International Stress Awareness Week 2020 (2nd to 6th November 2020)
Let’s face it the modern world is a stressful place sometimes; noise, people, and information all vying for our attention and senses, and our always on society is difficult to take a step back from. Stress and mental health are extremely important things to be aware of particularly in our current Covid19 climate. Great strides are being made in our society to remove the stigma of stress, anxiety, and depression and for adults and children to open up about the struggles they are facing and to seek help just as you would if you’d sprained your ankle or were experiencing tooth ache. The international Stress Awareness week began in 2018 to build upon the Stress Awareness day that started over 20 years ago in 1998. Designed to help raise awareness about stress and provide helpful ways to prevent and deal with stress in all its forms. www.stress.org.uk/
Did you know? Almost one in five adults (19.2%) were likely to be experiencing some form of depression during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in June 2020; this had almost doubled from around 1 in 10 (9.7%) before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020). Feeling stressed or anxious was the most common way adults experiencing some form of depression felt their well-being was being affected, with 84.9% stating this. Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain. Office for National Statistics, June 2020
As technology advances so does its ability to offer meaningful and useful ways to support our mental health. It’s important to strike a balance and not become too reliant on technology and our devices but used in the right way they can be great tools. So how can digital help with our mental well-being and stress levels? Well, there’s lots of unique and helpful devices, apps and technology available today that can help identify and reduce stressful situations and hormone levels. These aren’t designed as a cure or preventative measure, but they can help you combat stress, anxiety and depression in so many ways.
Smart wearables are all the rage at the moment, smartwatch sales like the apple watch range have increased massively over the last 6-7 years. Not only can they tell you the time, show you your notifications and make & receive phone calls they can even monitor your stress levels using the sensors and software built in – Many modern smartwatches include a heart rate monitor that notify you of potential health issues or increased heart rate when you’re not doing exercise that help you be more aware of stressful situations and triggers.
Dopple is a wearable device but one that doesn’t come with a fancy screen or lots of functions and sensors. Instead it’s a unique device that helps you become calmer. It works by creating a silent vibration on the inside of your wrist which feels just like the rhythm of a heartbeat. Slower rhythms are calming, and research shows that slower tempos result in calm and positive emotional states. It’s not cheap but the company are offering 15% off at the moment, check it out here: https://feeldoppel.co.uk
Get some exercise – There have been many studies linking more physical activity with better mental health, doing exercise releases feel good hormones after all. Well there are plenty of gadgets, digital devices and apps that can motivate, monitor and track your progress. Fitness trackers like Fitbit wearables offer in depth data about your daily activity. Motivating apps like Couch to 5k help show you where to start with a fitness regime. It’s designed for absolute beginners and was developed by a new runner, Josh Clark, who wanted to help his 50-something mum get off the couch and start running, too. The plan involves 3 runs a week, with a day of rest in between, and a different schedule for each of the 9 weeks. It’s a great way to get started and best of all it’s free!
