Make every day a stress awareness day
April 1st marks the beginning of Stress Awareness Month, making it a good time to give your mental health some extra attention
The past year has put a strain on everyone’s mental health, with stresses big and small created by lockdowns, the disappearance of our social lives, and an increasingly heavy reliance on tech. This month, the Stress Management Society (SMS) is challenging us to use April to create a stress awareness day, every single day.
As part of Stress Awareness Month this April, the charity is setting us all a 30-day challenge to reboot our mental health by “regaining connectivity, certainty and control”.
The official Stress Awareness Day usually takes place in November. However, with 65% of people in the UK feeling more stressed since the arrival of Covid-19 – according to SMS research carried out in collaboration with Huawei – it seems prudent that a single national stress awareness day is not enough for 2021.
The theory behind the 30-day campaign is that this is how long it takes to form a habit. Routine can be so important to battling stress – during a revealing episode of her podcast last year, former US First Lady Michelle Obama named it as the key defence she uses when suffering from low-grade depression. This is why SMS want you to use the 30 days of April to form some positive, mood-lifting habits.
SMS has created a calendar – which can be downloaded from its website for free – that requires you to fill in three things each day: what you will do that day to improve your physical health, what you will do to boost your mental health and what you will do to lift your emotional health. Committing to documenting your daily efforts is a useful tool to help you focus on achieving positive actions to activate behavioural changes that could improve your mental health and lower stress levels.
These could be simple things, such as going for a walk, ensuring you stay hydrated, making time to chat to a friend, going to bed early, or not working through your lunch hour. They are small but empowering actions that can often get forgotten when life gets hectic, but they are so important in helping to ground and calm us.
Other stress awareness tips for those seeking to make a change include listening to your body. Did you know that stress can cause physical pain? The hormones released when you are stressed can cause inflammation in the body, creating seemingly mysterious aches and pains.
Though you might not have noticed how stressed you are, your body usually has and it’s trying to let you know through symptoms like tight shoulders, a headache, stomach cramps or even feelings of dissociation (feeling as though you are floating outside yourself). If you can learn to tune in to your body’s warnings, you can use them as your cue to take 10 minutes out to meditate, read a book, have a bath, play an instrument – whatever helps to reset your anxious mind.
Another tip – and one that is so important now that our work and home lives are blurred – is to set clear boundaries. Decide what your work hours are and stick to them, so that you are giving yourself enough rest and relaxation time.
And if you can bear it, set limits on your screen time. It can be hard right now when we are forced to turn to screens for work, play, learning, communication and relaxation, but too much time on devices can be toxic, and many studies have shown clear links between overuse and depression and anxiety.
This April challenge is a great excuse to start introducing positive changes to your life that will reduce stress, but remember that the end game is for these to become habit that will continue on far beyond the end of the month. So get thinking, start planning and improve your mental health with a mindful new routine that will make every day a stress awareness day.