Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 (9-15 May): BCA’s tips to ease stress

Ulrik Sandstrøm, chiropractor and member of the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), shares his top tips to help ease the long-term impacts of stress this Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW).

In a post-pandemic world, where routines are no longer normal and disorganised lifestyles are becoming a regular occurrence, it is easy to understand how and why so many of us are experiencing daily stress. A recent Government study found that the proportion of adults aged 18 and over reporting a clinically-significant level of stress increased by 20.8% from 2019 to 2020. [1] Prolonged stress – also known as chronic stress – can have serious health consequences if it is not treated and can cause both physical and mental health conditions.

It is easy for prolonged stress to have an impact on your lifestyle., If nothing is done to treat the problem, it can have a lasting impact on relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. Over long periods of time, consistent unmanageable stress can lead to muscle ache, stomach  and heart  related issues. No part of the body is immune but, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions so, it is important to discuss them with your doctor. You may have any of the following symptoms of stress. It’s worth noting that stress means different things to everyone. What causes stress in one person may be of little concern to another, but the first step to controlling stress is to know the symptoms of your stress and how to manage them…

Ulrik’s top tips to ease stress:
  1. Start small – Incorporating movement into your day is so important, but many of us set unmanageable goals for exercise. When we don’t achieve these goals, this then impacts our motivation, making us less likely to create any new positive changes for our wellbeing. It’s great to set longer-term intentions but start small. Over time this will become a habit and you can build it up from there – it’s all about manageable bitesize chunks!
  2. Get up, get moving – Exercise and other physical activity has been proven to reduce stress. Not to mention, your back loves to stay active. Try and move around every 20-30 minutes, whether at home or at work. If you don’t want to or can’t go full throttle with high endurance activities, look for smaller opportunities to exercise during the day. Why not walk to the shop instead of driving or getting the bus, or go out on your lunch break instead of eating at your desk? Another top tip is to always stand up when you take a phone call and use hands-free technology when you can.
  3. Slow down! – Try exercise which is a bit slower, like yoga, tai chi or pilates as opposed to fast, power-focused exercises like interval-training or running. Those can cause further release of adrenaline and cortisol, making any lingering stress problems worse.
  4. Try some tech! – Technology can be a great way to help manage your symptoms of stress and there are many apps which help add routine, order and perspective in stressful situations. Visual apps such as Calm and even Tetris are great way to help focus the mind and defer symptoms of stress.
  5. Breathe easy – Stress can aggravate or prolong pain so, if stress is a problem, it’s important to recognise it early and do something about it. You can’t always avoid stress but you can learn to reduce its effects with controlled breathing, muscle relaxation and calming techniques for the mind.
  6. Pamper time – After a long, busy day, try to find some time that’s just for you – such as a relaxing bath. If you’re having a long soak, make sure you have a regular stretch and move while in the tub. Many patients agree that a nice hot bath can ease off some of the daily muscle aches we all experience, so make sure you are set up for the ultimate unwind.
  7. A great night’s sleep – it’s all too easy to scroll through your phone while in bed and, before you know it, an hour has gone by. Try and protect the hour before you go to bed as your personal wind down time. Avoid blue light tech; most phones have a night-time mode, which changes the screen light and stops notifications coming through. The main thing is about consistency and sticking to similar timings each night, so you train your brain for your new routine.

For more help and advice on how to improve your mental health, visit the Mental Health Foundation’s website.

Public Health England also has a number of resources to help ease stress and improve your mental wellbeing.