There is no denying that 2020 has been a difficult year and we have – individually and collectively – faced more challenges this year than we might ever have expected. Feelings of stress and burnout are rife this year in particular and we want to support you in managing and overcoming them!
What is stress?
Stress is a response which occurs when a physical, mental, or emotion pressure placed on an individual. This results in what many people know as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response – a release of chemicals within the body that heightens our senses and prepares it for battle or escape. The Fight of Flight response evolved as a way to keep us safe from very real and imposing dangers in the past – such as wild animals.
Nowadays, the Fight or Flight responses can be triggered by perceived threats such as a full email inbox, an impending deadline or a change to our routine. These perceived threats are everywhere in the modern world and it is our ability to manage our individual responses to these situations that can keep us in a more calm and relaxed state, increasing our ability to cope, and protecting our health long-term.
How to manage stress
We spoke to Andrew Ford, our University of Bristol Healthy Minds Supervisor. Healthy Minds is a programme led by University of Bristol Sport which supports students in taking positive steps towards improving their mental wellbeing, through a varied, social and structured timetable of physical activity opportunities. Mental wellbeing, achieved via physical wellbeing.
Using his professional expertise and his own personal experience, Andrew outline his top tips for managing stress, and staying well:
Find what works for you in terms of exercise and participate as many times as you can during a week. I’d recommend 3-5 times if possible. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to exercise and movement, but there are plenty of options you can choose from. It could be going for a run, strength training, yoga, a long walk, going climbing, dancing, or so many others. The best one is the one that you enjoy – really!
Any and every form of physical activity helps to release endorphins (mood boosting hormones) in the brain which encourage a more positive mindset and help to combat stress hormone levels.
Get enough sleep
This is often quite a tough one to do during University life, but studies show that a better nights rest helps to reduce stress hormone levels and give you more energy the next day to tackle any tasks you may have
The recommend amount of sleep for an adult is 7 to 9 hours per night. This tip links nicely linked with exercise, as those who exercise tend to get to sleep earlier, have better quality sleep, and don’t wake up as frequently during the night. It is best to exercise whenever you feel most comfortable, so this could be early in the day, or in the evening where you may have more free time.
Reach out for support
Speaking out and asking for is hard, but can be safe in the knowledge that you won’t be the only person feeling this way, and there are people who can help and support you. It may seem like a difficult step, but talking to someone – whether about what is going on and how you’re feeling, or just in for a social chat – is great way to help regulate your feelings and emotions, develop relationships, and gain new perspectives to any problems. This could be with anyone who you feel comfortable with, such as friends or family, or even within our services at the University.
The University Student Well-being Advisors are a friendly and approachable team who are able to provide non-clinical advice and support to help you find the best way to tackle whatever it is that you’re feeling.
Take a break
We know it sounds cliché, but it does really work. If a particular problem is causing stress, take a step back from it for a small amount of time. Taking a physical and mental break is the best way to get a little respite from that pressure, to take some time to relax and refresh, and be able to return to it with a fresh mindset and a more pragmatic approach.
It is helpful to plan in advance for this time which can reduce stress proactively, especially if you are someone who knows that they suffer from stress and anxiety when under pressure. Allow time to take these breaks, and you will be able to perform the tasks better, with more focus.
Do what you enjoy
Everyone has a hobby. It could be exercise, but it could also be cooking, gaming, craft, singing, or DIY. Whatever it is, if it is what you enjoy then make sure to find time to do that activity during the week – every week if you can. It is one of the more effective ways of switching off and giving yourself time to relax and reduce feelings of stress.
Planning ahead slightly at the beginning of the day or week, to create this free time for yourself will allow you to break up your day and avoid allowing a problematic situation to dominate your emotions.
There are many ways to help alleviate stress. The Sport, Exercise and Health department are here to help you identify the best ways to do that in a physical activity capacity. Please feel free to speak to one of the team for more information as to how we can help you, and support you in feeling your best.
Join us online for live and on-demand fitness and well-being sessions via the University of Bristol Sport app (available on iOS and Android). You can also find well-being information for University of Bristol Staff and Students online, including self-help resources, guided support services and advice for supporting others.