Mental Health Awareness Week
14th to the 20th of May 2018 is Mental Health Awareness week and what better time to discuss openly, the issues surrounding Mental Health problems. Many people reading this will have experienced a period of mental ill health or supported somebody close to them through it. And in doing so would realise the urgency to find answers. By addressing Metal Health problems face on, we have an opportunity to call for change and to discover a new way forward.
At eXPD8 we have looked at what are the key drivers that could lead to the rise of mental ill health in our workplace and stress is listed time and time again as a factor. The statistics for people living with high levels of stress are troubling and we have been working on enriching our staff with different coping strategies, understanding what the triggers for stress are and what to do to alleviate stress. We can’t afford to under-estimate the impact stress has or avoid making the changes needed for a less toxic approach to living. Here, I want to explain why.
What is Stress?
The stress response is a survival strategy to keep us safe. It was a vital adaption when looking to survive being eaten. Stress is not a mental health problem and everyone can feel stressed. Humans sense danger or a threat and the part of the brain that controls our emotions and fear (our amygdala) switches on like a light.
When that happens, the brain shuts down any unnecessary functions, and hormones like cortisol flood the blood with glucose, giving a power surge to the body’s muscles to respond in two ways; flight or fight.
Thankfully the threat of being eaten by a wild animal today’s society is greatly reduced but the physiological response remains. And today our brain cannot distinguish between a lion’s menacing presence and the affront of a rude person who pushes past you in the queue. Many of us are triggering our stress response repeatedly every day – day in, day out.
It leads to what the experts call the ‘allostatic overload’. Instead of retreating to safety in a nearby cave when sensing danger, we are confronted by repeated stressful events and it’s like being chased all day by a lion on repeat. Sound like one of your days? It turns out that this is very bad for us and it makes us sick.
What does stress do?
When your body experiences prolonged periods of stress, the part of your brain that regulates our amygdala, blood pressure and heart beat but also enables us to learn, plan, concentrate and make judgements begins to shut down and even reduces in size.
Chronic stress increases our risk of addictive and destructive behaviour, of developing anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. As well as the effects it has on our mental health, stress also increases the risks associated with physical health problems including heart disease, insomnia, muscle pain and damages our immune system…the list goes on. Interestingly, it is our perception of stress in our lives added to actual stressful event that predicts its impact on us.
Quite ironically, our stress response is something that has evolutionary speaking kept us alive, is now something that threatens to reduce the quality of our lives.
- Keep a positive attitude – sometimes the way you think about things can make a huge difference. Your attitude can help offset difficult situations.
- Accept that there are events you cannot control – when you know there are times when you have given all that you can to a situation, it allows you to expend energy where it can be more effective.
- Learn to relax – purposeful relaxation, such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation and meditation is essential in training your body to relax. Relaxation should be a part of your daily routine
- Be active regularly – being active also helps your body more easily fight stress because it is fit.
- Eat well-balanced meals – staying on track with healthy eating habits is a great way to manage stress.
- Rest and sleep – your body needs time to recover from stressful events, so sleep is an important part of caring for yourself.
- Find your stressors and effective ways to cope with them – remember that you can learn to control stress because stress comes from how you respond to stressful events.
21st century life holds many opportunities for us. Life will always have its challenges and no-one wants to go back to living in caves. But unless we step back and find alternative approaches to a life of repeated stressful events, we can’t expect the tide of poor mental health to turn.
Senior Data Analyst at eXPD8 Analytics