April is Stress Awareness Month and was founded in the 1990s to help raise awareness of stress in the workplace and just how debilitating it can be. It is a well-documented fact that stress can cause or aggravate health problems. Stress is a part of our life, and nobody is immune to it, so it is vital that we know how to deal with stress when it occurs. Often, it is hard to realise that we are stressed (or that it is building up) until something snaps. It is important to learn some strategies for coping with stress when it rears its ugly head. April is all about learning more about stress and how we can deal with it.
With the current Worldwide situation in the past year, it is more important than ever to know how to deal with stress. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point in the past year to the point where they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. I think it is also true to say, that this is not just limited to adult, many children and young adults have suffered from stress due to the restrictions, lockdowns and COVID.
Stress is often overlooked and not taken as seriously as physical health concerns. Stress plays a huge part in mental health problems like anxiety and depression. It is also linked to physical health issues like heart disease, digestive problems and even insomnia. Stress is generally brought on by a stressful situation, like going through a relationship breakup, financial and work related problems, placing ourselves in unknown or uncertain situations. The list is endless and what may be stressful for one person, may not be stressful to the next. We are all different and handle stressful situations in different ways.
I can honestly hold my hand up and say that over the years I have been stressed, over very difficult personal and family related situations, work related, of small issues … In some ways I have to admit that I can get stressed and the outcomes to that stress can differ. While trying to write this blog, I am thinking of situations and the times I suffered from stress.
I can think back to a few family and relationship situations that caused extreme stress. I suffered physical conditions like severe stress headaches and needed to go onto medication to manage those headaches, but it isn’t always beneficial to keep taking meds to stop the headaches. I have suffered with severe eczema, not being able to sleep or eat. To combat the stress, it helps to weed out the root of what is causing the stress. That is easier said than done.
I found it helps to find some activity that helps ‘clear the mind’, to help relief the stress. I know that crafting has helped me in so many ways, something that I have to focus on, or something that doesn’t take much thinking on I started to do counted cross stitch when I was very young and it is something that I continue to do, when I can find the time. I found that cross stitch helped me to clear my mind, I had to focus on the chart, count the squares and colours and stitch the corresponding stitch onto the blank fabric. It helped to clear my mind, I would settle myself in a cosy chair (preferably in the warm sunshine), have a cuppa and a snack and start stitching in complete silence or a good audio book to listen to while stitching. It seemed to ground me, enabled me to lose myself in the craft and usually I was able to distress myself.
There would be times when I was too stressed to focus on the cross-stitching, and I would find something else that suited the way I was feeling. I found that reading books was another way for me to de-stress. I could lose myself in the story of the book, snuggled under a quilt with a good supply of drink and treats. I remember once, (many, many years ago) I needed to distress and I started reading a book, lying in a quiet peaceful place with a hot drink (or 2/3) and some freshly baked peanut brownies. Well, after spending the afternoon reading, I was totally relaxed, had finished the book. And also the entire tin of peanut brownies!!!
The past year has been no different. I found that the current situation has been extremely trying and stressful. There were so many factors to take on board and try to cope with. I have read SO MANY books!!! I have lost count, some good reads and others, just your basic trashy quick reads. Thank heavens for a kindle….
With everything that happened last year, and now this year, I have found on many occasions I had to put in force some effective coping tools to help us combat the stress levels. It is all about the unknown factor and outcome of the current situation. The current lockdown has been the worse for me. There seems to be no end to this all …. It gets stressful thinking about everything, the financial issues, the future of everything ….. The way I have tried to limit my stress is to take everything day by day and not to focus too much on the unknown, to find my ‘happy place’…
My ‘Happy Place’ can change day by day, depending on the way I feel. I tend to be ‘good to myself’ – not push myself to the limits. However, what I have found from past stressful situations, I always tend to go to my crafting. Crafting has been a lifeline to me for many situations. Sitting down, and quietly creating something beautiful, seeing it emerge by your hands, something that can be treasured and remembered in the future on how it came about. Finding the time to relax and do something that we enjoy doing to help is important. It is so important to look after ourselves – we are in charge of our well-being and self-care.
During this last lockdown, I have found spinning to be my current ‘happy place’. I find it so relaxing and therapeutic to be at the wheel, listening to the whirl of the wheel as it goes around with my treadling and spinning the fibre into yarn. It is so satisfying to start with sheep fleece and spin it into yarn that can then be knitted/crocheted with. I have created something practical. There is a great sense of satisfaction to have started with a sheep fleece and creating it into a wearable item. To me, it is using my ‘downtime/de-stress time’ to do something worthwhile and practical. It may seem unpractical to some. why spin your own yarn when you can buy it? But it is my way of relaxing, grounding my inner self and de-stressing myself when I find stressed or overwhelmed … ‘my happy place’.
Alyssa has also found the current situation stressful and I am so thankful that she enjoys crafting as well. Her crafting interests are different from mine. Her ‘happy place’ during this lockdown has been drawing, she draws portraits of the old silence movie/black & white actresses (ones I have never heard of and I have no idea how she finds them all) as well as well-known singers of the past. She is self-taught and spends hours drawing these portraits in either pencil or watercolour. Her skill in drawing and painting has improved over time as she fine tunes her already amazing drawing talent. Her needle felting has also played an important part in helping her to relax and unwind.
