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National Stress Awareness Day "How to Help a Loved One Cope with Stress" article

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It is estimated that 41% of British population feel stressed at any given time, with more than one quarter saying they've felt that way for more than a year.

On average, there are 50,000 tweets being sent about stress every single day - that's one every two seconds.

The chances are we all know someone who is suffering from stress and, being the Good Samaritans that we are, it's time to reach out and offer some emotional support.

Stress is not only unpleasant and emotionally draining, but can develop into serious physical and mental issues.

To mark Stress Awareness Day, we asked experts to get some advice on how to help a loved one who may be suffering.

"The signs of stress varies from person to person," explains Neil Shah, chief de-stressor at The Stress Management Society and author of The 10-Step Stress Solution. "But the key thing to look out for is changes in their behaviour - if someone who is normally outgoing and bubbly, suddenly becomes quiet and withdrawn, that could indicate stress."

Dr James Kustow, consultant psychiatrist at Nightingale Hospital, says: "There are various symptoms and signs associated with stress. These can be physical, mental and behavioural.

"The individual may complain of excessive tiredness, headaches or muscle tension, particularly affecting the jaw, neck and back. They may start developing signs of reduced immunity, with more frequent infections and time off work. Irritability and anger are common indicators, in addition to periods of feeling low in mood or excessively anxious.

"Very often sleep disruption is the most prominent early indicator, which in turn can compound the problem. There can be difficulty getting to sleep or regular waking in the night, often with feelings of anxiety."

Shah says that while the effects of stress tend to be gradual, significant stressful situations can have an immediate and profound impact - and that can cause a vicious circle. "If something particularly stressful happens at work, that may lead to a sleepless night. The next day that person will be tired and possibly consume a lot of caffeine, all of which can trigger more stress."

Dr Kustow says there is no one right approach in these situations, but the key is attempting to really connect with the person in a sensitive and compassionate way.

"You need to show them that you care and are prepared to take the time to understand," he says. "When you do end up having the discussion, ensure that you will not be disturbed and turn off your mobile phone. Give the person time and space they need, really listen and try to understand what is going on for them."

Shah, agrees on many of these points and recommends the 'Seven Es' approach:

Engagement: Engage in the issue and start a conversation. This will give the person a platform to express how they are feeling and from there you can see what you can do.

Exemplify: You need to be a role model and lead by example - use the 'do as I do, do as I say'. If you want someone to take you seriously.

Empower/Enable: It's all well and good sitting and talking to someone, but you need to help equip the person to help themselves. Try working on practical tips that they could take away and use themselves.

Empathise: It's important to put yourself in their shoes to better understand their point of view. Show them you've done this by using comfortable body language with them and thinking about your choice of words.

Encourage: Positive reinforcement is key. This is more than just praising, it's about interacting with people and allowing them to express themselves in a non-judgemental environment. It could be verbal or a reassuring hug, it depends on your relationship.

Embed: Help them to make sure their stress-busting techniques sustainable. Get them to think about solutions that will last and figure out the best ways to stick to them. If they are having trouble sleeping, it might be worth suggesting to switch of technology a few hours before bed to help them relax.

Evaluate: By the end of the conversation, you need to encourage them to measure success of their efforts. Schedule a catch up over a cup of tea in a few days or weeks, so you can talk about how they are getting on.

If the situation is serious or if there are concerns over mental health, experts recommend encouraging the person to speak to their GP to get specialist treatment.

Dr Kustow says this should only be done in extreme circumstances.

"Often this specialist treatment is not necessary and suggesting this course of action may increase a person's anxiety that they are 'going mad'. There is still a great deal of stigma around mental illness."

The best way to help a stressed out loved one is to offer the first level of emotional support, says Shah.

Together you can work out the best, personalised, plan of action.

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