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Our top tips for beating stress in Stress Awareness Month

April is Stress Awareness Month and this year’s theme is #LittleByLittle, which highlights the transformative impact of consistent, small positive actions on over-all wellbeing.

When we feel under pressure our bodies release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in response and we may feel stressed. Everyone feels stressed from time to time and often that’s appropriate to the situation we’re in. We might be running late for an important meeting, trying to find a parking space in a busy car park or feeling stressed in the run up to a big event. While some amount of stress in some situations is to be expected, prolonged periods of stress can have a negative impact on your health and wellbeing and lead to burnout.

It can be hard to change our habits and our environment, so perhaps start with focusing on making manageable adjustments to your daily routine. While the impact of small actions on their own may seem little, the cumulative effects of these habits can improve our health and wellbeing.

Dr Brenda Connolly, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Experiencing stress is a normal part of being a human. Everyone feels stressed at certain times, particularly if you are feeling under pressure.

“A healthy amount of stress can help you feel motivated, energised and get things done. However, too much stress, particularly chronic stress can lead to you feeling overwhelmed and become problematic.”

Here are 7 activities for new ways to cope with stress:

Most of these can be done in under 10 minutes, so even if you’re rushed or busy you should be able to find something you can try.

Do something creative

When we’re doing something creative we’re using a different part of the brain to where stress is happening. Even if it’s for five minutes, doing something creative can help to relieve feelings of pressure. You could draw, doodle, sew, sing, dance or cook a favourite meal.

Get outside

Being outside in nature is great for our wellbeing. Going for a short walk or sitting in a green space or being in a ‘blue space’ with water has been proven to have an extremely calming effect on how we feel. Why not invite a friend to go for a walk around your local park this weekend? Or, if you can, spend some time in the amazing blue and green spaces we have around us in Cumbria.

Move your body

Exercise is a very effective way to combat stress. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins which help us feel good. You don’t have to take up running marathons or go to the gym every day  – any form of exercise you can manage will help. Sports that involve lots of thinking, such as climbing or playing Pickleball, have been shown to be particularly effective as our brain has to concentrate so much on the task at hand we forget our stresses (even if just for a while) and this helps to reduce the stress hormones in our body.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation is the practice of noticing your emotions and gaining a sense of perspective on them. Mindfulness is a skill we can develop over time, which we can use to deepen our sense of well-being and fulfilment. It involves paying attention to what is occurring in our present moment experience, with an attitude of openness and non-judgemental acceptance. It promotes a way of being that helps us to take better care of ourselves and lead healthier lives.

Mindfulness based interventions have been delivered by the Trust for a number of years and have been effective in reducing stress, increasing self-compassion and promoting the health and wellbeing of health care staff in the workplace.

Write it down

You’d be surprised what a relief it can be to write down what you’re thinking and feeling. You’re not writing with the aim of anyone reading it, just for yourself to get down on paper what you’re feeling. This can be a big stress reliever.

Do something you enjoy

When we’re really busy it’s easy to stop doing the things we enjoy because we feel too busy or unwell. However, these are actually the things which help us to relieve stress so it’s important to keep doing them as much as we can.

Think of your emotions as a bucket. Daily activities and regular stressors fill up your bucket with water throughout the day. Doing things you enjoy acts like holes in the bucket, letting water trickle out so that your bucket doesn’t overflow. If you don’t do things you enjoy regularly then your bucket is at risk of overflowing, and you may experience extreme stress or burnout. Write a list of things you enjoy doing and try to keep doing as many as possible.

Talk to someone

We all know the saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Speaking to a friend, loved one, colleague or therapist can help you to lighten the load you may be feeling. The person you’re talking to may also be able to help you organise your thoughts, create an action plan, or take some tasks off your plate. If you feel you might need someone to talk to, support is available 24/7.

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