April is Stress Awareness Month – an important initiative to raise awareness for the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. It’s an important campaign and here at Skout, we are sharing our tips and tricks for managing stress throughout the month.

As part of our commitment to ensure we look after each other, we have been taking part in a corporate wellbeing program with Dawn Barnes; a celebrated corporate wellbeing coach. To highlight the dangers of workplace-stress, we sat down with Dawn to highlight her career and methods for managing stress in these turbulent times.

Can you tell us a brief overview of who you are and what you do?

I’m a corporate wellbeing coach, so I run corporate wellbeing programs for companies but also for individuals. I host online courses, presentations as well as personal wellbeing coaching.

What motivated you to become a wellbeing coach?

When I worked in the corporate world, there was a time when I suffered from work-related stress and career burnout. At that time, the level of awareness around work-stress just wasn’t like it is today and I didn’t get the help that I needed before it spiraled out of control. The thought of helping just one person not go through what I did was very inspiring and motivating to me. My approach is around improving your mental wellbeing with mindfulness and meditation techniques as well as understanding and managing stress and building your resilience. It was a path to put everything I’ve learnt together, to then share with companies and individuals.

In the last couple of years, the awareness towards mental health and wellbeing and managing stress is certainly a lot better than it was. But, with that in mind is it fair to say that there is always room for improvement and that the journey is not over yet?

Yes,I think that the pandemic highlighted and raised the awareness of a lot of people’s wellbeing. Suddenly our world changed. We were working from home, and we were communicating in a different way and some people were feeling lonely and isolated perhaps for the first time. For many people, these feelings were quite alien and as a result, their mental wellbeing really took a hit. But like you said, there is room for improvement and it’s an ongoing journey. The pandemic just exacerbated it. I think now, rather than it being a nice thing to do, it is really high up on companies and individual’s agendas; we really need to look after people’s mental wellbeing.

The pandemic is one major global trigger but politically, like with what’s going on with Ukraine or the political unrest people have experienced in the US, is it fair to say that the last couple of years have been some of the most challenging times for us all?

Absolutely. The pandemic and the things we are seeing on the TV are massive stresses! The pandemic was probably one of the most stressful things we’ve experienced in our lifetime since WW2. And it just keeps going with what we are seeing on the news on a regular basis – and that’s just one side of it. Other triggers come from work and our personal modern lifestyle. If you think back to the 1940s/1950s, way before email and social media, we now have this lifestyle where we are always on and always connected. We find it more difficult to properly switch off and this has a big impact on our mental wellbeing.  There has also been a rise in something called presenteeism which is when people are unwell but at work when they shouldn’t be. So, they are working but they are not as productive and effective as they should be; this is another contributing factor to work stress.

April is National Stress Awareness Month – a fantastic initiative to highlight the dangers of stress and how people at work and home can better manage their wellbeing to combat it. How important are initiatives like this to raise awareness for stress?

It’s massive! It’s a fantastic initiative to raise people’s awareness with the hope that it also helps people talk about how they are feeling so they don’t have to struggle alone. Unfortunately, there is still a big stigma around mental health – particularly with men and the younger generation I feel. I think that the more that we can talk about it, the more we can raise awareness and say that it is okay to open up and share how you feel. People want to help, there is help and you’d be surprised at how many other people have gone through or are feeling the same as you. And that it’s okay. But there is still that stigma that we need to breakdown.

How important is it that we identify when stress becomes a detrimental to someone’s mental wellbeing?

Extremely. There is always going to be an amount of stress and we can’t get rid of it completely. There will be some stress in work, at home and in your life. We can manage a certain amount of stress; it is when it gets high and ongoing – that’s when it is dangerous to us! This differs between individuals as some people can deal with more stress than others. However, the same person can deal with a different amount of stress at different times in their life, it just depends on what other things are going on. We can see evidence that work stress is on the rise. Sometimes you get a work culture, where the demands of the job and the hours of the job don’t help, if someone is struggling there needs to be a process in a company to support them through it and to not just accept it.

What are the best ways people can manage their stress levels?

One thing that I teach people is to have a stress diary. This is about taking a moment to observe what is going on and to work out what caused the stress as it’s quite easy to feed our stress and it can quickly get out of control. It’s important to take a step back, work out what was it that triggered it, how did it make you feel? And then how did you react? Keeping a stress diary is helpful as it is not healthy when you let it fester and keep going on. We need to accept though that there will always be a level of stress and some stress can be good! It can motivate us, it can keep us out of danger as we all have this fight or flight stress response. However, if it is ongoing and it is high, we need to nip it in the bud so we can bounce back and carry on with life.

So, keep a stress diary and also reach out and get support, ask for help – talk to your manager and discuss things and look at what is it that is triggering you. It might even be something outside of work. Unless someone says how they are feeling it can be very difficult for the workplace to understand that they are struggling from stress because we are very good at hiding it and putting an act on.

For any businesses or individuals that would be interested in learning more about what you do, do you have a website or social media that they can contact you on?

My website is dawn-barnes.com and I’m on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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