Stress and Bipolar

This Mental Health Awareness Week is all about stress, we all know that feeling when our blood boils at the base of our neck, we hear our heartbeat in our ears and our hands shake too much to be able to do anything. So that’s a physical stress response I’m describing, but everybody has been there at one time or another. As a person who lives with bipolar, managing stress is something I have had to learn – especially in the workplace.

I never used to understand the importance of stress management or how stress could affect my mental health. I would work in stressful jobs, for long hours and push myself until like a taut elastic band I would snap and spend up to nine months unwell and unable to work.

Work life balance is so important for me and it took me a long time to find the right balance and the right role. Key for me is being open and honest about my illness. I’m loud and proud when it comes to talking about having bipolar. I also took a job much lower down the career rung, dropped the managerial responsibility and went back to being somebody who does the job which actually reminded me why I loved what I do in the first place. I reduced the hours I work, it might mean less money in the bank, but I have more hours at home to relax and concentrate on self-care and things that make me happy and feel less stressed.

Finally, I switched to being picky about where I work. I decided I wanted to work for an organisation that had a great ethos around mental health. I hit lucky and work for a mental health charity but there are plenty of companies out there who are openly supportive of mental health in the workplace that I would happily work for if I wasn’t here.

Stress can trigger devastating episodes in bipolar but it’s not just devastating for people like me. Anybody can be affected in profound ways by stress. In the past year 74% of people have felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope (Mental Health Foundation 2018).

We all get stressed but it’s only healthy when it’s short-lived. For many it becomes really problematic and we lose millions of working days every year to stress. It’s one of the reasons the Mental Health Foundation has chosen stress as the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week starting today.

At Second Step the wellbeing of our staff and volunteers is paramount and part of that is helping people feel emotionally strong and in control. We have a strong supervision system so that staff can share concerns with their line managers at an early stage. We also promote a free 24 hour helpline which staff can use to share problems confidentially with trained counsellors. During Mental Health Awareness Week we are encouraging staff to find new ways to keep stress at bay including taking part in a lunchtime Tai Chi activity and offering sessions of desk yoga to help people relax during the working day.

To find out more about stress and what you an do about it and how you can get involved with this year’s awareness week go to: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/stress

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