manage our stress and support others who are struggling. For specific advice regarding the coronavirus outbreak, visit https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus.


Stress and Substances

As well as anecdotal evidence, numerous studies indicate that stress increases an individual’s vulnerability to misusing substances. For some, drug and alcohol (mis)use is seen as a coping strategy to deal with stress, while for others stress may enhance cravings and loss of control which are key components in the transition from a ‘casual use of substances’ to ‘an addictive behaviour’.[2] Furthermore, stress can significantly increase the chances of relapse for an individual on their recovery journey.[3]

With this in mind, it is important that we all try to avoid potentially harmful coping mechanisms and find other ways of dealing with and reducing stress, particularly those with underlying addiction vulnerabilities.

                                 

So what can we do?

It is important that we each individually try to understand what causes us stress and take steps to reduce it wherever possible. Learning calming breathing techniques or doing physical activity can also be beneficial for managing stress when it manifests. Again, it is important to note that we should endeavour to avoid unhealthy habits such as drinking alcohol or smoking as a way of dealing with stress as this can compound the problem in the longer term.

There also needs to be a change at societal level. As a society we need to be treating stress and mental health problems as seriously as physical health issues, particularly in the workplace, as the societal implications are as significant and wide reaching. While it is becoming easier and more common to talk about mental health, we still have a way to go so let’s work together to reduce the stigma associated with stress by talking about the topic openly and freely with friends, family and colleagues.

And finally, don’t forget that stress is a natural part of life. It’s just our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event and is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about.[4]

                

Resources

Although stressful situations can’t always be avoided, and even sometimes should be embraced, we can take steps to identify the cause of our stress which can help prevent it in the future or allow us to manage it better. For more help or tips for managing stress, visit the NHS website https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress/.

For resources to reduce your stress or to take part in the Stress Management Society’s Stress Awareness Month 30 Day Challenge, visit https://www.stress.org.uk/samresources2020/.

For help managing stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 outbreak, take a look at the Mental Health Foundation’s website which has information including mental health tips, managing financial worries, how to talk to your children about the outbreak and much more https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus.

 

 

References 

[1] The Mental Health Foundation (2018). ‘Stressed nation: 74% of UK 'overwhelmed or unable to cope' at some point in the past year’. Retrieved 6th April 2020, https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/stressed-nation-74-uk-overwhelmed-or-unable-cope-some-point-past-year

[2] Rajita Sinha (2008). ‘Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction’. Ann N Y Acad Sci., 1141. 105–130.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Stress Management Society. ‘What is Stress?’ Retrieved 6th April 2020, https://www.stress.org.uk/what-is-stress/