Bag up your worries and let go of stress

Stress. What a horrible feeling and unfortunately so many of us experience it. Whether it’s work, Brexit, travel, relationships, not being able to switch off or just having too much on our plates, stress is becoming a frequent, unwelcome visitor in our lives. During a typical week, 72% of us feel stressed at some point – this is not good for our wellbeing and frequently feeling stressed can also lead to problems with our mental and physical health.

Let’s change this. April is National Stress Awareness Month, so each 15 minute wellbeing blog post throughout April will focus on how stress affects our wellbeing and provide a range of activities aligned with the seven wellbeing themes to help us feel less stressed and anxious. Stress doesn’t have to be a part of life that we just accept, we can overcome it and feel better within ourselves.

What is stress?

Stress is how our bodies respond to an event or situation that is new, unexpected, threatens us or something that we have little control over. When we experience a stressful event, our bodies produce hormones that put us into ‘fight or flight’ mode. That is, these hormones prepare us to fight the threat, or run away from it.

Sometimes, this response is useful – it can help us respond quickly in high pressure situations and protect ourselves if we need to. If we only experience stressors and stay in fight or flight mode for a short amount of time, then we are unlikely to have any long-term, negative effects. However, if we experience stressful events frequently, or are constantly in fight or flight mode, our resilience to stressors reduces and we feel unable to cope. This leads to us regularly feeling stressed which can have a knock-on effect on our mental and physical health.

Why our lives are so stressful

Whereas our cavemen ancestors were mainly concerned with shelter, food and avoiding predators, a whole host of things can cause us stress in the 21st Century:

  • Work – over two-thirds of people in a national survey felt excessive pressures at work (i.e. having to take on extra work to compensate for staff absences, unpaid overtime) was their main source of stress. This, plus balancing our work and home lives can make us feel overwhelmed.
  • Money – although employment has risen, the amount of money we earn has not increased substantially since the 2008 recession. This means that many of us don’t always have enough money to make ends meet and more than 1 in 5 of us have experienced debt-related stress.
  • Social media – Nearly half (49%) of young people surveyed felt the comparison and constant pressure of keeping up with others on social media was a source of stress.
  • Health – long-term health conditions are a source of stress for over a third of adults.
  • Commuting – as we learnt in last week’s post, lengthy commutes and journey delays can increase the amount of stress and anxiety we experience.
  • Current affairs – a third of us in the UK are stressed about Brexit.

How stress impacts our wellbeing

Stress can have a detrimental effect on our wellbeing. Experiencing lots of stress has been linked with depression and self-harm. In a national survey, 51% of respondents who felt stressed also felt depressed, with even more – 61% – feeling anxious as a result as stress.

Stress and anxiety can become a vicious cycle: stress leading to anxiety and the worrying linked with anxiety resulting in us feeling even more stressed. Rumination (constant worrying) is one of the strongest predictors of negative wellbeing. If we can reduce how much we ruminate, then we can start to overcome stress and improve our wellbeing.

Common, unhelpful ways we cope with stress

We have all developed our own ways of coping with stress, some of these are helpful whereas many are only short-term fixes. To alleviate stress we may eat unhealthily, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or take drugs. While these can provide a momentary distraction from our worries, they don’t help us overcome them.

Bag up those worries

This week’s activity uses a short and cathartic exercise to help you overcome the stressors and worries you may be currently experiencing. It involves writing, drawing or sticking things that represent your worries in the bag on the worksheet and then scrunching or ripping it up. The purpose of going through this process can help you let go of your worries and realise that you have some control over your worries, they don’t have to control you.

Click the link below to download the worksheet. It’s recommended for this exercise that you print it off so you can scrunch it and rip it! If you don’t have a printer, draw your own bag and follow the instructions on the worksheet.

If bagging up your worries has helped improve your wellbeing, please do get in contact and share your story!

I share wellbeing-related research, news and stories on twitter and Instagram inbetween weekly blog posts so do follow @15minwellbeing on both platforms to keep up to date.

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