Since its launch in 1992, Stress Awareness Month in April has become an important opportunity to raise awareness of the impact stress can have on us, our loved ones, and our colleagues. Each year we have seen stress triggers evolve and are welcoming far more open dialogue about the issues and opportunities for signposting people to where support is available.

This Stress Awareness Month, we turn to our Mental Health First Aider, Jackie Knight, for information, hints, tips, and guidance around stress and stress management. Jackie helps explain what stress is, how it can affect a person and ways to seek support.

Stress is something that affects nearly all of us at some point in our life. Triggers vary greatly – from financial difficulties to strain in a relationship, workplace, or exam pressure. Whatever the cause, nearly one in ten of us is known to feel stressed every single day. What is universal about stress is that it occurs when we feel threatened.

Fight, flight, or freeze

Have you ever felt your heart rate racing, your hands are clammy, and your body is pulsing with adrenaline? You’ve most likely been in a state of stress. Whatever has triggered this episode has made your fight, flight or freeze system kick in. An evolutionary response we’ve had for millions of years – it was initially required to help us either fight a predator, stay as still as possible to avoid being seen or flee from danger fast enough, so we didn’t become dinner.

While lions aren’t chasing us anymore, we face modern threats that cause the same response. If something makes you feel fearful, then the natural response is stress. For anyone who has experienced it, you’ll agree it’s uncomfortable and exhausting.

What impact can stress have?

While the symptoms of stress differ from person to person, it can negatively affect both mental and physical health.

While not a mental health problem, it can be a catalyst for mental ill-health. Both short-term and long-term stress can lead to anxiety, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Physical issues such as insomnia, chest pains, dizziness, and blurred eyesight can also be linked to stress.

When someone becomes stressed, those around them may also notice a change in their behaviour. This can happen very quickly or may take time to surface. They may become more irritable and snappier, or they may become withdrawn. You may also notice them engaging in more risk-taking behaviours, such as excessive drinking, smoking or drug use.

Not everyone displays signs of stress in the same way; nor will two people find the same events stressful. Stress is unique and it’s crucial to listen to your own body and notice cues that don’t match your usual thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

Seeking support for stress and stress-related illnesses

It may feel easy to brush off stress as something that happens to everyone and something that you’ll ‘get over’ in time, but if you feel like you are in a regular state of stress, you don’t have to suffer in silence and are urged to seek support.

This could mean speaking to a friend or family member about how you’re feeling. As the saying goes – sometimes, a problem shared is a problem halved.

If the source of your stress is coming from work-related pressures, you can seek out a member of the team you feel comfortable speaking with. This could be a Mental Health First Aider, a member of the HR team or your line manager.

Another source of support would be your GP. They will be able to discuss potential medical solutions with you and refer you to specialists if needed. Many options are available to help you manage your stress, including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), mindfulness and distraction techniques.

Finally, there are also many charities on the Islands that you can turn to including Mind Jersey and Mind GuernseyJersey’s Listening LoungeJersey Samaritans and Guernsey Samaritans.

Stress is an issue many people experience but it doesn’t mean you need to go through it alone. If you are suffering, please seek support today for a brighter tomorrow.