Tomorrow is National Stress Awareness Day (NSAD). Events like this are essential because stress is still much misunderstood by the public and that has to change.
Stress is one of those mental health conditions that tend to be casually belittled by the public and, sometimes, those in positions of power; you can just hear someone say “pull yourself together and get on with it.” This is despite the fact that a quarter of working people have taken time off ill due to stress, and that it is the leading cause of sick leave, according to charity Anxiety UK.
People often talk in an offhand way about being ‘stressed out’ – its shorthand for being under a bit of pressure. Of course, it is part of everyday life; everyone gets stressed at some point over things like work, money, bereavement or children, but any aspect of life can cause stress.
A degree of stress can be a good thing; some people thrive when they are under pressure. As a journalist and editor, it is par for the course to have some stress, especially when deadlines are looming. It focuses the mind.
But there is a tipping point where stress can become too much and start to have a detrimental effect on work and life. For example, a recent Labour Force Survey by the Health and Safety Executive found that the biggest causes of workplace stress, or that make it worse, were work pressure, lack of managerial support and work-related violence and bullying.
Stress needs to be better understood because it is prevalent – its incidence has doubled in the past four years, according to a recent AXA Insurance survey. Additionally, hospitals in England dealt with 6,370 admissions for stress in the 12 months to May 2012; a 7% rise on the previous year, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
That may be surprising to some – it might be assumed that stress is something that results in a trip to the GP, rather than admission to hospital – but it shows how serious and debilitating it can be.
It also demonstrates how important it is for people who are experiencing stress to recognise that they are, and seek help before things spiral into a crisis.
It is equally important that the people around them – family, friends, work colleagues and bosses – understand what the person experiencing stress is going through. It is not a case of “pulling yourself together”. As with depression that is probably one of the worst things someone can say. Providing support and understanding to help them through a tough period in their life is what they need.
That’s why days like NSAD are important because they do highlight stress and its effects and, hopefully, go some way to breaking down the stigma that surrounds the condition.
For more on NSAD visit www.isma.org.uk/national-stress-awareness-day/
For some tips on coping with stress, click here.