How much does your stress weigh?


1st Jan 2015 Wellbeing

How much does your stress weigh?
We all worry from time to time, but for some, stress and anxiety can be a part of daily life. Here are the most common sources of stress, and professional tips on easing your worries. 
LV= have conducted some research into the way Brits worry, and discovered that our most common concerns are:
  • Personal health (42 per cent)
  • Weight issues (30 per cent)
  • Getting older (28 per cent)
A quarter of people surveyed said they worried on a daily basis, compared to three in ten who said they’ll only worry if there’s a problem. On average, Brits spend about 25 minutes a day worrying about money/finances which adds up to 13 months of their life.
Three in ten said they rarely feel happy when they worry, and this increases to four in ten for those aged 55 and over.
 LV= created a “stress formula” that analyses what these stresses would equate to in physical weight. This formula found that most people in the UK carry an extra 35 stone on their shoulders, with 11 stone attributed to money worries.
So with all these worries on our shoulders, what can we do to reduce the burden? We spoke to Professor Peter Kinderman, from the department of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool about the best ways to minimise stress.

How and why do our worries change as we get older?

"On the whole, people are happiest and least anxious when they are younger and older, and most depressed and anxious in middle age (I believe that 46 is, on average, the nadir). But, of course, that's an average. And the things that bother us change.
When we're children, our relationships with our parents and peers matter a lot, whether we're liked, fit in, that we look, sound and behave like other people…and (confusingly) whether we have a distinctive identity.
In our middle ages, we're bothered by family worries, financial concerns, jobs, houses, careers. Our health and our finances, especially pensions and care in our old age, become worried. On the whole (and at present, while pensions are still relatively good), anxieties drop and our moods rise as we get older, but of course we then worry about our health and our financial security."

What are the most successful methods for coping with stress?

"First, get the basics right. Eat well, nutritiously, get the saturated fat content down and the salt content low. Eat five portions of fresh fruit or vegetables a day, drink plenty of water, and make sure you’ve got your vitamins. Aim to get your BMI in the healthy zone.
Get at least 7 hours sleep a night. Sleep is really important and there’s even evidence the brain needs sleep to remain physically healthy. Although straightforward, this is all difficult. There’s lots of advice and specific help that the NHS can offer here, from quit-smoking and other similar services throughout to sleep clinics etc. But the message is the same get the basic, physical, fundamentals right.
Then, there's a great approach called "five ways to well-being". This is an approach that really works, and is being taken up by more and more people. It's recommended by MIND and the NHS and there are plenty of tips to help you take do-able steps towards better mental well-being. The five ways are:
  1. Keep active. Do something physical each day. This could be as simple as taking the dog out for a walk but could be going for a swim, or the gym every day
  2. Maintain your relationships. For all kinds of reasons, friends are vital. Good friends, supportive friends, friends who won't judge you or try to take advantage of you. And we can all take steps to maintain our friendships. We can make sure we phone, write, text, and generally keep in touch. You might even consider a kind of semi-professional approach—self-help groups for people in a similar position to yourself.
  3. Learn. Keep your brain active. Engage your brain. Your brain is the most fantastic machine ever created, and it needs to be exercised.
  4. Give. This isn’t political brainwashing, there’s real evidence that getting involved in charitable activity—particularly donating your time, rather than money—makes people happier.
  5. Stay open-minded. This is perhaps the trickiest thing, but it relates directly to rumination. Rumination tends to be eased if we learn to be mindful; if we are able to be aware of, and understand how our own thoughts work. This doesn't mean taking up any kind of religious practice, but some of the practical techniques of clearing the mind of clutter can me helpful. Again, it's recommended by the NHS as well as being part of the five ways to wellbeing. In part, it means becoming able to decide where we focus our attention, because if we are good at this, it makes it less likely that our thoughts will always be dragged back to our ruminations.

If we’re aware, we can start to change

"My colleague, Sara Tai, has neatly summarised the popular ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ or CBT as; “Catch it, check it, change it”:
  1. First, "catch it". Identify what you are thinking. It’s often really useful to use a change in your emotions as a cue to examine your own thinking. So, when you notice an unhelpful emotion or a shift in mood, or when you notice that you’re doing something know can cause problems (being snappy, for example, or drinking too much), that could act as a cue to examine your own thoughts—“what am I thinking?”.
  2. And then “check it”. Are you (after engaging your fantastic brain in a mindful manner) thinking sensibly, wisely, proportionately, about the situation? Is your mood affecting the way you are thinking?
  3. And then “change it”. Generate an alternative point of view; question the evidence for your negative thoughts, and find possible alternatives. 
Finally, if you’ve tried all that and you still feel you need help, try therapy. I wouldn’t recommend it for everybody—many people are probably better off avoiding therapists and using the resources and support available to us in everyday life. But therapy can be a chance to think things through with a professional in a calm, supportive and nonjudgmental atmosphere, and that can be helpful.
Many people prefer the straightforward approach of CBT, but there are many different approaches, all of which seem helpful, so it’s a question of finding an approach that suits you."
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