“People dismiss stress as a reason for getting help”: The UK’s stress crisis

For International Stress Awareness Week 2023, we shine a spotlight on one of the UK’s most common and dangerous mental health issues.

Endlessly checking our bank balances to ensure they will see us through to the next pay day can be draining enough.

When you factor in things like maintaining some semblance of a work-life balance, juggling relationships, and the looming threat of climate change, keeping a lid on our demanding lives can become a Herculean task.

So it’s no surprise that stress is a national crisis in the UK.

The NHS identifies stress as “the body’s physical reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure.” Excessive stress can affect our mental health, our bodies, and our relationships, particularly when it spirals out of control.

It is estimated that around 1 in 14 UK adults feel stressed every single day, with an estimated three-quarters experiencing severe work-related stress.

Physical problems can be seriously exacerbated by the condition, which has been linked to illnesses such as heart disease and various cancers. A 2021 study found a long-established link between stress and sudden cardiac death (SDC).

El Wilcox, 22, who lost her 54-year-old father to a suspected stress-related heart attack, said he’d been struggling since her early years.

She said: “My dad had severe issues with stress for pretty much my whole life. It started just as I was born; my dad lost both his parents and he had a lot of work issues. He had horrific blood pressure at times.”

In the midst of his struggles with blood pressure, he contracted Covid-19. On the day he tested negative, El’s father returned to work, where he suffered a heart attack and passed away.

Cause of death was attributed to myocardial ischemia, high blood pressure caused by the swelling of the heart.

Wilcox said: “People dismiss stress as a reason for getting help. They just think you should manage it better.

“If it had been something my dad could have talked about more freely, he might have sought help for it earlier on and it might have ‘stuck’ a bit better.”

Wilcox also highlighted the need for a better approach to stress management in workplaces and for the condition to be, “treated like a proper condition rather than just dismissed.”

“[Work] shouldn’t be your whole life.”

Work-related stress has become a more pressing issue over the last few years. In a survey by YouGov in 2022, 39% of respondents said they felt stressed about their jobs when they thought about them outside of working hours.

Likewise, data collected by the Priory Group found that just under a million workers suffered from work-related stress, depression, or anxiety between 2021 and 2022.

This is likely to have been exacerbated by health-related trauma following Covid-19, as well as the cost of living crisis.

Thankfully, attitudes towards the work-life balance have recently begun to shift in a positive direction. In a study which analysed data from 24 countries from 2017-2022, only 39% of people in the UK were of the belief that hard work brings a better life, suggesting an increased priority on leisure time.

The first week of November marks International Stress Awareness Week. It was set up by the International Stress Management Association to raise awareness of the effects of psychological distress in the workplace and promote strategies to address it.

A spokesperson from mental health and wellness platform Very Well Mind offered their thoughts on stress:

“Many people will recognise increased levels of stress in themselves after a challenging few years, during which we’ve contended with a global pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis which have triggered a lot of changes and put us all under different pressures.”

They added: “it’s essential to find time for yourself even if that’s a break over a cup of tea, or a few minutes to meditate and take some calming breaths.”

Links to resources to help combat stress can be found below:

What is stress? – Mind

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised, see below for support:

Samaritans: 116 123

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): 0800 58 58 58

Shout (TEXT): 85258

Papyrus HOPELINEUK: 0800 068 4141 (TEXT) 07786 209 697.

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