MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK: How to improve our ability to handle stress?

Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on all factors associated with mental health in an attempt to increase awareness and understanding of the issues. This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (14th to 20th May 2018) focuses on stress.

Research has shown that 16 million people experience a mental health problem each year and stress is a key factor. Stress is not a mental health problem itself. However, if stress overtakes our lives it can affect all aspects, including our ability to learn, plan, concentrate and make judgements.

This week allows us to think about how we can all address the causes of stress, and how we are coping with it. Managing our stress is a journey; there are steps we can take to improve our ability to handle stress, which we share below.


Improving our ability to handle stress

1. Get Moving

Staying active helps to relieve stress. Besides the physical benefits of exercising, we produce endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body, which reduces stress and makes us sleep better. Exercise can take many forms, such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing.

2. Eat well

The food we eat can improve or worsen our mood and affect our ability to cope with life’s stressors. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress. While eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help us better cope with life’s ups and downs. For example, scientists believe carbohydrates cause the brain to produce more serotonin, a hormone that relaxes us.

3. Connect with other

According to a Harvard study, they have proved that being part of a community helps us live longer and be happier. We should spend time with people who make us feel good and do not let our responsibilities keep us from having a social life; it is a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections and relationships.

4. Learn how to relax and be present

Mindfulness helps us be present, by accepting and not judging our thoughts, feelings and sensations. Finding our thoughts constantly in the future or past is common. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response. When practised regularly, these activities can reduce our everyday stress levels and boost feelings of joy and serenity. Also, they increase our ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.

5. Sleep

Chronic stress can disrupt our sleep and make us think irrationally. There are plenty of ways to improve our sleep; so we feel less stressed, more productive and emotionally balanced. Staying away from mobile devices before bed could be a start, as it affects our quality of sleep.

Understanding more about mental health will increase awareness in our personal lives and workplace, to support and prevent people that suffer silently, improve well-being and productivity.