Let’s Talk About Stress

This year’s Mental Health Awareness week is focused on stress. Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this.

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When I sat down to write this, I realised I had a lot to say about stress! So, I’m going to break this down into a few different posts over the rest of this week.

  • Understanding the stress response
  • Stress can be good for us
  • Do you know yourself under stress?
  • How to manage stress

But let’s start by looking at some statistics (courtesy of a survey, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation and undertaken by YouGov, which polled 4,169 adults in the UK in 2018.)

Everyone is affected by stress. Feeling stressed or overwhelmed is incredibly common. In the past year, 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.

Long-term stress causes changes in the body which can be bad for our health — more on this in tomorrow’s post. It also changes our behaviour in unhealthy ways. Nearly half of those surveyed reported that they ate too much or ate unhealthily due to stress. Stress is also responsible for increased alcohol consumption and smoking with 29% reported that they started drinking or increased their drinking, and 16% reported that they started smoking or increased their smoking.

Stress is considered to be a key factor in poor mental health. 51% of adults who felt stressed reported feeling depressed, and 61% reported feeling anxious. Of the people who said they had felt stress at some point in their lives, 16% had self harmed and 32% said they had had suicidal thoughts and feelings. 37% of adults who reported feeling stressed reported feeling lonely as a result.

The Mental Health Foundation survey found many causes of stress. Long-term health conditions, debt, social media and email, and housing were all cited as causes of stress. The pressure to succeed and comparing themselves to others were particular sources of stress for young people.

I hope by talking about stress and raising awareness, we can start to reduce the numbers of people experiencing chronic stress and overwhelm. Long-term stress doesn’t have to be a normal feature of life. There is so much we can do to reduce the stressors in our lives and to improve our resilience in challenging situations. It’s important that this conversation isn’t limited to Mental Health Awareness week and we continue to talk about stress and mental health to improve understanding, reduce stigma, and to make sure people are getting the support they need to thrive in their lives.