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Stress & Anxiety by David Sutherland, Active Monitoring Practitioner

Within my role as an Active Monitoring Team Leader, a 1-2-1 mental health support service delivered at GPs in Dorset, I enjoy talking to lots of people about stress and anxiety and finding ways to facilitate changes and improvements. Often, I will ask people to tell me about their current levels of stress and what they believe to be the cause. They will usually talk about pressures at work, at home or other factors that cause stress. Then I will ask them to tell me about how long they have felt stress, and if they know the difference between stress and anxiety.  

Often the words stress and anxiety, are used interchangeably and lots of people remain unaware that stress is different to anxiety, in that stress is a normal response to situations and events, and anxiety is stress that hangs around after the exam or deadline is over.  

Anxiety may make us fixate on possible future events and may make us project stress into the future by fixating on the worst possible outcome. An example could be getting worried every time that post arrives through your front door at home, as your anxiety is telling you that it’s a speeding fine, or an unexpected bill rather than just being the normal wads of junk mail and leaflets! Once this is over, anxiety will come and ask us to stress about how we are going to pass the next set of exams at the end of 2023, or how we are going to pay for redecorating our house in 2024. 

I would also say that anxiety is normal too and that it is part of more of our lives than we realise. Being normal does not mean that stress and anxiety are here to stay and cannot be improved.

Here are some of the things that have worked well for our Active Monitoring participants to help them to reduce stress and prevent anxiety in the longer term –

A supportive network of family and friends.

At Dorset Mind, I make a point of talking to colleagues if they need help with stress or anything else. I can also rely on lots of people that I work with if I need help. Being open to conversations about stress means that others will be more aware of what things cause you stress and how to support you in future. Sometimes people do not want to talk about it straight away, so I send a text or an email to see if they want to talk, and I do the same if I want to talk too. Try it! Start these chats with trusted colleagues, friends, and family members. Someone that you know may be waiting for a friend or colleague to reach out. When you do, it starts a ripple of chatting and support. I am sending a message to a friend right now to see how he is. Can you do the same? They will be there for you when you need them. Just knowing that you can reach out to someone in future helps to reframe stress and anxiety as being less lonesome and scary.

A positive outlook in life.

Being positive means really focussing on the good things in life and writing them down and being grateful for the good things that we have. When I am sick with a cough or cold and feeling rough, I made sure to rest. I write down a list of things that I am grateful for about my health, like the fact that my body in strong and healthy enough to fight off the cold and I will be back to normal soon. You can think about glass half full or half empty if you like, or you could say that your glass is free refill!

Build confidence in your ability to address issues caused by stress.

Speak to your manager, your family or your friends to try and find solutions. Write up a Wellness Action Plan for work or for your relationships and work on practical things to improve stress. It is not always practical or possible to leave your job if it’s stressful but try re-writing your CV or cover letter as a way of reminding yourself of your good qualities and feel less stuck in stress. One participant did this as part of his sessions with me and ended up using his new CV and cover to apply for a great new job.

Practice The Five Ways to Wellbeing: Be active, Connect, Take Notice, Give, Learn.

I often ask participants to spend 30 minutes every day writing down their five ways and another 30 minutes doing them every day; participants have reported remarkable improvements. I do ‘The Five Ways to Wellbeing’ weekly and I can vouch for their simple and effective results in reducing stress. Try it now. Write down 5 small things that you can consistently do over the next week and you will be amazed at how much it helps to reduce stress. Goals can be adaptable. For example, you could walk for 30 minutes each day as part of ‘Being Active’ or go for a walk in nature and ‘Take Notice’ of sights and sounds along your journey. Write up a list now of  five ways you could include the ways to wellbeing within your day-to-day life.

Guest Blogger

Huge thanks to David Sutherland for sharing his tips for managing stress and anxiety this Stress Awareness Month (1-30th April 2023).

Find support for stress & anxiety

Active Monitoring sessions offer support for a wide range of wellbeing issues and can be accessed through many GP Surgeries in Dorset. Find out more here. 

Find alternative talking therapies available through Dorset Mind here.