Stress Awareness Month with Dr Adrian James
01 April, 2020
To commemorate Stress Awareness Month which runs throughout April, the Royal College of Psychiatrists spoke to our Registrar and newly elected President, Dr Adrian James, on stress relief, peer support and how to positively change your environment.
Amid COVID-19, people may be left feeling anxious and worried; what do you believe is vital at this time to help reduce stress?
People are understandably worried and concerned about a situation that has not arisen in the lifetime of any of us - but there are some positive things we can draw from the pandemic. For example, people are pulling together, supporting each other and being really community-spirited to help those who are most vulnerable.
I feel it’s essential to be informed about the pandemic from reliable sources and simultaneously to be wary of scaremongering. Try not to spend too much time reading about COVID-19 or going from one story to another, essentially repeating the same information. Have some breaks away from it all and try to avoid ‘continuous COVID’. Instead, keep a routine, make time for friends and family and keep in touch digitally, importantly, make time for rest and sleep.
For those at the centre of the outbreak, such as NHS workers, care workers, emergency services and those working in food and delivery industries, it’s useful to buddy-up with someone whom you trust and who is going through the same experience. You can contact each other regularly and just check in with each other, acting as a support network. At work, try to take some breaks and ensure you eat and drink sufficiently, as working relentlessly during this time could make you more susceptible to illness. Ask for support if you need it, if you are struggling, don’t see seeking help from your colleagues as a weakness; we all struggle at times. Think about forming a support group that offers peer-to-peer counselling, perhaps a WhatsApp group, Zoom or Skype, a meeting place where people can confide in one another.
Where can we find resources for support at this time?
Friends and family are the best sources - use this as an opportunity to connect. Take the responsibility to check on others too, perhaps renew relationships that may have drifted and see this strange time as a chance to build a bridge. Various online resources can be utilised, as well as phone lines, such as the Samaritans. Try looking at RCPsych, Mind and the NHS England website for well-researched support during the pandemic. If you had pre-existing mental health needs before COVID-19, such as depression, anxiety or OCD, now is an excellent time for a top-up session with a therapist or counsellor over a video call. Often, a mental health professional can provide CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) worksheets, that can be extremely helpful to work through when face-to-face is not available.
How much can one’s environment impact on stress?
Environment can be hugely important, especially if you need to self-isolate. Use the current situation as an opportunity to declutter your personal space, sort out those cupboards you’ve not touched in ages, fix old furniture, repaint a room, or put those pictures up that you always meant to. You can also get outside by doing some gardening.
What is essential is that you try to clear and clean the areas you spend the most time in, so they are as pleasant to be in as possible - this also helps to prevent infection.
What are the next steps for someone who experiences persistent stress over a period of months or years?
Take a look at the external factors that are causing you stress and discuss these frankly with friends and family. You do not need to feel isolated and alone. If necessary, contact your GP over the phone for advice and explore treatments and interventions.
Everyone reacts differently to stress, and some people can experience a delayed reaction. Although it might feel tempting to sleep excessively and increase alcohol consumption, I strongly recommend against this. There are many more counselling and talking therapies available that are really effective; different treatments can be explored online, using the websites mentioned above, like RCPsych, Mind and NHS England.
Do you have any personal techniques you use for reducing stress?
If you can see a very stressful time is on the way, then prepare. Gain the support of others and discuss it with colleagues, friends and family. Write a stress-reduction plan. If stress has overwhelmed you in the past, then think in advance about the signs that indicated that you need to ask others for help.
I find exercise very helpful, especially cycling. Making time for friends and family and local community activities, like joining a charity or a group that helps the most vulnerable, can be an extremely productive form of stress-relief. Many charities and types of volunteering can be done online in the current situation, which is an excellent way to reduce stress and occupy your time.
If things are overwhelming, then make a list and try to concentrate on one thing at a time rather than endlessly switching from one thing to another. During COVID-19 there are many of us working from home and or self-isolating, so it is vital to create set working hours, as you would have at the office, to establish a routine and know when to stop and relax.
If you are feeling stress, anxiety or panic, or you are helping someone who is experiencing these feelings, please take a look at our support pages: