To mark Stress Awareness Day 2023, I’ve teamed up with The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (NUTH) to talk to you about how their upcoming Mental Health Strategy can help to tackle why it can be so stressful to visit or be admitted to hospital. I’ll also be providing some tips and advice for both those struggling with anxiety in this way and those staff who are caring, helping, and supporting these people…

How Do You Define Stress If It’s Different for Everyone?

Since I began working in the online/digital side of the mental health industry in 2013, I have known that there are far too many instances where the way you word something can be incredibly powerful and influential – in the worst way, and in the best way. This means that to talk about defining something in this area, it can feel like a bit of a minefield because you can be so unsure which route to take – which one will have the least carnage. Which will damage the least amount of people. And which will be the most effective and efficient in really translating the message you’re trying to get across to whatever audience you have.

My thoughts on this challenging area of blogging in the mental health industry was really an inspiration for my blog’s title. Going through the traumatic abuse I experienced when I was younger there wasn’t a single moment where I felt any less than completely alone. For so many reasons, I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening to me and the worry someone would find my diary was intense enough to totally detract me from even writing about it and being able to process things in there. And so, when the memories of the abuse began to cause a deterioration in my mental health and I made my first suicide attempt, I still felt that I couldn’t tell anyone – couldn’t explain why I was feeling the way I was feeling, thinking the things I was thinking, and behaving the way I was behaving. That inability to really communicate these things properly meant that mental health professionals very obviously (and completely understandably) struggled to provide me with decent care, help, treatment, and support.

In 2009, I finally reported the abuse during my second psychiatric hospital admission when I was under the detention of the 1983 Mental Health Act and had been transferred to the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). In finally opening myself up to the mental health professionals, I found they became more understanding and appreciative of just how much I was struggling; however, there was still an essence of stigma and so, I chose to brand my blog; I’m NOT Disordered as a nod towards those who consider a person with a mental health diagnosis to be truly defined by their illnesses.

It was then through my blogging that I came to recognise how helpful writing/typing was for my mental health and how much I benefited from the notion that I was able to put something difficult, upsetting, overwhelming and/or traumatic, into words. Into a way where others might actually, even just in the smallest of ways, grasp what I mean. And so, for such a long time, whether others could appreciate why I felt the way I felt and why I did the things I did was one of the most important aspects in my life. I didn’t just benefit from validation – I craved it. It was like I needed in order to function! Which is why I have a vivid memory of a blog post I wrote a very long time ago – March 23rd 2013 to be precise! It was titled ‘The One With The Headphones Analogy’ (which you can actually still read here) and in the piece, I talked about the analogy I had come up with in order to describe my experience of hearing voices/auditory hallucinations in a way which I hoped would be more easily understood by others. And by ‘others’ I mean literally everyone else in the world because even someone who also hears voices can experience them in a completely different way. So, in the post I talked about how, for me, hearing voices was like wearing headphones so that the sound is coming through your ears, but somehow seems to take up the entire inside of your head. And boy did it feel good when I received lots of feedback reassuring me that the analogy had been helpful and that – those closest to me – felt like they can better support me now too!

So, having learnt all of this about how different mental health can be amongst people and how important it can be to find the right words; when I thought I’d start off this blog post with a definition or description of stress, I quickly realised that might be a little unreasonable and inefficient… However, I did find this bit from the World Health Organization (WHO):

… stress is a natural human response when we face challenges or threats in our lives. It can be defined as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress can manifest itself in various ways, including physical, emotional, and behavioural symptoms. Some common signs of stress include anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping.

Stress can be managed through various techniques such as regular exercise, yoga, and meditation. In severe cases, medication like antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can be used.

Please note that stress is a complex condition that affects individuals differently. If you are experiencing symptoms of stress, it is important to seek professional help from a qualified healthcare provider…

5 Tips to Coping with The Stress of Attending Accident & Emergency (A&E)

1.       Where practical; take entertainment e.g., an iPad, book, a puzzle book etc.  

2.       If any of your regular medication will be due shortly, take them with you

3.       Don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything A&E staff could be doing to help relieve the stress

4.       Prepare psychologically and literally for it being a long wait/to be in A&E for a while

5. utilise therapy techniques such as self-soothing or doing subtle breathing techniques

     5 Tips to Coping with The Stress of Visiting a Patient/Loved One

1.       Consider what will help to plan to do afterwards – something positive or some quiet time

2.       Hold onto happy, funny memories with them to avoid only thinking of them as poorly

3.       Ensure you have the practicalities correct e.g., visiting times and rules on wearing a mask etc

4.       Take them something you can both enjoy e.g., a puzzle book or a game or something edible!

5.       Use grounding techniques to avoid your visit triggering memories of your own admissions

5 Tips to Coping with Stress as An Inpatient

1.       Where practical and possible, don’t be afraid to take some of your own things into hospital

2.       Use headphones and other distractions and activities to block out any horrible noises

3.       Utilise small and subtle (but affective) therapeutic self-soothing techniques

4.       Keep in touch with family and friends to help with stress related to feelings of isolation

5.       No question is too stupid to ask the staff, if it’ll help you to know the answer; then ask it!

5 Tips to Coping with Stress as an Outpatient Attending Appointments

1.       Ensure you have all of the practical elements organised – even the travel time to the hospital

2.       Write down any questions you’ve thought of prior to the appointment

3.       Be prepared for the facilitator of your appointment to be running behind schedule

4.       Bring refreshments in case your appointment is delayed, or they decide to admit you/run tests

5.       Where appropriate – take painkillers or other necessary medication prior to the appointment

5 Tips to Supporting Someone Struggling with Stress

1.       Allow them control over as much as possible in their visit or admission to hospital

2.       Where practical, check whether a quieter place would help the person

3.       Encourage them to seek professional help and advice where necessary/appropriate

4.       Encourage them to use grounding techniques or self-soothing activities

5.       Provide general reassurance, comfort, and validation



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