Feeling stressed? You’re not on your own!
Frighteningly, a report was published earlier this year by the Mental Health Foundation which had the following heading: 74% of UK ‘overwhelmed or unable to cope’ at some point in the past year’. 81% of women said this and 67% of men, with 83% of 18-24 year olds agreeing (compared with 65% aged 55 and over). 32% of adults reported that they had experienced suicidal feelings as a result of stress, and 16% had self-harmed as a result of stress.
To me, to say you’re feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope is serious stuff and I hope all those feeling this way have been able to find the help and support they need. Worryingly, the figures are dated from 2018 and I doubt that there will have been any improvements since. It will be interesting, and potentially really worrying when new figures are published.
It is well documented that stress, however caused, can lead to increased anxiety and/or depression as well as physical health problems such as indigestion, problems sleeping, and heart disease.
About ten years ago I lived through a period when I couldn’t leave the house without a supply of Gaviscon to see me through the day. Life can be difficult, as it was for me then, and sometimes you feel both hopeless and helpless, but there is always room for hope … even if it seems a struggle to find it. Focussing on your breathing really can help make a difference.
A favourite quote of mine is that of Jon Kabat-Zinn: “As long as you are breathing there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel”.
Currently the value of breathing seems to be popping up everywhere. Michael Mosely talks about how ‘learning to control your breath can lower anxiety and enhance your decision making’ in his Just One Thing podcast on the BBC. He suggests breathing in for four seconds and exhaling for six, practising this for a few minutes several times a day. On Mindfulness.com, they suggest the 4-7-8 breathing method as named by a Dr Andrew Weil (an American doctor): breathing in counting to four, hold that breath whilst counting to seven, and slowly exhale whilst counting to eight. I found this difficult the first few times I tried, but it can be done if you remain strictly focussed on the breathing. Even the NHS encourages people to breathe, this time counting to five before breathing out (warning that you may not be able to reach 5 at first …).
Although you are obviously able to breathe if you’re reading this, you may not have realised how the benefits of concentrating on breathing for a few minutes a day can be really significant. Various websites list how it can help decrease levels of stress, improve our overall sense of well-being and help to bring about interconnectedness between our minds and bodies (www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk).
Some talk about the value of ‘deep breathing’ or chest vs abdominal breathing but it really isn’t worth getting too hung up on these subtleties. Whether you’re feeling stressed or anxious, taking a short break sitting in the toilets in the supermarket or at work, or in a layby in the car and taking time to breathe for just 3 or 4 minutes WILL slow your heartbeat, lower your blood pressure, reduce your stress levels and help you feel more in control of your body both physically and mentally. It may even help offset depression, chronic pain and symptoms of diabetes. Try it – it certainly won’t harm you and it may mean you don’t become one of the 74% …