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Take a Breath: Understanding Stress for Better Mental Health

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Published: 05/04/2024

April is Stress Awareness Month, a time to acknowledge stress's impact on our lives and explore ways to manage it effectively. Here at Staffordshire Network for Mental Health, we understand the toll stress can take, and we're here to support you!

What is Stress?

Stress is a natural human response to challenging or demanding situations. It's the body's way of preparing us to face a threat, be it a work deadline, an argument with a loved one, or even financial worries. While some stress can be a motivator, chronic or excessive stress can harm our physical and mental well-being.

Recognising the Signs of Stress

Stress can manifest in various ways, both physically and emotionally. Here are some common signs to be aware of in yourself and those around you:

  • Physical Symptoms: Headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, changes in appetite, digestive issues, difficulty sleeping.

  • Emotional Symptoms: Anxiety, irritability, low mood, difficulty concentrating, feeling overwhelmed or isolated.

  • Behavioural Changes: Increased use of alcohol or drugs, social withdrawal, neglecting responsibilities, or changes in eating habits.

Signs of Stress in Those Around You

  • Physical Changes: Noticeable weight gain or loss, frequent illnesses, and tired appearance.

  • Emotional Changes: Mood swings, irritability, or seeming more anxious or withdrawn than usual.

  • Behavioural Changes: Work or school performance changes, increased absences, and avoiding social activities.

Coping Mechanisms to Conquer Stress

The good news is there are several effective strategies to manage stress and promote overall well-being. Here are a few to consider:

  • Prioritise Self-Care: Taking care of yourself isn't selfish; it's essential! Engage in activities like reading books, enjoying nature, or listening to music. Get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly. These habits provide a strong foundation for managing stress effectively.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine. Practices like deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm your nervous system and release tension. Many free apps and online resources are available to guide you.
  • Challenge Negative Thoughts: Stress often fuels negative self-talk. Practice challenging these thoughts and replacing them with more realistic and positive affirmations. For example, instead of thinking, "I can't handle this," reframe it to "This is difficult, but I can break it down into manageable steps."
  • Connect with Others: Social support is a powerful stress buffer. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist about your worries. Sharing your feelings can be incredibly cathartic and help you gain perspective. Additionally, consider joining a support group to connect with others facing similar challenges.
  • Set Boundaries: Don't be afraid to say no! It's okay to set boundaries at work and in your personal life. Learning to decline requests when you're feeling overwhelmed politely will help you avoid taking on more than you can handle.

We're Here to Help

Remember, you are not alone in your stressful journey. SNfMH offers a variety of resources and services to support you:

  • Our website,, provides information on local mental health services and self-help tools.
  • Our workshops: We offer workshops on managing stress, building resilience, and other mental health topics.
  • Our Toolbox programme: Our free resource, tailored to your specific needs. Find out more at

Stress is a common and natural response to challenging situations, but chronic stress can have detrimental effects on your physical and mental health. By recognising the signs of stress in yourself and others and implementing effective coping strategies, such as practising mindfulness, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, prioritising self-care, seeking support, and establishing boundaries, you can manage stress effectively and improve your overall well-being.

At Staffordshire Network for Mental Health, we are committed to raising awareness about stress and providing support to individuals throughout Staffordshire. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety or other mental health issues, please reach out to us for assistance. Together, we can create a healthier and happier community.

Remember, it's okay to ask for help and prioritise your well-being. Take care of yourself and each other, and let's work together to reduce stress and promote mental health awareness this Stress Awareness Month and beyond!

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