April marks the start of Stress Awareness Month 2021. The purpose of the month is to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic.
According to the Mental health Foundation 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
The Stress Management Society defines stress as:
Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.
Through the release of hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, the caveman gained a rush of energy, which prepared him to either fight the tiger or run away. That heart pounding, fast breathing sensation is the adrenaline; as well as a boost of energy, it enables us to focus our attention so we can quickly respond to the situation.
In the modern world, the ‘fight or flight’ mode can still help us survive dangerous situations, such as reacting swiftly to a person running in front of our car by slamming on the brakes.
The challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations. When blood flow is going only to the most important muscles needed to fight or flee, brain function is minimised. This can lead to an inability to ‘think straight’; a state that is a great hindrance in both our work and home lives. If we are kept in a state of stress for long periods, it can be detrimental to our health. The results of having elevated cortisol levels can be an increase in sugar and blood pressure levels, and a decrease in libido.
The Society are promoting ‘The 30 Day Challenge’ which encourages you to pick one action each for your Physical, Mental and Emotional Wellbeing to carry out every day. You could even add actions for your social and spiritual wellness too.
It takes 30 days to turn actions into habits, which is why this is a month-long programme. The 30-day challenge will maximise your chances of turning useful knowledge and techniques into positive behavioural change. If you need to change your habits to reduce your stress levels check out the challenge on their website.
I have experienced stress like millions of others from the healthy stress of getting through university to achieve the best degree I could to general stresses such as stress about social events. My stress worsened when I suffered with PTSD, anxiety and depression, this caused even the smallest of daily events very stressful.
I found green space extremely beneficial to alleviate some of my stress. This outdoor space provided a safe place for me to increase my exercise levels, daily walks outside released endorphins which improved my mood.
It has been proven in a number of studies that green space reduces stress levels, the effect of green space is also dose-dependent, meaning those who have longer exposures to green space have greater mental health benefits. Exposure to green space has been associated with a reduced exposure to other environmental stressors such as air pollution and noise, which can increase stress levels.
Time in green space also increased my social interactions, I had found socialising harder the more stressed I was but on a walk in the great outdoors it is much easier to have short social interactions, often meeting like minded people and having simple things to chat about such as the views or the weather.
I have recently discovered the benefits of ‘blue’ spaces as well, the sea and coastline, but also rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls, even fountains, finding that the water has benefited my body and mind having the desired effect to reduce my stress levels.
Proximity to water – especially the sea – is associated with many positive measures of physical and mental wellbeing, from higher levels of vitamin D to better social relations. Water has a psychologically restorative effect. I’ve met some wonderful people whilst enjoying the benefits of blue spaces, from wild swimmers and paddle boarders to those who live near the water and daily dog walkers.
I find time by water truly therapeutic, the sound of a bubbling brook or lapping waves gives me something to focus my mind on, allowing me to break down whatever is going on mentally and take it back to basics focusing on nature.
My stress levels are greatly reduced by owning my 2 dogs. Having a purpose to get outside everyday means that my levels of serotonin and dopamine are increased, having a calming and relaxing effect. My daily dog walks give me time to process any high stress situations and separate my work and personal life. Touch and movement are two healthy ways to quickly manage stress. Even stroking the dogs lowers my blood pressure and helps me to quickly feel calmer and less stressed.
Throughout April for Stress Awareness Month I am taking 60 minutes a day for some mindful moments. Check out my Suffolk 60 challenge blog for more about what the challenge involves. Make sure that you are able to identify when you are stressed and find some techniques to manage your stress, even 10 minutes a day in the outdoors whether its green or blue spaces can really help to reduce stress.