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We marked stress awareness day before Christmas, but April has - for more than 25 years - been dedicated to using the 30 days of the month to raise our awareness of the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic.

You'll see the posters in pharmacy windows and events on national news this month, but the real journey starts with each of us understanding what is stressing us out and taking steps - even baby ones - to doing something about it.

Here's 5 things you should know and do to kick off a month dedicated to us all feeling better.

  1. 1. Stress is not all bad. It helps us survive by priming our body - it starts with a physical response - to preparing for action (that old ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response). A mix of hormones and chemicals (like adrenaline and cortisol) prepare our body for the challenge, shutting down other functions temporarily (like digestion) to give us a rush of energy and to focus us on the matter in hand. It's the stuff that causes you to hit the brakes to avoid hitting something, or to be able to juggle 10 things at once when faced with a family or work emergency.
  1. Stress is not meant to last long. If blood flow is only going to the most important muscles for any long periods our brain function is minimised. We can't think straight, sleep well, eat wisely. Recognise this?
  1. Stress affects people in different ways. But it does affect us. Some people get headaches, others get irritated, some don't sleep, others sleep but eat all the wrong things, some get constipated, achy, others self doubt, find their thoughts racing with worry and/or feel really sad. The list goes on. But needless to say, left to carry on it can make you agitated or aggressive (which doesn't bode well for relationships or reputations!) and make you really ill.
  1. When you're body is primed for action it expects action. And it will benefit from it. Exercise won't make the stress disappear, but it will reduce the emotional intensity and clear your thoughts while promoting the release of feel good chemicals in your body that will lift your spirits and help make your day manageable. Talk to one of our Halo fitness team about a gentle regime that will see you through the most stressful times. We're here to help and have seen so many people tackle stress head on.
  1. Stress is, by its nature, likely take you feel demotivated, that you can't do anything about your problems. That feeling of having no control is one of the main causes of ongoing stress and ill health.  So square up to it and don't let it have its way. Make a list of things that will help, and commit to doing them - even if you're 'not in the mood' (it's because you're not in the mood you need to act!), you will feel a difference.

As well as exercising (see point 4), start with the simple stuff like:

- Laying off the alcohol and drinking a glass of water every morning and night. Hydration is key to good health. And avoid those 'avoiding the problem comfort foods' (extra coffee and cake, sugary snacks at work) and eat things that will make you feel better (starting with breakfast, and fruit or nuts as a snack on the go).

- Making a list what has to be done, and organising the list into doable chunks, removing anything that is less urgent and can wait (at least for now). Talk through your concerns (and your list) with someone else and ask for help finding solutions. Then share those solutions - keeping the plan proactive and positive - with your family or your boss so they can get behind it. Working smarter like this (rather than just working harder which makes you more stressed) always helps. Don't wait until you're poorly to realise that everything you thought was urgent isn't!

-Getting a good night's sleep. Easier said than done, but switching off phones and computers, avoiding heavy, rich foods late at night and enjoying a warm bath and a herbal tea or glass of water, practising some deep breathing, reading a magazine or book or listening to some gentle music, and then just resting your eyes will all help. Don't worry if you can't get to sleep straight away. Consider it 'me' time and just relax.

Remember, if you are persistently not sleeping ask your GP for some advice and support.  Never, ever keep ongoing stress to yourself. Talk to family, talk to us, talk to your GP. Talking about it is key to finding solutions to help solve the problem.