Simple ways to reduce stress
We all live with stress. For some of us it’s work-related. For others, it’s connected to complicated relationships or financial pressures. Whatever triggers yours, the good news is that there’s plenty you can do to manage it. But first, let’s take a look at how stress affects us physically and emotionally.
Helpguide.org summarises the body’s response to stress as follows: “When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.”
And your body reacts in this way regardless of whether you’re facing a life or death situation, or you’re worried about how you’re going to make your next work deadline or deal with a difficult relationship.
So, how do you know if you’re stressed? Mayo Clinic identifies a host of symptoms that affect your body as well as your mood. These include headaches, muscle chest pain, fatigue, sleep problems, anxiety, lack of motivation, feeling overwhelmed and depression. Stress can also play out in altered behaviour resulting, according to Mayo Clinic, in over- or undereating, angry outbursts, drug or alcohol misuse, tobacco use, social withdrawal and exercising less often.
If you’re concerned that the level of stress you’re living under is affecting your health and wellbeing, here are four strategies to help you get it under control.
1. Move more
Exercise is one of the most important (if not the most important) ways to reduce stress. And it does it by lowering your levels of cortisol and adrenaline and flooding your system with endorphins that ease pain and boost your mood. The physical payoffs of exercise – strength, staying power and a slimmer physique – also do wonders for your self-esteem, which in turn empower you with a greater sense of control over your situation. The key to success is finding something you enjoy doing, whether that’s running, cycling, aerobics, dancing, yoga etc. so that it’s easier to stick to it over the long term. According to Healthline, “Activities – such as walking or jogging – that involve repetitive movements of large muscle groups can be particularly stress relieving.”
2. Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep is inextricably linked to stress and vice versa. In other words, being in a state of stress can affect your sleep patterns as well as the quality of sleep you’re getting, with the result that you become even more stressed. Fortunately, there are several relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing and listening to soothing music that can help to prepare you for a good night’s sleep. It’s also important to ensure that you:
- Avoid drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks too late in the day.
- Establish a bedtime routine that allows you to relax before you climb into bed e.g. having a warm shower, doing some simple stretches.
- Switch off electronic devices at least an hour before you turn out the lights – these not only keep your mind active, but also emit a blue light that inhibits the production of melatonin, the so-called sleep hormone.
3. Manage your time better
Life is busy. Make that incredibly busy. And you may find yourself juggling several balls – work, family, friends, health, finances etc. – at once. To avoid your stress levels spiraling out of control, it’s important that you become cognisant of how much you can handle and that you learn to say “no” when adding to your load is likely to be detrimental to your mental health and wellbeing.
4. Open up
These days, we have an almost limitless supply of information at our fingertips. But sometimes, it pays to avoid self-diagnosis and seek out professional help instead. If you’re struggling to get a handle on your stress, consider going to see a therapist who can help you identify your stress triggers and formulate a plan of action to help you manage your stress and keep it within reasonable limits.