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Stress test

March 14 2016
When you're homeless and unemployed, it's worth taking steps to reduce stress and maintain your self-esteem

When you're homeless and unemployed, it’s worth taking steps to reduce stress and maintain your self-esteem, says mental health nurse Chrissie Clark.

Though government figures are currently showing that unemployment may be falling, just 10–15 per cent of people who are homeless have any work at all, though many say they want to work.

Meanwhile, many are going through very stressful assessments, work programmes and benefit sanctions. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 made huge changes to the benefit system and made plans to move towards a single benefit, called Universal Credit. This was in an attempt to show the public that ‘work always pays’.

Changes to housing benefits also mean that anyone working over 16 hours a week cannot claim and this, obstructs people’s ability to get new qualifications through education with the emphasis being on prioritising work to make ends meet.

Homelessness can damage your ability to work through the loss of skills and not being able to prioritise employment because of the more immediate concern of housing and health. We also know that this can have a huge negative impact on stress levels, self-esteem and confidence.

Tips to help reduce stress

AVOID caffeine – When we feel tired and stressed, people can turn to coffee and tea to help perk them up. In fact, caffeine ignites adrenaline in our bodies. Though it may provide a temporary boost, it can cause us to feel tired and low in mood later. Continuous intake of coffee can cause us to feel as though we are in a constantly agitated state, and you may notice yourself feeling more edgy. Caffeine also increases the levels of cortisol (aka the ‘stress hormone’) in the body. Try decaffeinated tea or herbal teas that have more relaxing natural ingredients, like chamomile.

AVOID alcohol – Alcohol is a known depressant and although we can feel relaxed whilst drinking, when it begins to leave your system you may notice yourself feeling lower in mood and more anxious, in turn making everyday stresses even more difficult to deal with. Alcohol also gives us a more narrow perception of our surroundings and therefore we are able to ‘see the bigger picture’ and may just focus on the stress that a particular thing is causing us at the time

AVOID nicotine – Lots of us light up when we feel stressed and we think that it helps with stress when in fact research has shown us that nicotine actually increases our anxiety levels.

DO exercise – We know that exercise releases endorphins, also known as ‘happy hormones’. Exercise can also help relax tension in your muscles and headaches that can be caused though stress. Make sure that you find an activity or exercise that you enjoy as this will also help to take your mind off of stress for a while. Just a walk in the fresh air can help.

DO sleep – A good night’s sleep, if you can get it, helps us to recharge and helps our bodies to rest. Poor sleep will affect our memories, our mood and the way we perceive certain situations.

DO talk to others – It’s really important to share your concerns with others when feeling stressed or low in mood. Make sure that the person is someone you can trust, for an example a family member, a friend or a professional.

Tips to maintain good self-esteem:

1. Do not blame yourself – remember that you are not alone and that unemployment affects millions around the world.

2. Maintain structure to your day – when we don’t have structure in our day it can leave us feeling aimless and therefore can lead to feelings of hopelessness and low mood. Set an alarm, set a goal for each day and try to build in some stuff that you find fun too.

3. Set achievable goals – getting a new job is a big goal and can altogether feel overwhelming. Instead – try to break this down into smaller goals, e.g. work on my C.V or reading a book.

4. Volunteer – not only will this provide you with structure and a feeling of achievement but will also help to increase self esteem and provide experience when later applying for a job.

5. Network – this is something that volunteering may also offer you – the ability to meet like-minded people who also share similar interests and whom may be able to link you in with longer term and more permanent work and job opportunities.