In my last blog, I explained why stress has been called a ‘21st Century Health Epidemic’ and the effect that the way we live our lives is having on our minds and bodies. In this blog, I’ll be sharing some simple tips that can help us reduce the harmful effects of chronic stress. Just pick out 1 or 2 that seem easy to do and try them out.
Can you change what’s causing you stress?
Most of these tips concentrate on how we can better manage stress. But it’s worth asking ourselves if we can do anything to reduce it. If your job is stressing you out, can you talk to your manager or look for another job? If a relationship is causing stress, can you talk about it? If you have too much to do, can you ask for help? If you’re constantly feeling stressed, it’s worth taking a look at what’s causing it and dealing with it
Choose your response
There are many things in life we can’t control; but we can always choose our response. For example; if you’re late for work because you’re stuck in a traffic jam, you can panic and get angry; or you can let work know you’ll be late, put on your favourite tunes and sing along!
Discover your purpose
When we have a sense of purpose, we feel more fulfilled and better able to cope with things. The Japanese call this sense of purpose Ikigai. This could be through our career, looking after family or volunteering. Finding what we’re good at and doing more of it can reduce stress levels.
Connect with people
Interacting with others boosts serotonin levels in the brain. This ‘feel-good’ chemical is vital in keeping us happy and balanced and is missing in people with depression. When we’re feeling down or stressed, it’s tempting to stay home and withdraw from the world but meeting up with a friend will make you feel a lot better.
When we’re stressed, we tend to focus on all the things that are going wrong, and this only makes us feel worse. So, at the end of every day, think of everything that has gone right. Maybe you got a good parking space, or the sun was shining? Focusing on the positives will give you that important serotonin boost
Taking positive action is another way to boost serotonin. If life feels a bit overwhelming, this needs only be a small step to take you closer to where you want to be. It might be to book an exercise class, have one less glass of wine or add some fruit to your diet. Small actions lead to bigger ones.
When you do something outside your comfort zone, you increase your confidence and resilience. It may be something small like trying a new route to work or trying a new recipe, or it could be something bigger like signing up to a charity event. A few years ago, I did a sky dive. It was terrifying but amazing and for about a month afterwards I felt like I could accomplish anything! Pushing yourself a little shows you what you’re capable of
Take a Time Out
Sometimes, we get stressed out by trying to meet the needs of others instead of our own. We can feel torn between the needs of work, partners, kids or parents. It can feel selfish to take time out for yourself, but the fact is you can’t pour from an empty cup. So, prioritise some time for yourself. It may be turning your work phone off when you get home, saying no to being mum’s taxi, or having that bubble bath while your partner cooks dinner. You matter too!
That said, once you’ve taken care of yourself (remember to put your own oxygen mask on first) helping others is known to release feel-good chemicals in the brain. It doesn’t need to be time-consuming; you might just pay someone a compliment or make a colleague a cup of tea.
Be in the moment
We’re most stressed when we’re dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. To reduce stress levels, focus on the here and now. To help you do this, try something like mindfulness, meditation or even an adult colouring book. Just 10 minutes a day can reduce stress levels.
The Power of Touch
Touch can be very effective at reducing stress as well as pain levels (have you noticed how we rub an injury to feel better?) So, something like a massage, or even a good hug with a loved one can make us feel better. Scientists have found that a 20 second hug releases oxytocin, another of those feel-good chemicals in the brain!
Try Positive Affirmations
We may feel a bit silly standing in front of the mirror in the morning saying things like; ‘I’m calm, I’m in control, I got this’, but here’s why it works. The brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. So, what you tell yourself, your brain believes. Try it!
Change your internal dialogue
Because our brains can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, what we tell ourselves becomes so important. If you’re feeling nervous, reframe it as excitement. If you come across a problem, call it a challenge instead. What we tell ourselves really does make a difference.
Watch what you’re feeding your brain
One of the reasons we feel more stressed than ever is that bad news is available 24/7. We don’t have to watch the news at ten, as my grandparents did. The minute we wake up we’re on social media seeing all kinds of upsetting stories, it’s relentless. This can lead our brains to feel as though we’re under attack. So try to limit the time you spend on news, or search out some good news stories.
Get a Pet
Stroking a pet can lower your blood pressure and cuts down on the levels of stress hormones in your body. If you’re able to get a dog, you also get exercise, fresh air and social interaction. If you’re not able to get a dog, you might benefit from volunteering at a rescue centre or walking someone else’s dog.
Spend time outdoors
Even 20 minutes spent in nature can reduce your stress levels. A short walk at lunchtime can make a big difference. At weekends try and get out further. A walk in the woods or by the sea can be a stress reliever. I’m often in Yorkshire and as soon as I get out into the fields I can feel my stress melting away!
The importance of sleep can’t be emphasised enough. Sleep is our time to process the events of the day so we can start tomorrow refreshed and revitalised. Not enough sleep reduces our ability to cope. Too often, we’re on the go all day and all evening and then wonder why we can’t get to sleep. Our brains need relaxation time before sleep, so make some time to relax, turn off your phone and get ready for a good nights sleep.
Exercise is so important for reducing stress levels and releasing feel-good chemicals. Building exercise into your day will help you cope with whatever is in store. If you’re pressed for time, it doesn’t have to be anything major, even 20 minutes will make a difference. You could even dance around the kitchen while you’re cooking tea!
A large coffee at lunchtime can still be in your system at bedtime. So try reducing your caffeine and having it as early as possible, so that you get the quality sleep you need.
The same goes for alcohol unfortunately! When we’re stressed, we may want a drink to take the edge off and to help us sleep. While we may get to sleep quicker our sleep is more disturbed and we’ll wake up more often. This leads us to feel tired the next day, reach for the caffeine and so it continues. Not only that but alcohol also stops our natural production of serotonin, that feel-good chemical. So, when we’re stressed drinking alcohol is one of the worst things we can do!
Some foods can reduce the effects that too much cortisol – a stress hormone – has on the body. Too much cortisol can cause weight gain, high blood pressure and mood swings. Foods that reduce its affects include blueberries, walnuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds, so try adding these to your diet in times of stress.
Watch those unhealthy habits
When we’re feeling stressed we tend to reach for fast food, have a few drinks and skip the gym. This can then become a vicious circle, as it affects our sleep and leads to us doing the same things the next day. If we’re going through periods of stress, that’s the time to stick to healthy habits as much as possible; to help us cope.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your to-do-list, prioritise what’s important. Stephen Covey’s Time Management grid can help. When we’re stressed, it’s too easy to procrastinate with time wasting activities. Focusing on the important tasks will help us get back on track.
When you’re feeling stressed and anxious, focus on your breathing. Try the 3-4-5 method; breathe in for 3, hold for 4 and breathe out for 5. This will calm down your nervous system.
If you need some more help relaxing, try my free Hypnotherapy download! Click on this link and enter the password, stepaheadhypnotherapy2018