Posted: Mon, 14 May 2018 09:00
This year the campaign is leading with the theme of stress, asking the question, 'Stress: are we coping?'. It will seek to highlight the impact stress has on us all, and the connection between stress and our health – both mental and physical.
What is stress?
We all know what it's like to feel stressed, but it's not easy to pin down exactly what stress means. When we say things like "this is stressful" or "I'm stressed", we might be talking about:
- Situations or events that put pressure on us – for example, times where we have lots to do and think about, or don't have much control over what happens.
- Our reaction to being placed under pressure – the feelings we get when we have demands placed on us that we find difficult to cope with.
During these situations you may feel threatened or upset and your body might create a stress response. This can cause a variety of physical symptoms, change the way you behave, and lead you to experience more intense emotions.
Stress affects us in a number of ways, both physically and emotionally and in varying intensities.
The link between stress, physical activity and our health.
There is reduced risk of physical health problems as our bodies adapt to stress. As we become fitter, our bodies can better regulate our cortisol levels. Cortisol is a 'stress hormone' that our bodies release in response to anxiety; over prolonged periods, higher cortisol levels have been linked to a wide range of health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, a lowered immune response, as well as depression and anxiety.
Why does stress affect me physically?
You might find that your first clues about being stressed are physical signs, such as tiredness, headaches or an upset stomach.
There could be many reasons for this, as when we feel stressed we often find it hard to sleep or eat well, and poor diet and lack of sleep can both affect our physical health. This in turn can make us feel more stressed emotionally.
Also, when we feel anxious, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. (This is the body's automatic way of preparing to respond to a threat, sometimes called the 'fight, flight or freeze' response). If you're often stressed then you're probably producing high levels of these hormones, which can make you feel physically unwell and could affect your health in the longer term.
Increasing your body's tolerance to stress
Exercise itself is a stressor, i.e. something that makes your body produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Making yourself experience stress on purpose by doing regular exercise forces your body to adapt as it becomes more active, so you build up a resilience over time. But it's important to pace yourself and not work your body too hard, because experiencing stress like this could become harmful over prolonged periods.
Don't forget the physical benefits too. Being physically active can reduce your risk of some diseases, improve the health of your organs and bones, help you to maintain a healthy weight and give you more energy.
Curry and Chaat… Get involved! Get together with friends, enjoy a delicious curry and raise money for the Mental Health Foundation and support the vision of a world with good mental health for all and for a less stressed nation. Find out more
Know the facts:
- 16 million people experience a mental health problem each year, and stress is a key factor in this.
- Of people with severe symptoms of mental health problems, 37.6% also have a long-term physical condition. This compares with 25.3% of people with no or few symptoms of a mental health problem.5
- 1 in 6.8 people are experience mental health problems in the workplace (14.7%).
- People with severe mental health problems have an average reduced life expectancy of between 10 and 25 years. Risk factors include smoking, physical inactivity, obesity, and the side effects of psychiatric medication.
For more information and to view available resources and activities taking place as part of Mental Health Awareness Week click on the link below.
Sources: (MIND, 2018: Mental Health Foundation, 2018: Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England)