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Jane Fowler - Head of Customer Support Services
Hello and welcome back to Wellbeing Wednesday! I hope you had a good Easter Weekend and were able to take advantage of some of the lovely sunshine. We live in a beautiful part of the world and there is an ever increasing body of evidence demonstrating how important it is for our mental health to spend time outdoors. Spending time in nature reduces our stress levels and gives us that important overall ‘feelgood’ factor, so let’s take advantage of it!
This edition of WBW focuses on how to manage stress. We have been through a tough year and are navigating changes to the way we live our lives so regularly, we are bound to feel some pressure, which can affect our mood. With the easing of lockdown, there will be new rules to follow and new ways of engaging with each other – both at home and at work. Some of you will be relishing this freedom whilst others will be feeling a bit uneasy. However you are feeling about it – it’s ok. Each of us are individuals and respond to change and uncertainty in different ways, so the best way to deal with it is recognise yourself, be kind to yourself and seek help and support if you need it. I hope that you find something for you in the information below. And those of you heading out and about – enjoy yourselves and stay safe! Oh – and if baking is your stress easer, or if you just enjoy it – give Julie’s recipe a go! And share your favourites with us. See you next week.
Stress Awareness Month 2021
The 1st of April marked the start of Stress Awareness Month, which is an annual awareness campaign dating back to 1992 that aims to increase public awareness about both the causes and fixes for stress.
HOW TO DEAL WITH STRESS
What is stress? Stress is the body’s natural reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It can motivate us to achieve the things we need to do and to meet the demands placed on us in our personal and working lives. However, too much stress can result in us feeling overwhelmed and it can have a negative impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing.
When we experience stress, our body responds by releasing adrenaline and cortisol (our stress hormones), raising our blood pressure, heart rate and blood glucose levels. Over time, unmanaged stress can increase the risk of developing obesity, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.
Stress is also a key player in insomnia, burnout and auto-immune disease, as well as many mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Causes of stress: stress affects everybody differently and what one person considers to be stressful, may feel like an easy undertaking for another. This is because our upbringing, environment, life experiences and genes can all influence how we respond to challenges and opportunities.
Some common causes of stress can be:
- Relationships: such as personal relationship difficulties, divorce, or caring responsibilities
- Life changes: such as traumatic events, bereavement, changes in usual lifestyle and routine, and changes to your housing
- Health difficulties: such as illness or injury and the impact these may have on your day-to-day life, or concern regarding the health of a loved one
- Finances: such as debt, unexpected outgoings, and changes to your income
- Work: such as unemployment, retirement, changes to your usual workload and routine, e.g. working from home due to COVID-19.
When we experience symptoms of stress, we are also more susceptible to unhealthy behaviours such as procrastination, increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or recreational drugs, sleeping or eating too much or not enough, or isolating ourselves from others. These behaviours, in turn, can impact on our bodies’ ability to manage stress, creating a downward spiral.
Stress symptoms: the first step to managing stress is often recognising the symptoms; it can be common for us to further exacerbate stress symptoms by telling ourselves things like, “I should be able to cope with this”, “nobody else appears to be struggling”, or “why do I feel this way; what have I got to be stressed about?”
Symptoms of stress can present themselves both physically and emotionally:
You may also start to notice cognitive symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, retaining/recalling information, or making decisions.
So, what can you do to reduce stress? Why not complete the ‘Every Mind Matters’ quiz? This involves just five questions and will give you a tailored plan for improving your wellbeing based on your answers.
Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on our ability to manage stress. Engaging in physical activity promotes the release of endorphins, our “feel good” hormone, which, in turn can lift mood and reduce anxiety and worry. Try to get some form of exercise each day, even if only for ten minutes.
Stress can impact on our ability to have a good night’s sleep and, in turn, getting a good night’s sleep can help alleviate the symptoms of stress. Make time to unwind before bedtime and maintain your sleep routine.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can have a positive influence on how our bodies respond to stress. Try to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, with plenty of nutritious foods, even in times of stress.
Spending time outdoors and amongst nature can reduce stress, as it is understood to lower our heart rate and blood pressure. Try and make time to go outdoors every day – even if only for a short walk.
This could be just what you need to improve your stress levels!
Spending time with the people you love, such as family and friends can be an effective stress-busting strategy. Take time to nurture your relationships (and avoid those that drain you!)
Relaxation techniques can help to activate the body’s natural relaxation response to help combat the negative effects of stress. Take time each day to focus on something you are grateful for and/or practice mindfulness or meditation.
Engaging in hobbies can be a great way to practice mindfulness without even realising. Learning something new or volunteering can also offer distraction, give us a purpose and help reduce stress. Consider doing the things you enjoy or trying out something new!
Learning to say no can help us to maintain realistic and achievable goals; recognising our own limits and not expecting too much from ourselves can be a great first step to managing stress. If you feel like you have too much to do already – say no to any new requests for help and perhaps ask for help from others.
Support: Further information regarding stress management can be found at:
Chocca Mocha Muffins
150g softened butter (or margarine)
3 medium eggs
25g cocoa powder
125g Self Raising Flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons of instant coffee – plus 1 tablespoon of boiling water to dissolve
Splash of milk
You will need a 12-hole muffin or bun tin and 12* paper muffin or bun cases (*if using bun cases you will get more than 12 cakes as they will be slightly smaller).
- Heat oven to 180 degrees Centigrade or equivalent.
- Place your paper cases in the muffin tin (no need to grease the tin).
- Add boiling water to the coffee and stir to dissolve then set aside to cool slightly.
- Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy.
- Add beaten eggs, a little at a time and beat well.
- Add cooled coffee mixture and stir into mixture (may start to curdle slightly – don’t worry!)
- Add the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder a little at a time and fold in gently with a metal spoon until all the flour is incorporated.
- Add a splash of milk (approx. 1 tablespoon) and stir through.
- Divide the mixture equally between 12 muffin cases.
- Bake in pre-heated oven for 20 minutes or until springy to the touch and set in the middle. (You can test this by placing a knife into the centre of the cake and if it comes out clean – it is done. If the mixture is still wet, cook for a few minutes more but check it regularly so it doesn’t overcook and become dry).
Note: You can ice these muffins with a chocolate butter icing if preferred but I never bother because I find it too sweet.
Have you got a favourite recipe you would like to share with us? Please let us know and continue to share your thoughts and ideas about the items featured here and send us your suggestions for future topics – we love to hear from you!
The Wellbeing Team: firstname.lastname@example.org