For people who live in ‘The Lucky Country’, reports are suggesting that Australians are among some of the most stressed in the world. So much so, suicide prevention organization Lifeline has launched Stress Down Day on July 24th.
Statistics suggest that over 70% of Australian’s experience an unhealthy amount of stress, with one third of Australians reporting significant distress in their lives. In healthy doses, stress can be beneficial to human functioning, helping us continue through challenges and achieve our necessary outcomes.
However, when experienced continuously, stress can be extremely damaging, both physically and emotionally. The NSW Mental Health Association WayAhead reports that over 7 in 10 Australians admit that stress negatively impacts their physical health, citing effects on exercise, diet, sleep and alcohol and drug use.
Peter Hayton, the Senior Psychologist at The Banyans Health and Wellness, says that stress is a common contributor to many of the emotional concerns people wish to address while undertaking a program at The Banyans. WayAhead claims that 65% of people report negative consequences of stress on their mental health.
Peter explains that there are many reasons why Australian’s are feeling increasingly “under the pump”. He says that financial issues are among common stressors, along with occupational or workplace pressure, home concerns, interpersonal issues and physical health worries.
Lifeline has launched a new initiative to help tackle rising levels of stress. In celebration of Stress Down Day on July 24, The Banyans Health and Wellness is helping you integrate sustainable stress management strategies into your every day with the Five Day Stress Less Challenge. To help you get started, download your free printable Stress Less guide, and read some of our strategies below.
Five unexpected strategies to help you stress less
Stress Less Tip #1: Cook a meal
There are many reasons why cooking a meal can help boost your health and wellbeing. Not only does the act of cooking create a healthy distraction and focus your thoughts towards something other than your stressors, the process inspires creative thinking and problem solving. No need to mention the benefits of the end product: a healthy, home made meal which gives you a sense of achievement and pride!
Moreover, anything that helps build a skill has shown to be positive for our mental health. Peter tells: “Cooking a meal revolves around a concept called mastery, which is simply a behavior that encourages someone to complete a simple task well.”
If you need some inspiration, why not try The Banyans Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa salad?
Stress Less Tip #2: Sing
As adults, some of us may feel like singing is something reserved for kindergartens, concerts and Christmas Carols in the Park. However, there are many benefits of singing for both your physical and mental health.
“Letting go of any expectations of good or bad sound is the hardest part of singing,” Peter says. “Once you get over your own self-judgement, you will feel liberated to enjoy something just for the fun of it.”
Research has shown that singing can be correlated with the release of endorphins: a collection of hormones and chemicals in our body that make us feel good, and affirm healthy behaviors. These endorphins are responsible for the “happy buzz” you feel after exercising, holding a baby or singing!
Moreover, singing encourages you to control your breathing, and improves your circulation, blood flow and lung capacity.
Stress Less Tip #3: Colour in
Very few people realize that the recent mindfulness trend of coloring is a simple yet effective way to mitigate stress. Similar to cooking, the process of focusing your attention towards a mundane activity like colouring helps improve your concentration and encourages mastery of skills.
In addition, research has shown that mindfulness activities can stimulate creative thought and problem solving. This PDF document from Act. Belong. Commit gives you some printable mindful colouring pages, as well as some further information about the benefits of colouring for stress relief and mental wellbeing.
Stress Less Tip #4: Connect with an animal
If you have ever owned a pet, you likely understand the special bond between animal and human. Turns out it’s more than just puppy love – animals have a significant positive impact on feelings of stress.
In a report by the American National Park Service, they explore the physiological, psychological and emotional benefits of connection with animals, including dogs, cats, lizards, and fish. In some cases, it was physical contact like patting or playing, and in other instances, it was watching from a short distance.
The report showed that all interactions with animals fostered a sense of companionship and facilitated the production of dopamine: a hormone that is associated with feelings of contentment and attachment. Dopamine is also an antidote to cortisol – the hormone that builds up when we feel under pressure.
In addition, research has shown that contact with animals can help regulate a person’s breathing, which in turn reduces heart rate, blood pressure and blood cortisol concentration.
Stress Less Tip #5 Look at natural stimulus
We have long heard of statistics supporting the therapeutic nature of nature. But did you know that simply looking at natural stimulus like a tree or body of water can also help you feel less stressed? In a 2014 study from the Journal of Environment and Behaviour, researchers showed that viewing images of trees for anywhere between six and 30 minutes can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
It’s also been acknowledged that looking at something in nature can help individuals in an office environment reset their focus, while also promoting creative thinking and problem solving. Is it time somebody revived that wilting office plant by the water cooler?
Occupational stress at record high
A large 2015 study by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) reported that Australians were experiencing the lowest levels of psychological and emotional wellbeing seen in the past five years, with workplace wellbeing reaching alarming levels.
According to Beyond Blue, “businesses can receive an average return of $2.30 for every $1 they invest in effective workplace mental health strategies.” Considering loss of productivity, participation and stress related compensation claims cost the industry over $10.9 billion, it is surprising that more work places are not willing to adopt workplace wellness initiatives.
Lifeline’s Stress Down Day echoes the need for improved support regarding workplace stress, with their most recent campaign calling for workplaces to incorporate simple activities on July 24 2019 to help people stress less. Suggestions include a “free dress” day, a staff lunch, puppies in the office, or an afternoon movie.
When stress turns into burnout: Things to watch out for
With one in five Australians (21%) taking time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy, Peter warns that burnout is often overlooked as an avoidable health condition. This may be because some of the most common symptoms can be considered “normal parts of life”. Signs and symptoms of burnout include:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion;
- Cynicism, detachment and apathy;
- Inability to function productively or effectively;
- Poor physical health (such as regular headaches or chest pain) and low immune system;
- Reduced job satisfaction;
- Irritability and agitation;
- Depression or “feeling blue”.
The statistics regarding burnout and chronic stress are likely underestimated, with 51% of Australians experiencing the condition neglecting help.
A residential program like The Banyans can be a restorative solution to chronic stress and burnout. Peter highlights that recovery is a long journey, and requires dedication to consistent behavioral and lifestyle change – but is definitely possible with the correct support. “It is crucial that someone experiencing burnout or chronic stress receives thorough medical, psychological and nutritional support,” he emphasizes.
“Our vast team at The Banyans do this very well. Plus, it’s the little, daily strategies that help people avoid burnout and chronic stress,” explains Peter. “At The Banyans, we help people learn sustainable strategies to be able to cope with long-term stress.”
If you identify with four or more of the symptoms above, you may be experiencing chronic stress or burnout. It is strongly recommended that you seek assistance from a local health practitioner, or call The Banyans on +61 1300 BANYAN (1300 226 926). If it is an emergency, please contact your local emergency services or 000.