Continued changes of coronavirus restrictions, regulations, and a new lockdown in England can cause increased feelings of stress. The Stress Management Society discuss the effect of stress and asking for help during Stress Awareness Week 2020.
There’s no denying the coronavirus pandemic has created higher levels of stress for everyone, with disabled people, those with underlying health conditions or who have been impacted financially being particularly affected.
In June 2020, nearly half of the population had felt anxious or worried during a two-week period due to the pandemic, and groups affected by socioeconomic inequalities have been more likely to experience panic and loneliness, exacerbating feeling of stress.
Neil Shah is the founder and chief destressing officer at the Stress Management Society, a non-profit organisation supporting people and organisations that experience stress and poor emotional wellbeing.
“Stress has gotten worse because of the demands now placed on society, especially in the last seven months when we have found ourselves living in an episode of Black Mirror,” explains Neil.
Cases of burnout and stress were increasingly common before the pandemic, but the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and people’s emotional wellbeing has created an environment where feeling stressed is the default.
“Stress isn’t a good or bad thing for people to experience,” explains Neil. “It’s how you utilise stress that will determine its impact.”
Stress causes a physical response that can be necessary and helpful, but if this physical reaction isn’t required it can be detrimental to your health and wellbeing.
“When people stay stressed for an extended period of time they get exhausted and it can have an effect on their mental health, poor mental health can turn into mental illness and in the same way that if you have a poor lifestyle, it will affect your physical health,” emphasises Neil.
Along with the effect on your immune system and overall health, stress can exacerbate the symptoms of some disabilities.
How we recognise and process stress is essential, Neil says: “The key is knowing ourselves and knowing if we’re happy, and to notice that change and when it isn’t serving us, to be able to seek support and to ask for help.”
Despite extreme stress due to the pandemic, it has also provided the opportunity to form stronger connections with loved ones and evaluate our goals.
Reaching out to your network when you are feeling stressed is vital, but a greater response to mental health problems both during and after the pandemic is needed to help people living with stress.
“What we are doing right now in relation to stress and mental health is woefully inadequate, and not proportionate to the risk it poses to society,” reveals Neil.
“The key thing is that you don’t know it’s a problem unless we talk about it.”
Stress should be taken seriously by everyone, but in order to address the issue and increase support services, the dialogue around stress and mental health need to be de-stigmatised.
If you are experiencing high levels of stress, you can access resources and support through the Stress Management Society or Samaritans on 116 123.