Stressed? Find the Antidote at Your Local Library
Insights into health initiatives in libraries by Paula Younger, Librarian at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, Weston-super-Mare, UK.
You’ve probably seen those monthly feel-good calendars from Action for Happiness. They might show up on your Facebook feed or be shared by thoughtful friends and colleagues. The helpful tips often include taking your mind off things stressing you out.
And one recommendation is often to “get away from it all.” Well, what better way to get away from it all, without the stress of airports, ferries, traffic jams, or any other form of transport, than through a good book?
Of course, modern libraries don’t only deal in books — there’s so much more in a typical library collection to help your stress levels. And what better time to start than during Stress Awareness Month?
Causes of Stress
Stress is sometimes called a modern disease. Our ancestors will almost certainly have been familiar with it, though, even if they didn’t call it “stress.” The NHS site explains how stress is how the body reacts when we experience pressure.
That pressure can have many causes. A few reasons might be feeling overwhelmed by “big tasks,” struggling with finances, relationships, illness, or disease, or thinking the worst will happen.
How Did Stress Awareness Month Start?
Stress Awareness Month is a global event. The founder was Carol Spiers of the International Stress Management Association (ISMA). The two years of the pandemic have been stressful, so tips are welcome.
The current Stress Awareness Month focus is trust, diversity, inclusion, and changing habits — which takes 30 days, apparently. You can find out more here.
Effects of Stress
A tiny bit of low-level stress can motivate us to make changes or get started on a project. It’s when it gets out of hand that it can cause problems.
The ways stress shows up might include headaches, high blood pressure, upset stomach, anxiety and depression, and even panic attacks. Your medical professional can suggest ways to help you cope.
National Health Service Libraries, UK
Staff and students on-site at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, UK, might like to reduce stress by peeking at the nature images on display. You’ll see many pale greens and pinks — did you know they can be two of the most stress-busting colours out there? (Some shades of blue also work well.)
Visitors can also take time out in the small but perfectly formed well-being area with specially selected books and comfy chairs. (Three guesses what colour the chairs are!)
In both NHS libraries and public libraries, the Reading Well collections really come into their own during Stress Awareness Month. There are eBooks as well as print titles available for some titles.
Public Libraries in Somerset, England
Public library members can also tap into a collection of magazines on everything from mindfulness to yoga and gardening to how to look after pets. (Yes, I may just have given away a few personal interests there!)
Members can now access free Open Educational Resources items via a LibrariesWest website if they like. They include books and articles by lecturers, doctors, and other specialists. There’s plenty to keep any reader busy — over 160 stress awareness articles in the last six months (980 for stress management).
And now, visitors to some of the more extensive public libraries can even check their blood pressure machines in the well-being areas. With the NHS Health Coaches on hand every weekday morning, they’ve been able to open conversations about health with a range of visitors.
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Taking a Break
Well, all that knowledge is a fabulous thing, but what about stress busters?
- Take a walk in the fresh air, even just around the block. Or the library. Depending on the season, keep an eye out for things you can see depending on the season — Somerset spring sees bluebells, late snowdrops, and lilac-colored campanula peeping out from the walls. Look up to see magnolia trees and some early cherry blossoms.
- Meditate for 5 minutes. Many meditation teachers suggest thinking of something like a candle flame, a fire, a tree, or even your favourite book cover. Close your eyes and try to see it again in your mind’s eye. Concentrate on the colours as vivid as possible. Set a timer if you’re worried about drifting away or nodding off to sleep.
- Have a cup of green tea — it’s soothing and packed with antioxidants. These are catechins or epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG); if you want to impress the science teacher. The substances help protect your cells.
- You could also enjoy a healthy snack — even a couple of squares of dark chocolate. Studies show this also contains antioxidants and micronutrients, and apparently, it can help you think better.
- After all that hydration and healthy snacking, a gentle stretch can also help lower stress levels. It’s so easy to get stuck behind a desk or screen for hours that an antidote can be eased into a couple of stretches. Make sure you don’t strain. You could just raise your arms above your head as much as possible for a few seconds. Or you could pull your shoulders back or move each ankle clockwise and then anticlockwise gently for a few seconds.
- You can also try breathing consciously. Breathe in for five counts, as deeply as possible; hold for a count of two; out for five; hold for two, and repeat a couple of times. Another breathing option that requires a little more space and works best if you stand up. Hold your arms out at shoulder height, breathe in and raise your arms above your head; hold for a count of two, and then breathe out as you lower your arms to your sides. Repeat as required.
You should find you’re a little bit less stressed, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
So, after all that stress management and awareness, here’s hoping it’s time to bounce into spring!