Today is Stress Awareness Day. Stress is something that each of us will face at some point in our lives. Low-level stress will come and go and for the most part, is something we can deal with. But when stress becomes overwhelming and the impact on our lives is largely negative, this is when we need to think about how we address our stress.

We live in a 24/7 culture which perpetuates an ‘always on’ society. Technology can play a part, but there are plenty of other stressors we may need to consider including; too many late nights, burning the candle at both ends, drinking too much, partaking in drug use, a lack of routine or illness can all take their toll. Relationship problems at work or at home, life events such as bereavement, pregnancy or childbirth. Finances too can play a part.

What is stress?

Stress by its very definition is the state of mind we get into when we think we are being asked to do more than we can deliver. How people think about themselves or the world around them can influence how they feel. When I’m in this state I am likely to exaggerate the demands that are put upon me and underestimate the resources that are there to help.

We all experience stress to varying degrees and sometimes in very different ways. For example, the thought of giving a group presentation at the next company event might fill your colleague with absolute dread, but for you, it’s a walk in the park. That same colleague might find other challenges far less stressful, which for you are quite overwhelming.

But why is this? Well, genetics can play a part of course. Nature versus nurture debates rumble on. But more often than not it’s our coping styles and how we think about a situation that influences our level of stress. There is little we can do to alter someone’s genetic make-up but it is possible to look at different ways of coping or thinking.

We talk a lot at byrne.dean about the idea of the stress bucket. This bucket represents how much stress you can take on. If your bucket gets too full, what do you think might happen? If stress continues to flow into an already full bucket, then what? You need to start thinking about how you might cope and what you might do to empty that bucket.

Where does stress stop and mental ill health start?

The level of vulnerability a person carries is represented by the size of their bucket into which everyday stresses will flow. The size of your bucket will be determined by a number of factors both positive and negative. For example, a difficult childhood or traumatic events may result in your having a much smaller bucket which can easily overflow, making you much more susceptible to developing poor mental health. The bigger the bucket, the lower your vulnerability and therefore the less likely you are to develop poor mental health.

That’s not to say you cannot build on the size of your bucket. Resilience can be built through a variety of means including helpful coping mechanisms which are outlined further below.

So how do we cope?

There are two types of coping mechanisms we need to consider. Helpful and unhelpful. If we practice more helpful techniques, my bucket doesn’t overflow. If I’m leaning more towards unhelpful techniques… where will that get me? What does my bucket look like now?

Listed below are just some of the coping strategies that we know to be helpful and not so helpful. These lists are not exhaustive:

Unhelpful coping techniques

  • Alcohol – and too much of it!
  • Other drugs – recreational or prescribed
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Working long hours
  • Little to no sleep, irregular sleeping patterns
  • Not talking to anyone
  • Not asking for help
  • Withdrawing and isolating oneself

Helpful coping techniques:

  • Good diet and nutrition
  • Plenty of exercise
  • Regular sleeping patterns
  • Talking to people. Connecting with others
  • Get outside and take notice of the world
  • Take a walk in nature, green spaces are good for the soul!
  • Read a book, write a letter, listen to your favourite music. Cook a meal, dance and sing
  • Meditate, be mindful
  • Get ‘out of your head’ and get into the ‘flow’. Lose track of time doing something you love
  • Asking for help

And what about the workplace?

  • Create a stress awareness space. A space where you and your co-workers can come together to talk about stress in a free and unapologetic way. A great place to share advice and discuss some of the tips and tools that work for you.
  • Talking about stress in a safe and open environment can be very liberating. Hear how others might be struggling and how they cope. This also helps to reduce some of the stigma that exists around workplace stress.
  • Share your coping mechanisms. What works for you might work very well for others, they just don’t know it yet. It also provides an opportunity to think about your own challenges and how you might handle them going forward.
  • Be kind to those who are suffering right now. Stress is something we are all likely to experience so treat others as you would like them to treat you. Bring your humanity, your compassion and your kindness to the conversation. It can go a long way.
  • Most importantly, know when your stress bucket is starting to overflow and think about some of the above techniques. By all means, incorporate these helpful techniques when life is good. But when life gets stressful, those are the times you will need these the most.

If you'd like to hear more about stress and the impact it can have on our lives, ways in which we can cope and how we can shift our thinking - please get in touch. We offer a host of mental health awareness training and would love to hear from you. You can contact me directly at mark.ogrady@byrnedean.com