It is not just crafting that helps when we may feel stressed. Exercise or walking is another great way to combat stress. I have often experienced that if I am feeling stressed, a good walk really helps. Even on a chilly, windy day, it helps to blow the cobwebs away, the chill seems to clear the head and freshen up your mind. Maybe not as much if it is raining …. Yet, I have walked in the rain when feeling stressed and found that it seemed to have the effect of washing away the feelings. When I lived in New Zealand, we lived by the seaside. There were many a time that I would go and sit on the beach and listen to the waves crashing on the rocks and the sound of the gulls. There is nothing quite like walking on a deserted beach in bad weather to really cleanse and clear the mind and soul. Living in the country here has been a great stress relief. I feel so thankful to be able to walk up the lane, which is narrow and very deserted, surrounded by large open fields where Holly can explore and hunt out all the rabbit holes. It gladdens the heart and soul being surrounded by the glories of mother nature and watching how the seasons change the surrounding countryside. Nature seems to have a calming effect.
I have found that if I am really stressed, then I lose my appetite and just can’t eat anything. Yet, for others, stress causing the opposite effect. The common ‘go to’ food seems to be everything that is unhealthy for us, indulging in a box of chocolates, a tub of ice cream or everything ‘forbidden’ food there is. Whatever way stress affects our eating habits, we need to remember that sometimes we do need to treat ourselves, to be good to ourselves (we deserve it) but to find that ideal balance to eat sensibly.
I think one of the most important things to remember when we (or others) are feeling stressed, is to feel comfortable enough to talk openly about feeling or being stressed. Stress is not to be buried in the closet like a shameful issue. We all get stressed. It is good to share our coping mechanisms. If something works for you, then it may help someone else who is feeling stressed.
Crafts can be a great tool in helping us when we feel stressed, especially when we can gather together in a safe place and share our feelings. When I started doing classes here at home, I never thought they would mean so much, far more than just a group of ladies gathering together to share a love of crafting. Those sessions became therapy, a safe place where we would gather together and find time for ourselves. The kettle was put on, baking brought out and the crafting put aside. There was many a time when there was no crafting done. The look on a person’s face when they turned up for the class, was enough to know that what they needed more than crafting was being able to feel safe, talk and express themselves and allow others to help, offer advice or a listening ear, just simple support and understanding is all that is needed at times. I have lost count at how many times the classes have been therapy sessions, with the ‘thank you’ afterwards, on how much they needed that and it helped to relief the stress they were experiencing.
If we have somewhere to go, where we feel safe and able to take time out for ourselves, then we need to ensure that we do this when we need to find ‘our happy place’. It is hard at the moment; as social gatherings are not allowed. This makes it truly difficult, as I think that with all that is going on at the moment in the world, having social gatherings are doubly important, for our mental and physical wellbeing. Many of us live alone and have been isolating for nearly a year and have not ventured out as much as we were used to.
I know that as a person, I love my own company and even as a child, I loved nothing more than playing by myself. My mother told me (when I was an adult) that I used to get very stressed as a child, to the point where she had to give me a day off school once in a while, in order for me to de stress and just recharge myself. I have fond memories of playing for hours behind the sofa in the lounge, building cities and farms with my Lego, toy cars and animals (I was not a girly girl). I didn’t really know the reason why as I was so young, but those memories stay with me as it was ‘my happy place’. As I got older, I got interested in crafting, learning to sew on the machine when I was 7yrs and then learning to knit, crochet and do cross stitch.
When the first lockdown came, I thought that it was a dream come true – being on our own, spending the days without people and doing what we wanted. It didn’t last for long. Even if we prefer to be on our own, we still need contact with others. No amount of crafting on our own can replace human contact.
So, how does this blog connect stress awareness and Nifty Needles? I feel that a great way to become more aware of stress and how to combat it, would be by hosting some free zoom sessions, where we can ‘come together’, virtually and make time for ourselves to relax and reconnect. I will have more details on those sessions on my Facebook page and will have the link for booking onto them on the website.
I also want to ‘stress’ the role that crafting can play in helping us to relax and recharge our batteries when we are feeling stressed. There are some great craft kits available on the website that is a brilliant way to help us relax and find time for ourselves. Even learning a new skill or craft is a great way help combat stress. At the beginning of 2020, Alyssa and I enrolled in a ceramics course at the tech. I wanted to find something that we could do to ensure that we took time out for ourselves. There were times when, the last thing I wanted to do, after teaching long workshops all week, was to go out in the evening (my only free evening in the week) to do a course. But, I am so glad that we made the effort and went there, even if we would rather be at home in front of the television. Once we got there and started creating, the stress just seemed to fall off. After 2.5 hours of playing with the clay we felt so much better. I also think it was also a bonus when we saw the finished product that we had. We got out, learnt new skills, and were able to ‘lose ourselves’ and relax.
How do you respond to stress? What are the ways that you have found that help you to relax and combat skill? It is a good opportunity to share your stress relief solutions to others.
So why not, make April the month where you ensure you take time out for yourself, do some crafting and just relax and be good to yourself. Learn to notice the warning signs that you are stressed and take yourself out of the equation, even if it is only for a walk, curling up with a book or doing some crafting. Check out our website and the craft kits we have available and learn a new skill – https://niftyneedles.com/shop/