Sarah McIntosh, Director of Delivery at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, reflects on the importance of managing your stress during this uncertain period. 

Despite the government announcement of England's roadmap for easing lockdown, many people will be feeling stressed and worried about the uncertainty that lies ahead. These feelings can be hard to cope with, but it’s important to remember that there are ways to manage sustained periods of stress and to support your own and others’ mental health and wellbeing during this time. 

Stress Awareness Month (1-30 April) is a useful prompt to think about ways we can reduce our stress levels and support each other. Stress is a natural reaction to many situations in life, such as work, illness, relationships and financial problems, but that doesn’t mean that you should continue to struggle. There are ways to manage the sources of stress in your life, whether that be practising simple acts of self-care or reaching out for professional help. Now more than ever, it’s important to take the time to think about our stressors and responses to them, and what proactive steps we can take to help us better manage our stress and support our mental health now and in the future. 

As we cautiously embark on the roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions, many people will feel stressed about their own and others’ physical and mental health, their financial situation, work-life balance, managing additional care responsibilities and much more. In addition to this, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is often associated with the winter months, but for some people, longer days and warmer weather can result in low mood and feelings of lethargy. So, what can we do to help manage our stress levels and protect our own and others’ mental health and wellbeing?

At MHFA England, we believe that good self-care can have a positive impact on general mental health and wellbeing and help to lower stress levels. Leaving stress unchecked can be detrimental to both our mental and physical health. We created a toolkit to help people address their stress by embedding healthy and personalised approaches to stress management. We encourage you to regularly engage in some simple self-care activities, such as sharing how you're feeling with someone you trust, getting outside for some fresh air or learning a new skill (which can be as simple as learning to make a new dish for dinner!). Make time to switch off from work, chores and distractions - even if it's just for half an hour every evening. You can take a look at our interactive stress container, our weekly wellbeing check-up guide and general information about stress and how to spot signs of stress in yourself and others'.

Over the past year, many of us have experienced and are still experiencing significant changes to our day-to-day life and routine. It's important to think about ways in which we can stay mentally healthy. What worked in the past may no longer have the same impact or be feasible. As part of our My Whole Self campaign, we refreshed our guidance on supporting people's mental health and wellbeing whilst working from home. The guidance includes tips on how to get set up for the day, how to get moving (if you are physically and mentally able to), how to stay connected with colleagues, and how to get support for your mental health. It is worth reminding yourself of these tips and considering what can work for at the moment. If the transition or continuation of working from home is causing you to feel stressed, or if you are struggling to cope with being furloughed or losing your job, please remember that there are external support services that you can reach out to such as Samaritans and Shout

We would also like to remind our Mental Health First Aiders that while it is important to support people over the coming weeks and months, it is imperative to look after your own mental health and wellbeing, and find effective ways to manage your stress. If you are struggling to cope, it is crucial that you take a step back from your role as a Mental Health First Aider until you feel better. If you are supporting others, it’s a good idea to take the time to refresh yourself on the advice in the Being a Mental Health First Aider guide. This includes information about how to support someone remotely, how to provide Mental Health First Aid from a distance, and how MHFA England can support you. As always, we are grateful for all that you do - and will continue to do - during this period and beyond.  
 
Access the resources from the 'Address Your Stress' toolkit here.