A staggering 49% of sick days and two fifths of work-related ill health in 2016/17 were caused by work-related stress, depression or anxiety according to a survey by the Health and Safety Executive. This amounts to 12.5 million lost work days.
Being stressed over long periods of time can lower your immune system and cause health problems. But there are plenty of ways to reduce your stress levels.
Recognise the warning signs
Keep an eye out for the warning signs of stress. These can include:
- Feeling irritable or impatient
- Feeling distracted, forgetful or losing attention to detail
- Mood swings
- Not being able to ‘switch off’
- Becoming withdrawn
- Under or over-eating
- Increased consumption of nicotine, alcohol or drugs
- Tense muscles
- Susceptibility to minor illnesses
Identify the cause
Try to work out what’s making you feel stressed. If you’re not sure, try writing down what you’re doing each time you feel stressed. You may notice a pattern. Is there anything you can do now to take control of the situation? Sometimes making a to-do list and prioritising your tasks can help. Do the most urgent ones first and break big tasks into smaller chunks so that you can see yourself making progress. Don’t get too disheartened if you can’t complete them all at once
Avoid more stress
Avoid taking on more tasks and don’t be afraid to say “no”. Check out our guide to assertiveness if you find this difficult. Taking on too much won’t help the person you’re doing the work for and it will only make you feel more stressed.
Try to avoid people who stress you out or, if this is unavoidable, try to sit down and have a calm chat with them about how they are making you feel. Be willing to compromise and accept some criticism yourself.
It’s not easy, but try not to worry about the things you can’t change or control. Instead look at how to solve the problems that are within your control.
Doing exercise releases endorphins, which improve your mood, as well as distracting you from any stress you’re experiencing. Find a sport or activity that you enjoy and try to fit it into your routine. Even a half-hour walk around the block can help to relieve tension.
Another good form of exercise, and effective stress-buster, is to put on your favourite song and dance around the house to it. Try to let yourself go and raise your heart rate.
Get enough sleep
Almost 25% of people in Britain have problems with sleep on a regular basis, according to The Sleep Council. Getting enough good quality sleep is a crucial part of our overall wellbeing and can actually help reduce stress and anxiety.
For adults, it’s recommended you get between 7-9 hours sleep per night – any less than that on an ongoing basis can have a negative effect on your wellbeing. So, to help improve your sleep, check out our new guide.
Reduce alcohol and nicotine consumption
According to NCBI, stress levels of adult smokers are slightly higher than non-smokers and adolescent smokers report increasing levels of stress as they develop regular smoking patterns. Nicotine dependency makes stress worse as smokers tend to rely on it to control their mood.
It isn’t healthy to use alcohol as a way of de-stressing or coping with issues either. Eva Cyhlarova from The Mental Health Foundation says: “Over time, heavy drinking interferes with the neurotransmitters in the brain that are needed for good mental health. While alcohol may help deal with stress in the short term, in the long run it can contribute to feeling of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with.”
Time to relax
Be kind to yourself and schedule in some ‘me’ time each week. Do something that makes you happy and relaxes you, such as reading a book, having a bath or listening to music.
Clearing your mind can also help to reduce feelings of worry and stress. You don’t have to consider yourself spiritual to benefit from meditation. Try out the Headspace app free trial or a lesson from the Free Mindfulness Project.
Having a support network of family, friends and colleagues improves your resilience to stress. Try to socialise regularly – having a laugh with friends and family is a great way of combatting stress.
Feelings of isolation can also be a big contributor towards stress, so why not read our top tips for dealing with loneliness?
If you feel like things are getting on top of you then try to speak to someone. Opening up can not only lift some weight off your shoulders, but it may also help you think of ways to reduce your stress levels.
Don’t forget, if you feel you can’t cope, call Ben’s free and confidential support line on 08081 311 333 or use our webchat by visiting www.ben.org.uk.