National Stress Awareness day: case study

Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is supporting national stress awareness day 2014 which is held on the 5th November.

This year's theme is Stress: The Balancing Act. Most people are aware that it is often difficult to keep the balance right in terms of work, play and lifestyle.

The affect that stress was having on Anne [not real name] meant that her whole life was affected; over 12 months she was on 28 different antibiotics for a range of infections, her hair was falling out, her nails had become brittle and were breaking and when she wasn't at work she would sleep for up to 24 hours. She constantly worried about things at work and she rarely spent any quality time with her two teenage children. When she went to her GP about what she thought was another infection it was put to her that she could be suffering from stress.

Anne, who lives in the Eden valley, said: 

“I contacted First Step and they gave me a couple of options. I decided a group would be better because I would probably be able to avoid talking about myself. It took a lot of courage for me to go to the first session, I nearly didn't. But I sat at the back, said nothing and listened. By the end of that very first session I honestly felt stronger.”

Anne was taking part in a free seven week NHS programme called Ways to Wellbeing. The course aims to give some ideas for practical actions that can be used in your everyday life to maintain your own wellbeing.

Anne adds: 
“The second week was about wellbeing and sleep and it honestly changed my life. Sleep was a big problem for me, I would lie awake worrying all the time but when I was off work I would sleep all day. They gave us simple steps to take that put you back in control of your sleep pattern, we reprogrammed our body clocks. Things like have a warm bath instead of a hot bath, have milk before bed and eat two lettuce leaves - this may sound a bit random but it works for me.
“Through the course I learned to de-clutter my mind, so it wasn't full of what were unhelpful thoughts, I still have bad days but I feel that I now have the skills I need to cope when I have bad days whereas I didn't before and I got into a downward spiral.
“I was continually worrying about everything at work and my mind was very jumbled. I was always stressed at work and at home I wasn't very engaging, First Step have re-connected me with my family. 
“I found every week of the course useful and actually I was quite sad when it finished. That first week I didn't make eye contact with anyone and I didn't participate at all but by the end of the programme I was sitting at the front of the class. I had cut my hair into a funky short style and I had gone out for a meal with my family. This doesn't sound much but this was something that I found too difficult before.”

Laura Cairns is a First Step practitioner who runs the course. She explains:

“Stress is a common experience and we will all experience stress at times. Not all stress is bad for us but when it gets out of balance it can have a negative effect on us. This may affect us physically, for example poor sleep, or emotionally, for example being irritable. It can affect the way we think, for example excessive worrying and negative thinking, and our behaviour, for example avoiding situations. 
“The Ways to Wellbeing course aims to give you some ideas for practical actions you can use in your everyday life to maintain your own wellbeing. It will introduce you to goal setting skills, problem-solving skills and give you practical ideas to enable you to manage stress, worry and mood.”

Anne said: 

“I feel like I am back in the human race again and I'm living now instead of existing from crisis to crisis. Work is much better. My colleagues have said they have noticed a huge difference. I now take a break when I am supposed to and I have confidence to say when I can and when I can't do something.

“If anyone is reading this and thinking that they feel like I did I would say to them don't hesitate to get help, I wasn't able to make the last week of the course so only covered the six weeks but those 12 hours of my life have completely transformed my life.”

The Ways of Wellbeing courses are free and are held all over Cumbria. To find out more, call 0300 123 9122. The next courses will be held in January.