Stress Awareness Month is held every April, to spark conversations about the impact of stress on our lives and how we can reduce our stress levels.

There is no single definition for ‘stress’. What one person finds stressful might not affect someone else.

However, it’s clear that the last year has had a huge impact on our stress levels. And while the easing of lockdown restrictions may be a relief to some, the relaxation of the rules may lead to increased feelings of stress and anxiety for others.

During these unusual times, it’s important that we check in with ourselves and our loved ones to see how we are really coping. This Stress Awareness Month, we’re focusing on how we can deal with our own stress in a healthy way, and how we can start conversations with those closest to us about stress, to better protect our mental health.

How can we look after ourselves?

Put yourself first. The most important action you can take this month is prioritising your own health and wellbeing. Spend some time each day doing an activity that helps you to relax or boosts your mood. Have a look at our last blog post for some self-care ideas. Taking the time to exercise, eat healthily and get a good night’s sleep can also work wonders for your mental health and help you to manage stress better.

Take a break from the news. Over the last year, you may have spent more time watching or reading the news than ever before. But constantly hearing about events that are outside of our control can leave us feeling stressed and anxious. If the news is causing you to feel overwhelmed, take a break and focus on something that relaxes you, or tackle a problem in your life that you can control.

Be mindful of your own capacity. If someone you care about is going through a tough time, you might start to feel stressed too. If this happens, it’s important to take a step back and focus on your own mental health. You can only support others if you’re feeling well yourself; taking the time to prioritise your own mental health will help you to better support others in the long-term.

How can we support others?

Look out for signs of stress in others. Everyone experiences and reacts to stress in different ways. While some people may withdraw from social situations when stressed, others may behave aggressively, or even become unwell. Sometimes you may be able to recognise signs of stress in those around you before they notice them themselves. If you’ve noticed changes in someone’s behaviour, lifestyle or health, you could gently let them know that you’ve noticed that they don’t quite seem themselves. Ask if you can help, but be mindful that they may not be ready to talk.

Listen to how they’re feeling. When someone close to you is struggling, it can sometimes be hard to know what to say. Or you might be worried about saying the wrong thing. But just knowing that someone is there to listen can make a huge difference to someone going through a hard time.

Share what works for you. Everyone has different ways of dealing with stress. It might be helpful to share some of your ways of dealing with stress with a friend. You could practice some relaxation techniques together, such as going for a walk or trying out some breathing exercises. Doing something together may also help them to feel less alone, which may also help to reduce their stress levels.

Target the causes of stress. It might be that there’s practical steps they can take to solve their stresses. For example, if a friend is stressed about exams, you could help them to create a revision timetable.

Seek support if you need it

It can be difficult to cope when we’re going through a stressful time. But it can be just as hard to watch someone you care about struggling with stress.

If you’ve been affected by stress, don’t suffer in silence. Remember, our mentors are always here for you if you need someone to lean on.