Stress Awareness Month – April 2021
April is Stress Awareness Month. It has been held every April since 1992 to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic.
We all know what it is like to feel stressed – being under pressure is usually a normal part of life. But over the last year, now more than ever, some of us are finding ourselves overwhelmed by stress. This can lead to mental health problems or exacerbate existing problems, cause exhaustion, physical illness and impact on every aspect of your life.
Recent research by the Stress Management Society has identified that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020.
Many people are also reporting problems sleeping due to the pandemic, so we decided this would be a good theme to explore to help try to alleviate some current stress.
There’s a close relationship between sleep and mental health. Living with a mental health problem can affect how well you sleep, and poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health. It can easily become a vicious cycle, especially when routines are disrupted and motivation is poor.
Here are our top tips to help you improve your sleep
Help get the body ready for sleep by practising some deep belly breathing. This can help switch on the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, getting the body into a more relaxed state. You could try placing both hands on the belly, and taking a slow long breath through the nose, and breathing out through the mouth. You might start to extend the out-breath, and even let it out with an audible “aaah”…. Try this just after you’ve got into bed for about five minutes.
Write it out:
It can be hard to switch off the mind when we go to bed, particularly if it’s been busy all day. Why not keep a notebook next to the bed, and write down whatever is filling your head. It might be stuff that has happened during the day, or a list of what you need to do the next day. After that, you might also jot dot two or three nice or positive things from your day. Keeping a grateful or positivity diary can really help your wellbeing.
Kick the caffeine and ditch the drink!
Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands, and can be a real problem for sleep quality and quantity due to its stimulating effects. Keep caffeine consumption to before midday (or at least twelve hours before you want to sleep). Likewise, alcohol, while it might appear to be a helpful sleep aid, actually interferes with the quality of our sleep.
Get into a routine
We do not need to fly half way across the world to experience jetlag. If you have one bedtime for weekends, but another for work days then you could end up with a type of jetlag. Overall, it’s better to have a set ‘bedtime’ with regular ‘sleep windows’ for the whole week. This way the body is not constantly adjusting its sleep and wake time.
“Poor sleep leads to worrying. Worrying leads to poor sleep. Worrying about sleep is like your mind trying to fight itself. That’s a horrible place to be.”
Find your own sleep ritual
Having a wind-down ritual can be a great way of preparing the body for sleep. Find yourself some soothing or calming music, perhaps have some nice smells to have around you. You could try a guided relaxation or meditation practice to help you let go of the day and allow the body to settle into a more relaxed state.
Use light to help the body’s rhythms
Help the body’s natural rhythms by getting out into the daylight when you can, particularly if you are in artificial light during the day. Even if it’s a short ten minute walk around the block. Moving and natural light are great ways to help regulate the body’s circadian rhythms. In the evening, keep the house lights as low as you can – and set your devices to a ‘night’ mode to reduce blue light. This suppresses the body’s melatonin – the hormone that helps us feel drowsy.
Yoga for restful sleep
Some gentle yoga before bed can be a really helpful way of letting go of your day, and readying the body for rest. There are specific sleep yoga sequences that can be helpful, but we like the ‘legs up the wall’ pose. This is suitable for most bodies, helps alleviate stress and tension. Do avoid if you have high blood pressure, neck or spine problems, or might be pregnant. Otherwise, this gentle inversion can be a restful thing to do for a few minutes (or more) right before you hop into bed.
Keeping the phone out of the bedroom
It can be hard to settle into sleep mode when there’s the temptation of social media, or group chats. Having the phone around at bedtime runs the risk of stress hormones elevating right before bed, or simply of staying up later than intended by scrolling social media streams. Challenge yourself to leave the phone in a drawer, or even better, out of the bedroom entirely. See if you can also delay turning it on in the morning, giving you a calmer entry into the day.
If your stress is work-related you might be interested in our workplace wellbeing training courses here
You can find out more about sleep and mental health via the Mind website
If you are struggling and are not sure where to turn for help please contact us on 0161 769 5732 (Mon-Fri 10am-2pm). You can find out more about our current services here.
If you need to talk to someone confidentially you can call national Mind on 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday) or access other immediate help