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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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How do we know what’s good for our wellbeing?

There’s so much focus on self-improvement these days – making changes to our lives to improve our performance, our physical health and mastering new skills. It’s generally straightforward to tell what helps us improve in these areas:

  • Testing new time management techniques to meet our targets at work
  • Increasing the amount of exercise we do to increase our physical fitness
  • Regular practice to learn a new skill

But how do we know what is and isn’t good for our wellbeing? We all lead busy lives so it’s hard to tell what is good for us and what might be having a negative impact on our health and wellbeing.

Having an insight into our thoughts, feelings and behaviours can improve our wellbeing. We gain this insight through the process of reflection. If we can identify what is good and bad for our wellbeing, we can make the changes we need to improve and maintain our wellbeing.

Theme 6: Reflection

Reflection builds on last week’s theme of mindfulness, as it also involves recognising our thoughts and feelings. Focusing our attention on ourselves can help with our personal growth and wellbeing – reflection consolidates learning from our experiences and enables us to apply this learning to new situations.

What is reflection? Self-reflection is the process of focusing on ourselves and increasing our awareness of our thoughts and feelings. Having an insight into how we think, feel and are motivated is key to our psychological health. Taking time to reflect can reduce anxiety, improve motivation and help us plan for the future.

It is important to understand that reflection focuses on learning from past events to improve our current and future wellbeing. It isn’t rumination – repeatedly focusing on negative events or problems that we’ve experienced without finding ways to overcome them. Rumination is linked with anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Rather than ruminating, the activities in this theme will encourage us to reflect upon setbacks and challenge with the aim of overcoming them in the future. Reflection is all about practice and as we progress through the blog, more tasks and techniques will be provided to help you reflect.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Why reflection is good for our wellbeing

Taking the time to reflect can help us:

Through the process of reflection, we can identify imbalances in our feelings and personal needs. Once these have been identified, we can make changes and choices that address them. This process of reflection and behaviour change has been shown to improve our wellbeing.

Reflection can increase our ability to learn – which we already know is good for our wellbeing. Additionally, the relationship between reflection and wellbeing works both ways – positive self-beliefs can lead us to evaluate ourselves positively.

Image by Avi Chomotovski from Pixabay

The onus on improving our wellbeing is ultimately on us. Taking 15 minutes to reflect can help us figure out what we need more and less of to improve our mental and physical health.

This week’s task gets you to reflect on the people, places and things that are good and bad for our wellbeing. Every day we interact with other people and the exchanges we have with others can have a huge impact on our mood and overall wellbeing. The environments we live, work and socialise in can affect how we feel about ourselves. The things we do and activities we engage in can also influence our health and wellbeing. This week’s activity worksheet includes some examples to help you reflect on what’s good and bad for your wellbeing.

Click the link below to download the worksheet. You can fill it in using the ‘fill and sign’ tool or alternatively print it off and fill it in by hand.

If reflecting on people, places and things 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 in between weekly blog posts so do follow @15minwellbeing on both platforms to keep up to date.