Mental Health Awareness week

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 (14th-20th May)

Blue Tree intern Maddy Lykourgos promotes Mental Health Awareness Week…

This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is stress and how we cope with it. Naturally, stress impacts our state of mind, mood, emotions and how we perceive the world. In other words, it majorly affects our mental health.

Essentially, we have good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress). Both are natural responses adapted to release hormones that alert the rest of the body and mind that action must be taken. An example of the former would be something with a tangible goal, a challenging assignment that’s difficult but doable, or goal-oriented physical exercise. In this case, stress levels return to normal once the task has been completed. On the contrary, distress is harder to combat and diffuse; it often takes longer for the individual to recover, because the body remains vigilant against a potential and non-tangible worry. If this state persists it can lead one to withdraw, feel anxious and even depressed.

When we are experiencing stressful periods of time, our adrenal glands secrete more of hormones called cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. Cortisol is vital to regulating the metabolism, and adrenaline and norepinephrine produce a reaction to threat: the fight, flight or freeze response. However, in stressful situations, even when there is no immediate threat, our body mimics the fear response and these levels are maintained in excess amounts. This is because without a threatening stimulus, we cannot respond directly to it – that is, we cannot fight, flee or freeze, and therefore, these levels remain high and we stay hypervigilant towards a threat that is not there. Sustained high levels of these hormones can interfere with learning and memory, lower the immune system and cause problems with physical health, such increasing blood pressure, cholesterol and contributing to illnesses like heart disease.

Moreover, raised levels of hormones like cortisol can deplete the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine that regulate our mood. Therefore, stress is closely linked with depression and anxiety, because the physiological sensations we feel, such as racing heartrate and sweating, tell us there is something to worry about and something we have to be prepared for if we are to keep ourselves safe.

As it’s an evolutionary, and often involuntary, response to get stressed, it can feel like we have no control over it; so, a good way to combat stress is to change your perception of it. Negative situations can be awful to have to go through, but only by going through them do we learn that we’re strong enough to do so. It’s not so much that positive thinking will relieve every burden you have, but more a sense of recognising that we are more resilient than we believe. We are constantly put in seemingly impossible situations and yet somehow we manage. It means we carry an arsenal of life experience that can get us through periods of stress, mostly because we have done so before.

What can The Blue Tree Clinic do to help?

We offer a range of treatments that can help reduce the harmful impact of stress. Approaches such as mindfulness can help with relaxation techniques, or CBT can aid in reframing some of the negative thoughts that may be helping to maintain the stress. Other talking therapies, such as counselling can help to ease the burden of stress on both our physical and mental health by talking through some of our stressors. In the meantime, it can be useful to make a list of specific problems that trigger your stress, and for those that you can do something about, write down a list of solutions; for those that you can’t do anything about, worrying about it is futile, so stop allowing it to get you down. It seems oversimplified, but distinguishing between problems you can and can’t solve allows us some extra time to schedule enjoyable and relaxing activities rather than avoiding these altogether and allowing the stress to persist.

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week, we urge anyone experiencing stress or anything else that is impacting their mental wellbeing to contact us now at The Blue Tree Clinic.

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