First observed in April 1992, Stress Awareness Month is still as relevant as ever, in part because of our modern lifestyles.
The modern stress epidemic
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), stress is 'the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures and demands placed on them'.1 Symptoms often include heart palpitations, a dry mouth, headaches, odd aches and pains and loss of appetite for food and sex.
Despite this, we often disregard stress as being an unavoidable part of modern life. We frame it as a by-product of demanding jobs, money pressures and 'always-on' lifestyles that we can do nothing about. Ironically, we feel as though we are too busy to think about how to make our lives less stressful.
Cast yourself back to the last time you felt overly stressed. Is whatever caused the stress a regular occurrence that is causing your day-to-day life to be more challenging than it should be? If so, it's time to tackle it.
If a regular cause of your stress is work, you're not alone.
In Great Britain, work-related stress, anxiety and depression is a common issue - 488,000 cases were recorded across 2015 and 2016, which is a prevalence rate of 1,510 per 100,000 workers.
In the same years, stress accounted for 37 per cent of all work-related ill health cases and 45 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health.
HSE identify six main areas that can can lead to work-related stress if they are not correctly managed: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change.
This covers things like not being to cope with the demands of your job (perhaps because of unrealistic deadlines), not being able to control the way you work or not receiving enough information or support.
5 top tips to help prevent stress
If you are stressed to the extent that it affects how you think, feel and behave (and in this day and age, many of us are), remember that this is not something that has to be endured.
It might turn out that you have to make big changes to your life, but start with the simple ones; they can have a big impact. Here's what we suggest.
1. Get some sleep
According to mental health charity Mind, many people who experience stress and mental health problems also experience sleep problems, and vice versa. 'Stress can cause your thoughts to race around your mind, making it difficult to sleep. You're also more likely to experience disturbed sleep, nightmares, sleep walking and insomnia'.2
5-HTP could help to reduce insomnia by increasing your levels of serotonin; a chemical that is converted by the body into melatonin, which is responsible for regulating sleep patterns.
2. Bathe with magnesium flakes
Incredibly, magnesium is needed for more than 325 biochemical reactions in the body, so it's a very important mineral. It is well-known for its contribution to the maintenance of normal bones and muscle function, energy-yielding metabolism and a healthy nervous system, which includes the brain.
There are a variety of delivery methods available for making the most of magnesium. Supplements are a simple and effective way of obtaining your daily intake, particularly when they contain citrate and malate, which will aid absorption into the body.
Magnesium bath flakes are also a great alternative treatment for those seeking complete and utter relaxation.
3. Stay active
There is no doubting the benefits of exercise for the human mind. Firstly, it encourages the production and release of endorphins, 'the feel good' hormones that help calm anxiety and lift your mood. In addition, exercise helps to regulate the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which in high quantities has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.
4. Reach for herbal supplements
A variety of herbal supplements are useful in combatting stress. 'Growing scientific evidence for St John's Wort shows that it can prevent stress-induced changes in the brain that activate the pituitary and adrenal glands', says Dr Patricia Macnair. 'In other words, it may stop the brain from switching stress on in the body.'
5. Take time to breathe
There is a lot to be said for taking a deep breath.
Paying attention to how you're breathing is something you should consider working into your daily routine. The NHS even promotes breathing as a technique for stress, anxiety and panic.3
Make yourself as comfortable as you can and let your breath flow deep down into your belly. Try breathing in through your nose for a count of five and then letting it flow out gently for the same number of seconds.
Do this for three to five minutes daily to take control of heightened feelings of stress.