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Mental Health Awareness Week

May 14 – 20 is Mental Health Awareness week and this year the focus is on Stress.

Every year the Mental Health Foundation , for one week in May, focus on one area of mental health encouraging us to talk about it, focus on our own mental health and think about what we can do to effect change for the better.

This is a matter close to my heart and if anyone read my blog last year during Mental Health Awareness Week, they will know that I have a very stressful job. Actually, in my opinion, I have the best job in the world but it is demanding and it is stressful. I am also a wife and a Mum to two teenagers. I have suffered close and tragic bereavement in recent years and found myself with less and less time for me. A recipe for disaster – something I now know and recognise.

Stress is incredibly common, is something that is experienced by most people in one way or another and it is something that unchecked can have devastating consequences. It is also something that we don’t talk about enough.

We will all tell friends and family that we had a tough day but how many of us tell people how that day really made us feel, that at lunch time we found ourselves in the loos at work battling a panic attack, that we didn’t make time to eat through the day, that someone upset us to the point that we felt unable to function afterwards?

There are so many examples of stress inducing situations, they bombard us in this modern age and we have to be robust with our mental health. We have to look after it in the same way that we look after our physical health.

What is stress? 

Stress is not a mental health problem itself. We are told that it is a survival strategy – the fight or flight mechanism that “kicks in” when we sense danger and our brain shuts down unnecessary functions – to keep us safe. Initially it was to stop us being eaten by lions when we were hunting in the savannah.

Today it could be a rude person, too many emails, an argument with your partner, a dreadful day at work, a bereavement or a combination of so many things. Our brain doesn’t know that those things aren’t the same as a lion chasing us because those things can trigger the same fight or flight reaction. When this happens enough, when those reactions are repeated over and again, it makes us ill – mentally ill!

 What are the effects of stress?

Stress that happens very often is chronic and increases our risk of addictive and destructive behaviour. It can increase the risk of us developing anxiety and depression and other mental health problems. It can affect our ability to function, we might not be able to work as well as we have before, our relationships may suffer and we may not be able to look after ourselves as well as we should. Physical health problems may be caused, headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, stomach problems, heart disease – the list is endless.

We can make a change. 

We can make a difference.

The society that we live in does not help. It is busy to the point of being frenetic. It can be overwhelming and frightening. Sensory and information overload day in day out. We can all look at how we approach our lives, can we slow down a bit? Do we really need mobile phones and laptops in our bedrooms? Will the office crash and burn if we go home at 5.30pm?

If you want to be part of this change check out the Mental Health Foundation website www.mentalhealth.org.uk and get talking! They have lots of ideas and links to get you going.

I am going to have a cup of tea, take 10 minutes to be mindful and in the moment and breathe!

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