‘Mind Yourself’ – Mental Health & Wellbeing with Martin Furber

New Year is well and truly behind us, this first month of the year, seems to stretch out for so many people, counting the days towards the end of the month and the first pay-day of the year.

Did you know that the name for January is inspired by the Roman God Janus – He is associated with transitions of all types. So lets hope this year is a better one for my trans-siblings.

As we look, with cautious optimism, towards the year ahead, it’s easy to fall into the trap of new year, new stress. Resolutions pile up, obligations beckon, and the pressure to make this year “the best yet” can feel like a tightening band around the metaphorical ‘stress-bucket’ that I talk about so often. So, before it overflows, causing a cascade of anxiety and overwhelm, I’d like to tell you about something known as your ‘stress signature’.

What is a stress signature? It’s your own unique cocktail of physical, emotional, and behavioural changes that signal your internal stress level is rising. It’s the tightly wound jaw when deadlines loom, the sudden urge to eat a whole triple-chocolate cake when anxieties simmer, the incessant nail biting when facing a difficult conversation. These are the telltale signs, the blinking red lights on your personal stress dashboard, if you like, that others around you may well recognise before you do.

So, why is it important to know your stress signature? Because awareness is the first step towards control. By recognising the patterns in your own stress response, you can equip yourself with tools and strategies to intervene before the bucket overflows. Instead of letting stress hijack your reactions and decision-making, you can become the captain of your own emotional ship.

Think back on the past year, what were your stress triggers? What were the physical, emotional, and behavioural changes you noticed in yourself when the pressure mounted? Did you become withdrawn or irritable? Did your sleep suffer? Did you start reaching for unhealthy coping mechanisms?

I frequently say, ‘If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got’. In other words, if you’d like things to be different for you this year, then you need to do things differently.

A good place to start is by becoming aware of the things that cause you stress. Once you have a good understanding of these triggers, you can think about how these things have made you react in the past. What kinds of things would other people notice about your behaviour or attitudes as you became more stressed? You may well have become withdrawn or irritable, perhaps treating people very differently to how you usually do.

So, what can you do this year that is different from previous years, to get more in tune with your own mind and body, and keep those stress levels down?

The first thing I would suggest is to listen to your body, paying attention to those subtle physical cues such as tightness in the chest and changes in your breathing. Make an effort to monitor your own emotions and acknowledge if you are feeling more anxious, withdrawn or irritable than usual. Have a think to yourself about the people and situations that tend to increase your stress levels. It’s a good idea to keep a track of your own thought patterns, particularly if you find yourself engaging in a lot of negative self-talk. That inner critic that we all have, tends to go into overdrive when we are stressed.

How can we equip ourselves and plan ahead, so that we can manage our stress levels in the first place? It’s called self-care and it should be a priority. Self-care isn’t all about bubble baths and face masks, although they are great for those who enjoy them. It’s about integrating your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Set realistic goals and break them down into manageable steps.
  • Make sleep a priority! Aim to get 7-8 hours a night.
  • Learn to say no to requests that overwhelm you.
  • Schedule time for hobbies and interests.
  • Delegate tasks when possible.
  • Take regular breaks throughout the day to recharge.
  • Keep connected with loved ones – New Year is a great time to catch up with people you have been meaning to call or message.
  • Don’t be afraid to alter your plans if you find your stress levels rising.
  • Forgive yourself for mistakes and setbacks – you’re only human after all.

Your stress signature can be a roadmap to self-awareness and resilience. So, take a deep breath, acknowledge your stress signature, and embark on this new year with the knowledge that you are in charge, it can make all the difference.

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Martin Furber is a therapist qualified in various disciplines and an instructor member of Mental Health First Aid England.

Please note: If you feel you are in a mental health crisis or emergency and feel you may be in danger of causing harm to yourself or others then please contact your GP, The Samaritans on 116 123 or attend A&E.