One of the most significant public health challenges we are encountering in 2023 is the prevalence of stress and mental health issues. As HR Manager at Yorkshire Air Ambulance, Laura Wilson, who has over 18 years of experience in her field and is trained in Mental Health First Aid, has seen first-hand the toll that stress can take on employees.
Whether it’s the pressure of working in a high-stakes environment or the challenges of balancing work and personal responsibilities, stress is a common and often overwhelming experience for many people.
In honour of stress awareness month, Laura has compiled her top methods for keeping stress at bay. From practical strategies to manage your lifestyle choices to mindfulness and breathing exercises for cultivating a sense of calm, these tips can help you navigate the demands of work and life with greater ease and resilience.
Understanding the Importance of Self Care
Self-care is often thought of as a luxury, something to indulge in after a long day or as a reward for a job well done. However, Laura knows that self-care is essential for managing stress and preventing burnout.
She believes it is key to consider taking uninterrupted time each week to do something for yourself an essential component for your overall well-being.
Laura says, ‘Taking uninterrupted ‘you’ time doesn’t mean you have to be missing in action for a full day or paying lots of money for a spa day – often, the simple things in life can bring us just as much joy. This could be reading a good book, trying a new recipe or baking something tasty for after tea. It could also mean falling back in love with a hobby you once had or setting some time aside to catch up with a friend’.
At Yorkshire Air Ambulance, many team members have found their own unique ways to practice self-care. PR Manager Rebecca, and Office & Administration Manager Louise, enjoy spending time at the stables with horses, finding that the connection with animals provides a sense of peace and relaxation. Digital Marketing Manager Angela, loves to travel in her campervan exploring new places and connecting with nature. Meanwhile, Social Media Executive Adele is currently dedicating time to learning Italian, finding that the mental stimulation and challenge of learning a new language is a great way to unwind and expand her horizons.
Break Free from Technology’s Grip
We live in a time where we are more connected than ever before, yet life in our digitally switched-on age can be extremely stressful. According to the latest data, the average person spends on average between 6-7 hours per day on screens connected to the internet. The constant need to check our notifications and endless scrolling on social media apps can be highly distracting and can even have a huge impact on our personal relationships.
Gradually reducing your screen time can be a helpful way to transition to a healthier relationship with your phone and take back control of what you put your energy into.
Laura recommends the Forest app (available for Android and iOS), which works by allowing you to plant a virtual seed and observe it grow into a tree. However, using social media on your phone will cause your trees to wither and die. This app can be especially helpful for individuals who find virtual rewards to be a motivating factor. What’s more, the app partners with a real tree-planting organisation, Trees for the Future, which plants real trees here on Earth in exchange for credits gained by accrued offline hours.
Designating tech-free times in your day, such as during meals or before bed, can be a great way to prioritise self-care, enjoy higher-quality sleep and limit exposure to social media triggers.
A problem shared is a problem halved – Talk it out.
When stress or challenges arise, it can be tempting to bottle up your emotions or try to handle everything on your own. However, talking about your problems can be a powerful way to reduce stress, gain perspective, and find solutions.
Research has shown that social support is a key factor in promoting resilience and coping with stress. By sharing your concerns with someone you trust, you can feel less alone, gain fresh insights, and receive valuable emotional support. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or professional therapist, having someone to confide in can help you navigate difficult times and emerge stronger on the other side.
Laura says, ‘You might be surprised at how much it can help to speak with someone, whether it’s a friend, family member, or colleague. At Yorkshire Air Ambulance, we encourage our team members to build strong relationships with their colleagues and seek out trusted confidants within the organisation. It’s a simple but powerful way to promote well-being and support each other through the ups and downs of work and life’.
Focus on your Breathing.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a simple and effective method for reducing stress and anxiety. This technique involves inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds, and exhaling slowly for eight seconds. After completing one cycle, repeat three more times for maximum benefit.
Laura loves this breathing technique as it can be done anywhere at any time, making it a convenient way to manage stress on the go, at home, in the workplace, or whenever you find yourself feeling overwhelmed. By regulating your breathing in this way, you can activate your body’s natural relaxation response and experience a greater sense of calm.
Laura adds, ‘When you’re first attempting the technique, aim to do it twice a day if possible. Only do it for four full cycles in a row in the beginning, working up to eight cycles gradually. I would also suggest remaining seated at first, as you may feel slightly lightheaded initially, but this will quickly pass – this is why this technique can be helpful at bedtime too’.
Diet, Fitness and Quality Sleep
Taking care of your physical health is a crucial component of managing stress and promoting overall well-being Laura notes, ‘Good nutrition, regular exercise, and quality sleep are all important for maintaining a healthy body and mind’.
When it comes to diet, it’s important to fuel your body with nutrient-rich foods that provide energy and support your immune system. Try to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, while limiting processed and sugary foods. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day can also help you feel more alert and focused.
Regular exercise is another key ingredient in a healthy lifestyle. Whether you enjoy jogging, weightlifting, or yoga, finding a form of physical activity that you enjoy can help you reduce stress and increase your energy levels. And if you’re not a fan of traditional gym workouts, there are plenty of resources available online, such as tutorials to follow on YouTube or fitness apps that offer home workouts.
Finally, quality sleep is essential to help you stay focused throughout the day, regulate your mood, and reduce the risk of chronic health problems. Aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night and establishing a relaxing bedtime routine to help you wind down and prepare for restful sleep.
In conclusion, stress awareness month is a vital opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of mental health and well-being. At Yorkshire Air Ambulance, we are committed to supporting our team members in every way we can. From offering a range of wellbeing training courses through our online platform Seedl, to providing an employee assistance programme (EAP) with access to resources for physical, mental, and financial well-being, we are dedicated to promoting a culture of care and support.
We believe that by prioritising self-care, seeking out trusted confidants, and taking care of our physical health, we can build resilience and thrive in the face of challenges.
Together, we can create a workplace that supports and uplifts each other, every day.