Taking regular breaks – Working from home and the work home life balance are harder now than ever before. It’s easy to check work emails during your lunch break or write that report in an evening once the kids have gone to bed but taking a break and getting some rest is as important as the task itself sometimes. If you’ve ever felt like your brain has turned more couch potato than Olympic athlete primed and rearing to go then maybe you need to factor in some more breaks during your day and switch off of an evening:
Forest – This unique app motivates you to put down the phone screen and stay focused on your task. The premise of Forest is simple: Plant a seed when you’re ready to get to work, then set a timer. If you stick to the task, your tree grows — but if you exit the app for whatever reason, your tree dies. Soon you can grow entire forests! Plus, the app has also partnered with Trees of the Future to plant actual trees, so you can help the planet while helping yourself! Cost: free basic version and paid for pro version on android – £1.99 on Apple IOS
Another great app is ‘Cold Turkey’ which is designed to block websites, apps and games if you want it to. There’s a basic version for free and paid for pro version costing £29 for a one off cost that adds extra features. www.getcoldturkey.com/
Get a better night’s sleep – Devices with screens such as laptops, tablets, TVs, and smartphones all emit artificial light which can cause eye strain and can affect our bodies production of the important hormone melatonin. Melatonin is produced in our bodies and helps us feel sleepy at night, it is part of the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Studies have shown that by using these devices in the evening before our regular bedtime can delay the onset of the sleep-wake cycle and cause a more disrupted night sleep. It can be very hard to put that device down late at night or get much done in our digital age without one. Many smartphones & tablets (Android or Apple), and computers running Microsoft Windows now have the ability to reduce and change the levels of brightness and blue light produced by the screens by reducing the screens overall brightness levels and applying a softer red/orange filter over the screen. This helps reduce the effects of blue light. There are also many apps available on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store that do the same thing. Check out some of the how to guides below
Android devices: www.androidauthority.com/night-mode-on-android-886864/
IOS devices: www.support.apple.com/en-gb/HT207570
Alternatively, you could put down your device in the evening and read a good book, do a crossword or puzzle. We love technology and gadgets here in Cosmic but even we know balance is important, there’s a time and a place for everything.
Noise – According to the World Health Organisation noise pollution is now considered one of the top environmental hazards to both physical and mental health and well-being and should be treated as a health risk similar to air pollution. It is suspected that noise, and our body’s reaction to it, increases the production of stress hormones and can lead to increased levels of anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes. It’s hard to remove or escape the noise from our everyday hectic cities and towns. Noise cancelling headphones can help lower the din and help us focus and concentrate. They work by using various microphones on the outside of the ear cup listening to the noise (sound wave) being created, they then produce their own sound waves to counteract these thus reducing the noise and in some cases completely cancelling it out. Some of the top headphone sets do an amazing job but can be pricey (£300+) but it’s possible to pick up 2nd hand sets for half the price or lesser quality sets for under £100. We always recommend doing your research and checking out independent reviews before you invest like this one on YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1jK8D2I4mY
Listening to music – Music is a great way to relax and can have a big impact on our current moods and feelings. We’re not suggesting listening to a high octane tune to help you relax or de-stress, instead try out some soothing tunes or relaxing white noise like waves lapping at the shore, or distant nature sounds and rain drops on a forest’s leafy canopy. There are lots of streaming music services and places to buy and download MP3 music tracks from but one of my favourites is Spotify. Free with adverts or for £9.99 per month (premium subscription) you can remove these ads and gain some extra functions like downloading to your device for listening to when you’re offline. There’s currently a one month free trial of the premium service, just be aware you will be charged unless you cancel before the end of that month. Spotify currently lists over 50 million songs, as well as over 700,000 podcast titles with a range of topics like comedy, arts, lifestyle and health. There are also tons of different music categories to choose from: Chillout, Wellness, Sleep, Calm, Good mood to name a few. Find out more on their website www.spotify.com/uk/, there’s also an app available for mobile device via your local app store.
Mindfulness/relaxation/meditation apps are extremely popular tools that can help you focus and relax. Incorporating forms of meditation and mindfulness these apps allow you to follow structured audio sessions and help you feel less stressed, more resilient and happier. Two of the leading services are Calm (www.calm.com) and Headspace (www.headspace.com). They both involve a paid for subscription: Calm is £28.99 billed annually and headspace £49.99 a year or £9.99 per month.
Whilst this isn’t an exhaustive list we hope it gives you a flavour of some of the tools and apps available that can all help with your mental health and well-being. Go check them out and if you find any alternatives or hidden gems please let us know, we’d love to hear from you. Also check out some of the free and helpful online resources available to anyone suffering from depression, anxiety or stress www.mind.org.uk. If you’d like help with any digital elements discussed in this article or would like skills training and support or want to find out more about our project please contact us on 0330 088 3005 or [email protected].