Address your stress

Rachel Rowson

This week is Stress Awareness week and we have been taking part in activities all week in the office to address our stress and take steps to manage it.

I wonder how many times a week I WhatsApp my friends and family saying that I have had a stressful day? Working in a busy communications consultancy in the heart of London, with a hectic personal life, means that stress is something I feel on a daily basis. Just squeezing on to a busy tube at rush hour or fighting through the London stress on my bike means that from the beginning of the day life is anything but calm!

For me, stress is generally a positive response to life and I can push through these peaks and return to my normal state without any negative effects on my health. But this is not the case for everyone. Stress is something which comes in different forms (physical, environmental, emotional, acute life event, an chronic) It can affect an individual’s physical and mental health.

As stress is the focus of mental health awareness week this year, I thought I would share a helpful exercise which I went through on a recent Mental Health First Aid training course that can help you to understand what is making you stressed and to start to build strategies to overcome this, especially in the work place.

The Stress Container model works on the assumption that a person’s vulnerability is represented by the size of a container which everyday stresses flow in to. The more vulnerable you are the smaller your stress container is. Coping mechanisms (i.e. exercise, sleep, asking for help) can act as a ‘tap’ which stops the container overflowing. Unhelpful strategies (i.e working long hours and drinking or taking drugs) can block the tap. The Stress Container model helps you to identify stress and to act accordingly. The exercise goes like this:

  1. Write down everything that is in your head concerning work, study or home life.
  2. Now ask yourself the following questions:
    – Do I have any evidence to support my feelings about the stresses in my container?
    – What can I change?
    – What can’t I change and need to accept?
    – What needs my urgent attention?
    – Can anyone help me?
    – What are some of my unhelpful coping strategies?
    – What are some of my helpful coping strategies?
    – How can I spot that my container is close to overflowing?  What are my warning signs?  Who can I share these warning signs with so they can help me spot them?

I found that taking time to reflect and to be guided by these questions meant that I learnt things about myself which I hadn’t been aware of previously. At the time when I first did this exercise I realised that my life had become out of balance and I simply wasn’t spending enough time focussing on my family. Before doing the exercise I had no idea that this was something that I needed to focus on to stop my stress container from overflowing, but it gave me some much needed insight about what I needed to do.

If you are stressed and need help then don’t struggle on alone. Ask for help from you family and friends, your colleagues and employer, or a healthcare professional. This is a real condition which is central to your wellbeing and therefore should be treated with the respect it deserves. #addressyourstress