Mental Health Awareness Week: what are the signs you’re suffering from stress?

Stress can harm physical and mental health. Knowing how to recognise it and take action to alleviate

Stress can harm physical and mental health. Knowing how to recognise it and take action to alleviate it is crucial. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, from May 14 to 20, is focussing on stress and how we cope with it. We get some advice from local experts.

Paula Meir.
Picture: Paula Meir, contributed

Paula Meir. Picture: Paula Meir, contributed - Credit: Archant

In our 24/7 busy world there are more people in a permanent state of stress than ever before, and if not managed it can easily affect mental health, says therapist, author and executive coach Paula Meir.

“We have no problem talking about exercise, food and nutrition but ‘mental health issues’ are still much of a ‘no go’ area. But with one in six people suffering from stress/ anxiety and with over 200 different types of mental illness it’s an area which can no longer be brushed away,” says Norwich-based Paula.

Many companies are starting to recognise the need for wellbeing policies, although Paula says there is much work to do with leadership styles and behaviours that can harm employee wellbeing. But, she adds, it’s also important for you to look after yourself and build your own mental resilience both at work and at home.

“Recognising when you are under mental stress is just as important as recognising when you are under physical stress. There are many signs that you might be mentally stressed: being unable to sleep; struggling to juggle demands; becoming more withdrawn; struggling with decision making; unable to relax; unable to enjoy simple pleasures; constant tiredness; teeth clenching; hunched shoulders; change in appetite. Or you might turn to those vices such as smoking, alcohol and drugs.”

Deb Williams
Picture: Realise Futures Learning and Development

Deb Williams Picture: Realise Futures Learning and Development - Credit: Realise Futures

The reason we experience these internal and external feelings is that our body trips into a ‘fight, flight and freeze mode’, says Paula. “It’s an automatic physical response triggered when we feel under threat and a mixture of chemicals such as cortisol and adrenalin get pumped around our body so it’s in a constant state of readiness. The blood runs from your brain to your body to get it into response mode, which means it’s hard to think.

“This isn’t a problem on the odd occasion. What is a problem is when your body is constantly on a high state of alert when it shouldn’t be. People have different tolerance levels for stress too. Good stress helps us focus and fires energy but bad stress can lead to further health complications, such as heart disease and strokes. It’s critical for your wellbeing to recognise when you are becoming stressed and then do something about it.”

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According to Paula, gaining perspective is the biggest thing we can do. “When things happen to us we can’t always control them or the outcome. But we can change the way we react to them. Start thinking before you react and make a decision on how it’s going to impact you or not. Get back in control, banish the bad stress from your life, and get yourself mentally fit.”

Paula works as an executive coach, life coach, and business consultant. She also runs mental health workshops in Norwich and London. Her book, Your Life, Your Way, was published last year. To find out more visit

Help is at hand

Deep breathing, walking, writing things down, breaking tasks into manageable chunks - there are many ways to deal with stress, says Deb Williams, learning and development manager for Suffolk-based social enterprise Realise Futures Learning and Development.

“Stress is a fact of modern life and whilst a little positive stress is good for us we all have different ways of absorbing and dealing with the 101 things we think we have to get done. Employers can encourage a healthy work/life balance, build in time for colleagues to relax over a cuppa or take a short walk in the fresh air, making time to ask each other if everything is OK – and listening.

“Positive stress motivates us, gets us up in the morning, give us that little push to do our best and get the job done. The problem starts when stress becomes negative, when there is simply too much to do in too little time, when worries keep us awake at night. It can impact our mental and physical health, our relationships with family and friends, and it can become all consuming.”

Realise Futures tutors are running stress management workshops for employers in Suffolk this week. They also support people experiencing and recovering from mental health issues with employment advice and opportunities for work.

Many people have reported a big improvement in their mental health when learning new skills and developing their potential.

“Research shows community learning improves people’s mental health. Lifelong learning can keep people’s minds sharper, reduce rural isolation, confusion and it can help improve mental health.”

To find out more go to

Paula’s anti-stress tips

1. If you are unhappy at work tell someone. Managers aren’t mind readers. If they won’t help, think about whether this is the job for you.

2. Look at everything you have on your plate right now. Write a list if that helps. What could you stop doing that no-one would notice or doesn’t add any value to you or others.

3. Is there anything you are doing, or overdoing to please others? Many of us over-function in order to feel valued or appreciated. If this is you figure out what you can drop; you don’t need approval to be who you are.

4. Be ruthless about what is important and urgent. Prioritise: if there is something that can wait or you need to reset someone’s expectation, do it!

5. Embrace change. Change is a large stressor. Re-frame your view of it into something positive. Life evolves constantly - it’s an opportunity to learn and develop new things. It will be just fine.

Deb’s tips to manage stress

1. Take some slow, deep breaths. It can help you to become calmer.

2. Get outside and walk, even for a few minutes take a break from whatever is worrying you.

3. Make a list of the things bothering you, put it in an envelope, tear it up or put it aside for when you are feeling a bit stronger.

4. Break tasks down into manageable chunks. Start small and reward yourself for each section completed.

5. An hour before sleep, turn of computers, mobile phones, TV and relax. Listen to music or spend time on a hobby.

6. Put on some music and dance like no-one is watching. You can even dance sitting down.

7. If stress is making you anxious and unwell, tell your GP or contact the Suffolk Wellbeing Service.

8. Talk to a friend or family member. If the issue is debt-related, talk to Step Change on 0800 138 1111.

9. Learn a new skill or take up a hobby.

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