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Thought Leadership | 16th May 2023

Mental Health Awareness Week: why we need to prioritise managing stress

Read Time: 4 minutes


We’ve all been there at some point in life; work is busy with projects to complete and deadlines to hit, and home life is hectic with family and friends to visit, and finances to manage. Your thoughts are racing at a million miles an hour. All you want is a good night’s sleep. But what happens? You get ready for bed, switch the light off and you can’t fall asleep. Your thoughts have taken control and what is on your mind during the day has now overtaken your mind at night. Your stress levels rise. 

You aren’t alone. The UK Mental Health Foundation reports that over the course of a year 74% of us feel so stressed that we have been overwhelmed or unable to cope, with work cited as the common most cause.

While stress is not a mental health condition in itself, chronic or acute stress is linked to a number of mental health problems including anxiety and depression, as either a symptom or a cause.

So what is stress? 

Put simply, it’s how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. Stress usually happens when we are in a situation that we don’t feel we can manage or control.

Stress evolved in people and mammals as a survival mechanism, enabling us to react quickly to life-threatening situations by setting off a series of hormonal and physical responses that could help us flee to safety. In modern life, certain ‘stressors’ that aren’t life threatening, such as conflict, traffic jams, work pressure or family challenges can initiate the same responses, which has a detrimental effect on both our mental and physical health.

Dealing with stress

I’m one of those people (or I think I am anyway) that when I’m stressed or have feelings of anxiety, I continue to act the same. Over the years, I’ve heard family, friends and colleagues say things like Trev doesn’t get stressed, nothing phases him, but even though I may come across as cool, calm and collected, I can assure you on that the inside I’m the opposite.

What do I get stressed about? For me it generally stems around either a big change in my life (I like routine), and linked to this is any form of uncertainty. Then there’s the realisation of having a responsibility that becomes overwhelming.

But over the years I’ve become a lot more self-aware. I’ve learned to manage myself and my thoughts in a way that ensures stress doesn’t build up and impact my productivity and ability to focus. Please understand that I’m certainly no expert, and I’m still learning, but with experience and support, I’m on the right path.

Becoming self-aware doesn’t just happen overnight, it takes time and practice. It’s like a form of brain training as over time you begin to recognise emotions and reactions to situations as they are happening. For me, understanding emotions, accepting them for what they are and then reflecting on them is key to becoming better at managing stress, and recognising stress in others.

In recent years my colleagues and I have been fortunate to work with a fantastic performance coach, David Wilkinson, who has taught us the fundamentals of self-awareness, social-awareness and self-belief. 

Personally, David has taught me a great deal about understanding stress and pressure, how to communicate effectively and how to focus on the things that I can control rather than worry about the things I can’t. When stress does begin to creep into my mental state, I feel that I’m much better placed to recognise it. For example, I’ll begin to procrastinate, small decisions become harder to make and I’ll not be able to relax in the evenings as there’s an urge to overcompensate for the lack of productivity by doing more hours. 

When I begin to sense these things happening, I stop, I breathe, I take a step back and reflect. I often go for a walk and clear my mind so I can think clearly. I then put actions in place to overcome the feeling of stress and anxiety, I talk to my colleagues, I let them know that I’m struggling, I talk to David, I talk to my wife, and more often than not, once I have shared, I begin to take action by prioritising and planning my workload, by evaluating what is in my control and what is out of it. 

Stress at work 

As the Managing Director of Onyx Health, my aim is to create an environment in which team members can thrive, where they can perform at a high level consistently and be open to discussion and communication about emotions and feelings when things perhaps don’t go to plan. The agency is a product of its people and it’s incredibly important to us that everyone can develop both professionally and personally.

We recognise that work-related stress is the most common type of stress, and as a service agency to a portfolio of clients it’s natural that certain stresses and anxieties can emerge. To help mitigate stress, we have a wellbeing package in place that allows team members to access £150 towards a health and wellbeing activity – this might be used for anything from a gym membership to a contribution towards a spa day. We also encourage regular breaks, walks along the Newcastle quayside, and flexibility in work hours. 

The UK Mental Health Foundation’s approach involves preventing mental health problems before they happen and supporting everyone to thrive. If we continue to work together, communicate effectively and share ideas and practical solutions, then we can achieve great things without being overwhelmed with stress and anxiety.

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