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Alex B Cann column: 'The calm after the storm'

How are you feeling? Some new figures released this week suggested it's quite likely you'll be feeling frazzled.

We've almost made it to the end of January, and if you're paid on the last day of the month, there's only one more Monday to go! The weather has been throwing the kitchen sink at us recently, with everything from tornados to floods. I'm sure there have been more storms since they gave them daft names, but it's probably just my imagination.

A recent poll by a mental health charity has found we are becoming a "burnt-out" nation, with a "worrying number of people taking time off work due to poor mental health caused by stress". The Mental Health UK organisation called on the government to intervene, after a YouGov study revealed over a third of us faced extreme pressure from their workplace in the last year.

From a sample of 2,060 adults being grilled, over a third (35%) said they had experienced high levels of pressure at work, with 20% needing time off due to the stress they faced. The chief executive of Mental Health UK said "public attitudes and understanding towards mental health and work have changed, particularly as the workplace transformed overnight in response to the pandemic. Meanwhile, we live in unprecedented times, and life outside work has become increasingly difficult due to the cost-of-living crisis and pressures on public services, while global challenges such as climate change and artificial intelligence fuel stress, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness".

A staggering 49% of workers told the survey their employer had no plan in place to spot the signs of chronic stress. For the record, those signs include feeling tired or drained for most of the time, feeling helpless, trapped or defeated, and feeling overwhelmed. Ways to tackle stress can include taking a break, practicing self-care, setting boundaries, seeking support, and exercising.

I count myself very lucky to do a job I always dreamed of doing when I was growing up, and I don't find it particularly stressful most of the time. Hopefully the boss won't read this, but I guess it's a good test! Having said that, I have to force myself to take regular breaks from scrolling news and social media, as I think we all suffer from information overload at times. I'm not sure how helpful rolling news is, and I'd love to make some changes to our 'always on' culture In fact, company bosses sometimes think nothing of sending a fairly direct or demanding email on evenings or weekends, assuming it won't be picked up until Monday morning, but as most of us have apps on our phone for stuff like E-mail, it can really put a dampener on your day. In fact, it's illegal to E-mail 'out of office hours' in France! Staff are not supposed to send or answer messages, in what is dubbed their 'right to disconnect'.

I do think we all need to make time for ourselves, and can understand why many feel burnt out. The four-day week is certainly worth considering. I took a series of Mondays off before Christmas, and went on some day trips on the train. Not only a break from the M62, but nice to take time away from the daily routine. I also visited Harrogate's Turkish Baths and got steamy in the hot rooms, and felt fantastic after that. I've lost my love for cycling, but perhaps I'll find my motivation to get it out of the shed as the weather improves and the nights get lighter.

As there is a survey for every occasion, another was released this week by Adobe Express detailing our favourite ways to take it easy, should you need some inspiration. Top of the list is reading, followed by walking, cooking and baking, playing an instrument, taking part in sport, and journaling. Also in the top ten, writing (this column is often my therapy session, in fairness!), art, knitting and sewing, and design work. On a personal note, I can recommend getting a kitten. Colin has been an amazing addition to our household, and petting him always makes you feel less stressed.

If you think you spend too much time on your phone, by the way, you're probably right. Take a look at the "digital wellbeing" section if you have an Android, and it will tell you how long you've spent on your device today. The results might scare you! If you're reading this in print, bravo. Your eyes will thank you later.

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