A latest survey conducted by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) has highlighted that the number of Australians reporting distress, anxiety and depression is the highest it has been in the last 5 years, and concurringly, a significant proportion of them were engaging in risky behaviours to manage this heightened distress.
The annual survey provides a snapshot of Australians’ wellbeing, revealing the major causes of stress and the activities used by people to cope. For the fifth year in a row, the survey has underlined a worrying trend that the people reporting the most significant distress were the most likely to engage in potentially risky behaviours such as drinking alcohol (61%), gambling (41%), smoking (40%) and recreational drug use (30%) to manage that distress. Even more concerningly, the majority of respondents in this group nominated these practices as ‘effective stress management strategies’.
Among respondents that reported extremely severe depression, 57% drank alcohol, 46% gambled, 41% smoked and 38% took recreational drugs to manage stress. The figures among respondents that reported extremely severe anxiety were even higher, with two-thirds (66%) drinking alcohol, more than half (54%) gambling and just under half smoking (45%) and taking recreational drugs (47%) to cope.
For this vulnerable group, these strategies are particularly risky, considering that drinking, smoking, gambling and drug use can lead to problematic overuse or addiction, further exacerbating their physical and mental health, as well as increasing stress as a result of their potential impact on personal finances.
This suggests that for this group these ‘stress management’ strategies are creating a vicious cycle where the coping mechanisms to combat stress are actually leading to greater distress and deteriorating mental (and physical) health on the long term.
Some healthy tips for managing stress:
1. Identify warning signs
Try watching out for the changes in behaviour, as well as physical symptoms of stress (headaches, tensing of the jaw, etc.). These can vary from person to person.
2. Identify triggers
There are often known triggers that raise our stress levels – knowing what these are can help you anticipate them, practice calming yourself beforehand or event find ways or removing or lessening the triggers.
3. Establish routines
Having routines helps structure your days and makes them more predictable. In particular, scheduling times for relaxation, exercise and regular meals can help you better manage stress.
4. Look after your health
Make sure you are looking after your physical health by eating healthily and getting regular exercise. Take time out to do the things you enjoy, that are calming or are uplifting.
5. Notice your ‘self-talk’
Pay attention to the words you use when you are experiencing stress. You might be thinking or saying unhelpful thoughts that make you feel worse (“I can’t cope”, “I can’t do it”). Try instead using phrases that are reassuring while acknowledging the challenges ahead (“I’m doing okay, given the circumstances”) and take time out to breathe.
6. Spend time with people who care
Opening up and sharing how you feel with someone is an important part of managing stress. Spend quality time with the people you are about and don’t be afraid to be honest about how you are travelling.
7. Practice relaxation
Consciously take time out to relax. This can take many forms, from doing an activity that you enjoy and takes your mind off stressful thoughts to learning a formal relaxation technique such as meditation.
Make sure you get enough sleep. Poor sleeping patterns increase the likelihood of mental health problems.
– Generation Next
Adapted from the Australian Psychological Society