April is National Stress Awareness Month. Whilst some may roll their eyes at yet another awareness date with which to mark their calendars, stress is something we all need to take more seriously. 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety during 2016-17. And over 500,000 workers stated that they were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety during the same time period. That’s the tip of the iceberg.
Stress and its impact is becoming a national epidemic in the UK; something that is seeping insidiously into many of our lives.
Whether it’s our ‘always on’ culture, financial pressures, social media induced anxiety, lack of sleep, nightmare bosses, dreadful commutes, or more complex mental health conditions; the causes of stress pile up around us.
And it’s making us ill.
Whilst the claim of “I’m so stressed” has become a common refrain in recent years, the number of people struggling from genuine stress and anxiety related conditions has shot up. And we must start taking it seriously.
The toll that stress takes on our mental and physical health is poorly understood. It can manifest itself in panic attacks, high blood pressure and heart palpitations. It can lead to poor sleep and digestive conditions. In extreme cases, it can lead to depression, self-harm and even suicide.
The recent proliferation of mindfulness apps, wellness products and huge waiting lists for talking therapies is a reflection of the stress epidemic that’s tightening its grip on our lives. People are reaching out for solutions, often to issues they can’t quite identify or articulate, because of an innate sense that how they feel day to day isn’t ‘right’.
It is so welcome that well-known figures such as Ellie Goulding and Emma Stone are speaking more openly about their struggles with anxiety. And that mental health is finally getting the media attention it deserves. The voices and stories we are starting to hear help many people make sense of their own battles; helping provide a language and framework in which we can understand the role stress and anxiety can play in our lives. It also, crucially, helps those who don’t suffer from such conditions understand that people aren’t just being ‘drama queens’ or need to ‘cheer up’.
But recognising the symptoms is just one step. Tackling the causes is much more difficult.
Each case of stress and anxiety is unique. And, accordingly, each individual will need different levels of support and intervention. Whether your solution is to be found in exercise, sleep hygiene, a change of work environment, or pharmaceutical support, it’s essential that people feel empowered to seek the help they need. Equally important is the need to have adequate support structures in place to provide that help. Currently, stigma, ignorance and lack of funding are providing barriers to these incredibly important, vital provisions.
Being too fearful to leave the house, having panic attacks on the way to work, battling to quell a tumult of worries as you try to get some sleep, these are realities that many people are silently battling with.
So, this April, we must step up and start talking about the stress and anxiety which silently rules so many lives. We must start talking about it, start supporting each other, and start seeking the help and understanding that is desperately needed by so many.