Does just the mention of the word Brexit send your stress levels soaring? If so, you’re not alone. New research shows that two thirds of Brits are more stressed overall than they were five years ago, with a third of people now citing current affairs like global warming, pollution and Brexit as a considerable source of that stress.
These are the findings of the recent Headspace British State of Mind survey, exploring how stress affects people living and working in Britain. The research, commissioned by global meditation and mindfulness company, Headspace, explores our common stress triggers and the coping mechanisms we use to try and keep ourselves healthy and balanced.
Not surprisingly, what we may regard as typical stressors – money worries, work pressures and family issues – all continue to top the list of things we say make us anxious.
But what is most interesting is how current affairs are also causing us stress, now more so than ever. Place those typical triggers of money and work worries against the current backdrop of political uncertainty in Britain, for example, and it naturally adds up to anxious times for the British population. Out of top current affairs issues, 70 per cent of people said Brexit was the thing that made them feel most stressed, most keenly felt in the younger generations – the GenZs and Millennials.
How we feel stress, what triggers it, and how we cope with it is a uniquely personal thing. No matter how big or small the cause, the physical and psychological effects can be the same.
Stress itself is not the issue; everyone feels stressed some of the time. In fact, it’s just the body’s temporary reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It’s what helped human beings survive as a species. However, if we feel chronically stressed all of the time it can create detrimental physical, mental and emotional symptoms.
Stress can make us more moody and irritable, less able to concentrate at work, less motivated and energetic than usual. Women report feeling more affected by stress than men, with weight gain, insomnia and skin problems like acne a result of feeling under pressure.
So how are we coping with feelings of stress? It may be that we do the very British thing of ‘putting the kettle on’ and having a cup of tea or coffee. With 9 out of 10 people saying lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress, this just leads to a self-perpetuating cycle of misery.
But there is one coping mechanism that is increasingly being shown to have significantly beneficial effects on our stress levels, and overall health: meditation. Meditation has been around for thousands of years. Once seen as the preserve of saffron-robed monks, it’s only now that its health benefits are being recognised by the medical profession and scientists.
In fact, Headspace has the largest body of research on meditation and mindfulness with more than 65 evidence-based research studies completed or currently in progress. Results to-date remain overwhelmingly positive as to the material benefits of meditation on health and happiness demonstrating that Headspace reduces stress, improves focus, increases compassion and even reduces aggression.
Learning how to practice meditation and mindfulness is becoming more accessible and mainstream thanks to technology like apps and smartphone use. For example, mindfulness is being taught in classrooms and meditation practiced in boardrooms. While just one in four people surveyed said they practiced mindfulness or meditation, half of the respondents said they recognised the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and 70 per cent said they wished they could take up a mindfulness or meditation habit.
With the growing popularity of apps like Headspace, mindfulness and meditation have become more easily accessible, putting stress relief at our fingertips. It’s now seen as something that can be practiced in the home or on the commute or in the lunch break at work. It only takes minutes, but the benefits are clear: improved focus, reduction in stress, and stronger relationships.
In fact, we’re pioneering even more ways to incorporate meditation into medicine. Through our new subsidiary, Headspace Health, we are on-track to deliver the world’s first prescription meditation app in 2020 when we anticipate our first product in a portfolio of newly developed, clinically-validated and FDA-cleared meditation programs specifically designed to treat a broad range stress-related chronic diseases.
Mindfulness and meditation look set to become a more recognised part of how our society grows and develops. One example is the launch of the Headspace Mindful Cab experience – a London black cab that gives passengers the opportunity to meditate while commuting – and is just the start of how more mindful approach can be easily integrated into everyday life. It’s a novel idea but one that looks set to take off as the nation embraces mindfulness and meditation as a way of riding the pressures of daily life and the choppy waters of the current political landscape.
Dr Megan Jones Bell is Chief Science Officer at Headspace