The first of this month marked National Stress Awareness day, which aims to reduce the stigma around stress, and to make people aware of its effects.

Unfortunately I don’t think any of us will be immune to experiencing stress, but if, like me, you might find it hard to sum it up into a handy concise definition, according to Stevan Hobfoll, PhD, chair at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, “Stress is caused by the loss or threat of loss of the personal, social and material resources that are primary to us. So, threat to self, threat to self-esteem, threat to income, threat to employment and threat to our family or our health”.

The annoying thing about stress is that it can often be self-perpetuating, as long-term stress can have an impact on both the quality and length of a life, causing and exacerbating both mental and physical illness. I've spoken before about the ways in which self-care has been commodified, many appropriate and understandable reactions to highly stressful situations are pathologized, and people are being gaslighted to believe that the stress they feel is due to a lack of healthy coping mechanisms, or a flaw in their personality.

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The onus for relieving stress for too long has been individualised and turned into yet another avenue for corporations to squeeze us for cash. A great deal of stress in this country comes from being overworked, underpaid, and ruled by a revolving door of reprobates who actively work against the best interests of their constituents, the planet and humanity as a whole.

In order to reduce stress, we have to address our needs, or to have them addressed by others. Often it’s not a case of ignoring or distracting from the issues and problems causing us so much stress, but to actively take the necessary steps to try and fix things. I’m more than a little sick of seeing mental health campaigns from the government that do not propose practical solutions for the issues causing stress, for example raising the minimum wage to match the real living wage, which would start to alleviate the suffering of at least one million people in Scotland who are currently living in poverty.

The Herald:

Making healthcare more accessible should also be a priority, as 18,390 people in Scotland died last year while on NHS waiting lists. Improving mental health outcomes for the general population goes hand in hand with addressing their basic needs, and for anyone reading not convinced by the humanitarian justifications for trying to alleviate the stress of others, consider that Champion Health reports that in just one year, the treatment for stress-related illness requiring inpatient treatment cost the UK £8.13billion.

Combating stress starts with targeting the root causes, not just treating the symptoms. Nobody should have to worry about feeding themselves, finding a safe place to live, heating their homes, or having violence perpetrated in their name, especially not in a country which purports to be progressive and forward thinking.

Stress shouldn't be normalised, and accepted as something everyone should have to endure as part of their daily life, and yet for many people around the world, every day represents a stressful, even traumatic battle to endure and survive.

If someone is stressed because they’re in an active war zone and are just trying to live through the next few hours, there is no amount of self-care, meditation or mindfulness which can help alleviate their stress, and the only way to even begin healing is for the conflict to stop.

I know there will be a great many people reading this who will be horrified and stressed about the humanitarian crisis currently happening in the middle east; some may even have family or friends trapped and unable to escape or to have their basic needs met, and most of us will have seen the devastating images of trauma, violence and death representing a lasting legacy of pain and suffering.

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What happens when millions of people share a collective anxiety for something entirely outwith their control, something they can’t solve, or change? Being unable to do much to help or support, to alleviate suffering, can cause a discrepancy between desperately wanting to act, and being unable to effect change in any real way.

It is in this gap, this loss of control, that people feel their most powerless. While we are privileged enough that the conflict isn’t happening in Scotland, the ripple effects of trauma and stress felt across the world cannot be understated. Hundreds of thousands of people across the world, including world leaders and humanitarian organisations, are calling for a ceasefire, even the First Minister of this country who ostensibly has more power than anyone in Scotland, but due to political structures outwith our control, these voices are going unheard, these calls are going unanswered.

The people who actually have the power to speak on behalf of the UK continually deny the need for a ceasefire, even on the day they recognised both the devastating human cost of conflict, and the lasting legacy of an armistice. Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.”

While this is a beautiful sentiment, I would go one step further and say sometimes we must be the helpers, as far as we are able. One of the best ways to combat collective anxiety is to take collective action, no matter how small the individual contributions may seem. Donating money, time, an ear or a voice, is more important than ever in an age of governmental apathy.

Taking the anxiety we feel and turning it into positive action is sometimes the best way to relieve stress, for ourselves, the people around us, and the global community. Those of us with the privilege of a voice, and of relative safety must speak, and hold to account the people who have the power to make change.