Stress is a term that gets thrown round a lot, but do we actually know what it means? The dictionary defines it as ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.’
Is stress all bad? Not at all. Short-term stress (think the stress you feel before a job interview or presentation) gives you a burst of adrenalin that improves your performance. Stress can:
- Boost your brainpower
- Improve your immunity
- Make you more resilient
- Motivate you to succeed
That’s why some of us work better with a deadline! It’s the same principle used with exercise. I remember doing a Jillian Michaels workout where she said, ‘we need to put some stress on the body to make it change’. With weight training, you’re literally putting stress on the muscle to make it adapt and change.
The problem comes when we’re under long-term, or chronic stress. Chronic stress can increase blood pressure, lower the immune and lead to mental and physical ill-health. This is due, in part, by the stress chemicals released in our bodies, but also by our coping mechanisms, which often involve stimulants like alcohol and sugary foods!
A 2018 study found that 74% of adults had felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt unable to cope. 32% said they’d experienced suicidal feelings as a result of stress.
I wonder what 2020 figures will show. I spoke to many people early on in lockdown who were feeling less stressed because of the slower pace of life. Yet as time has gone on, more people are worried about the economy, their families and the effects of social isolation.
So if stress is having a negative affect on you, what can you do? It boils down to 2 things; eliminate it or manage it. We can often overlook the option of getting rid of the stress, because we think it’s outside of our control. But is it? If a relationship is causing you stress can it be fixed? If it’s a job, can you leave? Maybe not immediately but putting a plan in place to change stressful circumstances can be enough to help us cope with them.
If you really can’t eliminate your stress (pandemic anyone?) then you can at least learn how to manage it better, reducing the harm it does.
Here are my top 5 tips for managing stress:
- Limit exposure to what’s causing you the stress
So if it’s the pandemic, switch off from the news; if it’s your job, turn the phone off after work, if it’s a relative, see less of them
- Build restful activity into your routine
Do whatever helps you to switch off. For some it might be meditation or mindfulness. If that’s a bit too ‘still’ for you it might be running or painting. Basically, any activity that you enjoy and where you lose track of time will do. Your brain needs rest time to process your stress
- Prioritise Sleep
When we’re stressed, especially with work, sleep is often the first thing to go. But when we sleep, we dream, and that’s where our brains process our stress. So make time for sleep and practice good sleep hygiene. You wouldn’t let your child run around playing round then expect them to fall straight to sleep. It’s the same for you. You need time to unwind and relax first.
- Build in mini-stress relievers throughout the day
If you’re stressed you might be too busy to work out or meditate for half an hour. But every little helps. So try practicing deep breathing for 5 minutes, dance round the kitchen while you’re cooking tea, play your favourite music in the car or cuddle your dog. Basically, build in short periods of time to do whatever relieves your stress.
- Nurture your body
It’s all too easy to drink more wine and coffee and live on takeaways when we’re feeling stress. But they will always make it worse! Things like alcohol and coffee really affect your mood and disrupt your sleep. If you can drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet, you will cope with your stress much better. Blueberries, almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds all help you reduce the cortisol (stress hormone) in your system.
If you need help managing your stress levels, get in touch to find out hypnotherapy can help email@example.com