Wellbeing and Mental Health

International Stress Awareness Week: Here’s how to protect your mental health

International Stress Awareness Week mental health

International Stress Awareness Week, from 7-11 November, aims to raise awareness of a global problem. Image: Pexels/Julia Volk

Stephen Hall
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  • Four in ten people worldwide report feeling regularly stressed, finds a new survey.
  • Annually, 12 billion workdays are lost due to stress, depression and anxiety, at a cost of nearly $1 trillion a year to the global economy.
  • International Stress Awareness Week, from 7-11 November, aims to raise awareness of a global problem.
  • Meditation, positive thinking and spending time in nature are some of the ways experts recommend tackling stress.

War in Ukraine, climate crisis, rising energy prices, COVID-19, talk of recession. It’s no wonder many of us are feeling stressed at the moment. In a 2021 global Gallup survey, as many as four in 10 adults worldwide said they experienced a lot of worry or stress on a regular basis.

Aiming to tackle the condition and reduce the stigma around it, International Stress Awareness Week was created in 2018 to raise collective consciousness about stress prevention. It runs from the 7-11 November, and this year’s theme will be ‘Working Together to Build Resilience and Reduce Stress’.

International Stress Awareness Week: encouraging positive change

“It is urgent that action is taken and we hope [the week] will help to raise awareness and encourage positive changes that benefit both employers and employees,” says Carole Spiers, event organizer and chair of the International Stress Management Association.

Stress in the workplace

The week follows recent calls from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization for companies to tackle mental health difficulties like stress at work. According to the WHO, 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to stress, depression and anxiety, at a cost of nearly $1 trillion per year to the global economy.

As companies recognize the enormous impact of stress on their businesses post-pandemic, the number of work wellbeing programmes have begun to rise. In the UK, for example, 50% of organizations now have a formal wellbeing strategy (compared to 44% in 2020), 75% believe that senior leaders have employee wellbeing on their agendas (up from 61% in 2020), and 67% report that line managers understand the importance of wellbeing (up from 58% in 2020), according to a CIPD report.

international stress awareness week daily negative emotions mental health
Stress levels have risen since COVID-19 hit. Image: Gallup

Beyond improving workplace performance, fighting stress can be a lifesaver, too. “In terms of high blood pressure, recurring fight or flight responses can give rise to hypertension, which can make you more susceptible to heart attacks and strokes if it isn’t addressed,” Dr Daniel Atkinson told Yahoo UK.


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Actions to help tackle stress

The good news is that there are a number of actions people can take to reduce their stress levels. Positive thinking is one of them. As the 19th-century American philosopher William James put it, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

One strategy to change unhelpful thoughts is to take a self-compassion break. “Ask yourself, ‘What do I need right now?’ Then, do something nice for yourself,” suggests The New York Times. The process, rooted in centuries of Buddhist tradition, can reduce depression, stress, performance anxiety and body dissatisfaction, proponents say.

Mindfulness meditation has been found to be beneficial, too. The process can change unhelpful thoughts and help stress-sufferers to become aware of the present moment, and therefore less caught up in negative patterns of thinking.

In order to meditate, Harvard Health advises newcomers to:

1. Select a time and place that will be free of distractions and interruption.

2. Get comfortable. Find a body position that will allow your body to relax.

3. Achieve a relaxed, passive mental attitude.

4. Concentrate on a mental device. Most people use a mantra, a simple word or syllable that is repeated over and over again in a rhythmic, chant-like fashion.

Studies suggest that the meditation process can help make your brain younger, and positive changes can be achieved in just 15 to 20 minutes a day.

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