April is Stress Awareness Month and Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS) is using this period to increase public awareness about both the causes of stress and the ways it can be managed to help limit the negative impact on the public’s health.
Fidelma Carter, Head of Public Health at NICHS explains; “Stress is a natural reaction in the body. It is designed to give us short bursts of heightened energy or awareness as part of our instinctive fight or flight reaction. Many aspects of life can cause stress, from the workplace to personal relationships, ill-health as well as financial worries which are particularly prevalent during the current cost of living crisis.”
“Pressure can be good for us at times as it can help motivate us to get things done but excessive stress over a prolonged period can make us ill. While stress is not a direct risk factor for chest, heart and stroke conditions, it does impact upon health. People may be more likely to turn to unhealthy habits such as drinking too much alcohol, eating unhealthy comfort foods, not being physically active, or smoking to try and cope with stress. These can all increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, as well as your risk of heart disease and stroke. This is why we want to support people in managing stress.”
What advice would Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke give to people in terms of coping with stress? Fidelma says; “Stress can feel overwhelming at times but it’s important to remember there are a number of things we can all do to help manage stress in a more positive way.”
“Making changes to your lifestyle can help. These may be big changes, such as changing jobs, or small changes, like taking up a hobby or setting time aside just for you, if you can. Try to identify what makes you feel stressed, whether this is at home or at work. Understanding the causes of your stress is the best way to help you avoid or cope with stressors in your life.”
“Some practical tips include trying to eat healthily which can be achieved on a low-cost budget, as this can have a positive effect on health and emotional wellbeing. Physical activity can help by releasing feel-good hormones in the brain, improving both physical and mental wellbeing. This doesn’t have to be a strenuous workout, getting outside for a walk by yourself or with family or friends, or taking the dog for a walk are great ways to give your physical and mental health a boost.”
“It may be hard with today’s busy pace of life and current cost of living worries but taking time out to relax and unwind is very important. This will mean different things to different people but could be anything from listening to music, to playing sport, crafting, reading, getting out for a walk in the fresh air or cooking. We would also encourage people to talk to family and friends, or to their GP or a specialist mental health charity if they are feeling very anxious or stressed.”
“The NICHS website also has a wealth of information about coping with stress including a series of stress management videos. We have a stress test people can take which highlights the signs and symptoms of stress- www.nichs.org.uk/quiz/stress-test . Our Health Promotion team can also deliver ‘Stress’ and ‘Five ways to wellbeing’ talks to workplaces, community groups and schools. To find out more please visit www.nichs.org.uk/information/risk-factors/stress .”