Dan Parton explains why de-stressing is important for all of us: DanParton

Nearly half of British people feel stressed every day, according to a new poll. Perhaps this is not surprising – money and work (or, more likely, the lack of) were given as the top causes of stress – but what is worrying is that many people are not seeking healthy or effective ways of dealing with their concerns.

The survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that, for 18% of those polled, alcohol was something that helped them cope with their stress. But while drinking may help you forget about the causes of stress, when you wake up the next morning, nothing will have changed, other than the fact that you have a headache as well. Meanwhile, 10% found smoking helpful.

Neither of these is a healthy coping strategy and each could bring its own problems later in life. But for those who smoke or drink to cope, that isn’t a concern, it’s dealing with the problems of the present that matters.

Perhaps more concerning was the finding that only 6% would consider visiting a GP or a medical professional for their stress-related conditions. Left unchecked, stress can become a serious mental health problem but, sadly, it is still one of those conditions that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The attitude ‘everyone has stress, just get on with it’ is still relatively common. But while everyone lives with a degree of stress and a certain amount can be a good thing – as a journalist and editor the stress of a deadline does focus the mind – too much can have seriously detrimental effects on people’s lives and that has to be recognised and addressed.

Indeed, the survey found that almost half of respondents (49%) found it more difficult to sleep, and the same percentage said they felt short-tempered and irritable. Meanwhile, 40% reported feeling tired all the time and 39% said they found it hard to switch off.

But at least many recognise that talking about their stress helps, with 40% speaking to friends or family about it. A problem shared apparently truly is, a problem halved. Nevertheless, more practical support is needed to help people cope with stress and deal with the signs at an early stage, before they reach crisis point.

For instance, while the Government’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies scheme is providing results for people, provision around the country is still patchy and that’s a situation that has to be improved. There is also talk that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence may review its assessment criteria for talking therapies, which could pave the way for a greater range being available on the NHS.

And, workplaces have a crucial role to play in adopting a culture that is open to helping people who may be suffering stress. After all, it’s in employers’ interests to do so as stress is one of the top causes of employee absence.

More work also needs to be done – for example, through information leaflets or TV campaigns – to help people recognise when they are becoming stressed, and to know what to do and where to go for support.

Times are tough, and, if the economic doom-mongers are right, they could get tougher still in 2013, so the number of people feeling stressed every day could well increase. Getting the mechanisms in place to help, is crucial. Stress can develop into serious mental illness, but doesn’t have to – as long as people get the support they need, when they need it.