According to a recent survey done by YouGov, in the past year 74% of adults have felt so stressed that they are unable to cope.
That’s a serious level of stress—and in fact, the same survey reported that 16% of people who said they felt stressed had self harmed, and 32% said they had had suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Citing these statistics in a recent video on his YouTube channel, actor and activist Russell Brand points out that although ‘stress’ is a modern term, it has historic synonyms: fear, anxiety, anger, tension.
Life is stressful, he says, and perhaps it has always been stressful. Technological advancements should be creating a less stressful, more connected life, but instead we’ve merely replaced the urge to survive with a sense of alienation and despair.
“The culture we live in,” Russell says, “continually stimulates fear and desire; in fact, stress may be bad for human beings but it’s very good for consumer capitalism.”
“If this many people feel stressed, it’s somewhere between a virus and a form of social conditioning. We’re being incubated in environments that exacerbate stress.”
First, Russell points out that we need to recognise that feelings of stress and anxiety can carry important messages.
“All forms of discomfort can be interpreted as communicative,” he says.
“Anxiety is a spur to change. Anxiety and fear are communications from somewhere in the field of your being that if unheeded will cause further discomfort.”
“Belong to groups that have a shared purpose,” advises Russell.
As a former addict, he finds his support based around the recovery community, but a sense of shared purpose and connection can come from any interest—as long as it’s not competitive.
Prioritise your spiritual life—or, if you prefer the secular version, pay attention to how you feel.
If you’re a bit put off by the idea of spiritual practice, some easy ways to develop a practice of personal reflection are to take up yoga, meditation or mindfulness, or try some activities that many find meditative like gardening, knitting or drawing.
Journalling can also be a great way to build a stronger connection with your inner life and become better at recognising and letting go of your emotions. Whatever you choose, the important thing is to spend some time in a quiet space with yourself.
“Find purpose through the service of others,” Russell says.
There is research to back this up—the Mental Health Foundation reports that helping others “can help reduce stress, improve your emotional wellbeing and even benefit your physical health.”
The easiest place to start is in your daily life. Try doing something nice for the people you see everyday—coworkers, family and friends.
When you feel ready to take on a bigger commitment, the Mental Health Foundation has compiled a list of resources and simple ways to make a difference in the lives of others.
“If you are one of the millions of people suffering from anxiety, find fellowship and community, find meditative practice, find purpose through service of others. That’s just a few tools that you can use.”