Things you can do right now to beat stress and uncertainty


Dr Ian Nnatu, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Group, shares techniques for assessing your levels of stress and reducing the damage it causes to your mental health

The modern world presents a lot of stress-inducing scenarios to us all. It’s an unavoidable reaction to work and social life, and it affects more people than you might think. The Mental Health Foundation reports that 74% of people have been so stressed at some point over the past year, they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

As it’s Stress Awareness Month, there is no better time to assess your levels of stress and look to reduce the damage it causes to your mental health

1. Educate yourself on the symptoms

Stress occurs when the demands placed on us exceed our ability to cope. Stress is very common, leading to cognitive, emotional, behavioural and physical symptoms. Cognitive symptoms include feeling overwhelmed, inadequate and unable to cope. People can have poor concentration and memory.

Emotional symptoms can include feelings of anxiety, worry, apprehension, low mood, irritability, or feeling overwhelmed. Behavioural responses to stress include becoming more withdrawn from others, avoidance of tasks and people, or procrastination. Stress can leave people feeling physically unwell, prone to colds and infections, having aches and pains or headaches, or feeling physically exhausted.

Get to know your typical response to stress. This way, you can quickly adopt a few coping mechanisms that will reduce symptoms and allow you to move past what’s causing you stress.

Dr Ian Nnatu of the Priory Group

Dr Ian Nnatu of the Priory Group

2. Recognise and accept your feelings

Learn to accept the things you cannot change and accept that the future is uncertain. Allow yourself to feel confident that you can cope with whatever comes up or know how to get help. Notice when you are becoming preoccupied with negative thinking and on a downward spiral.

Use simple techniques to reframe your thinking by recognising these negative thoughts, challenging them and then replacing them with more adaptive thoughts. Some refer to this as ‘catch it, check it and change it’.

3. Identify the problem and break it down

Try to identify what you are worrying about, and ask yourself if you can do anything to mitigate this. If you can, try to address the problem by using a problem-solving approach. Use brainstorming techniques to help come up with a strategy.

Take financial stress, for example. Adopt a pragmatic stance and ask yourself if you can meet the expense. If you are unable to, could you consider a payment plan? The key thing is to do something. Develop a strategy and stick to it. Avoid the temptation to bury your head in the sand, as this often compounds the problem. Track your progress on a regular basis and make adjustments as necessary. I would suggest forward planning to guard against this happening in future.

4. Distract yourself

Distraction can be useful to help break the cycle of ruminative thinking. Calling a friend or going for a walk helps. Reading a book or listening to music can also be effective. Find a comfortable spot in a quiet space and focus on your breathing.

Make sure you have a healthy diet with wholesome foods, as the link between nutrition and mental health is very powerful. Ensure good sleep, drink alcohol only in moderation and avoid smoking.