Has stress become a part of your life? Over a third of my clients come to see me because they are stressed, anxious and suffering from insomnia. So, let’s take a look at what stress is and how we can make simple changes to beat it.
What is stress?
Firstly, I’d like to point out that stress is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. It was intended as a survival mechanism and worked brilliantly for our ancestors in alerting them to danger and giving our bodies the means to stand and fight or run away when danger was present.
This ‘Fight or flight’ mode is primarily a physical response, releasing a complex mix of stress hormones to prepare the body for action. The heart starts pounding as blood is diverted to the muscles, fast breathing gives us a boost of energy, and anything non-essential like the digestion system is shut down allowing us to focus our attention and respond quickly to the danger.
In the modern world, the ‘fight or flight’ mode can still help us survive dangerous situations, such as a quick reaction to a person running in front of our car, allowing us to slam on the brakes.
The challenge is when our body goes into a state of chronic or long-term stress. Stress manifests itself when we’re under pressure due to life's difficulties or change, and we feel like we can’t cope. When we are stressed the body produces more stress hormones; adrenaline and cortisol, and this increases your blood pressure so you might sweat more, get that tense feeling or become restless.
Constant stress can cause things like headaches or stomach problems. Mentally and emotionally stress can make it hard to concentrate or think clearly, and you might get brain fog, angry or frustrated. It can even lead to depression.
If you think you might be suffering from stress, try one of these seven steps.
1. Talk it out
If you are suffering from stress, talk to people about how you’re feeling. Studies have shown that verbalising feelings reduces the fight or flight response. Make sure that you surround yourself with positive people who are willing to listen, understand and not judge you.
Talking about your problems can also help you deal with them better. For example, you may learn more about the perspectives of other people and gain ideas on how to deal with whatever you have going on right now. Sometimes, however, you may just want to talk about anything to take your mind off things for a while.
Excessive stress is often caused by too much working or worrying. Try to reserve some time for yourself on a daily basis. Meditation is excellent for reducing stress and as little as 10 minutes a day can have a huge impact.
Meditation is like working out, but for the health of your brain instead of your body. Find a quiet a spot where no one would bother you, such as your bedroom, and relax. Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes. Then with each in-breath, count to from 1 to 10, and repeat. If your mind wanders and you lose count, just start again from 1. Before you begin, set an alarm so you can relax and lose yourself in your breathing instead of focusing on the time.
To boost the effect, you can add aromatherapy oils to your practice. Using Lavender or peppermint essential oil is a good way to relieve stress.
Otherwise known as getting out in nature, Ecotherapy is becoming increasingly popular; the fresh air, sunlight, and greenery help you to feel better and put things in perspective.
Stepping away from a stressful situation with a brisk walk outside gives you the opportunity to exercise your stress away while getting some fresh air. One study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that green spaces can have a particularly calming effect on a person’s state of mind. Instead of worrying, step outside — even for five minutes. You’ll feel better, regardless of the outcome of the stressful situation.
You can also make use of your own garden. The process of planting and growing is a great stress buster.
4. Change your Breathing
When we are stressed, we tend to breathe faster, taking more shallow breaths naturally. This type of breathing puts our body in a state of ‘stress’ as our heart has to work more quickly than is healthy.
To counteract this, the best thing you can do is make a conscious effort to slow down your breathing and breathe from the lower part of your abdomen (your diaphragm) by taking in enough air to fill your lungs and raise your belly. This exercise literally slows down your heart rate and relieves the physical symptoms of stress.
This simple strategy is a powerful stress fighter. It helps you:
Lower stress hormones
Lower your heart rate
Bring down your blood pressure
5. Develop mindfulness
Stress is caused by worrying about the future or the past. When we are mindful, we concentrate on the present moment. In this way, we are less likely to get caught up in stressful thoughts and better able to consider our options carefully. Being present is a skill you can develop, like strengthening a mindfulness muscle.
When you live in the moment, you open options to how to deal with the present situation. For example, the common saying, "Accept the things you cannot change” is, in fact, good advice when it comes to stress. Reflect on whether you can change what is causing you stress. If it’s something out of your control, then you should try to accept it.
Just about any event in life can cause stress, depending on whether it’s interpreted as a challenge or a threat. If you feel threatened by a situation, you’ll be stressed. But if you instead view it as a challenge — or an opportunity to overcome adversity — you may be able to transform some of your stress into positive energy. So, practice being mindful and accepting your stress as a challenge — and have confidence that you can overcome that challenge.
6. Make sleep a priority
Don't forget the importance of sleep. If you don’t sleep, you will be more prone to stress and negativity. Make sure that you get sufficient sleep during the night, and enough rest during the day.
Give yourself the best possible chance to get some quality rest. If you are having trouble getting enough sleep, try setting up a regular sleep routine;
Turn down the lights
Turn off your tech
Have a bath
Light some candles
Read a book
Play relaxing music
Put lavender on your pillow or in your diffuser
Disconnecting from the modern world is the most important strategy on this list. If you can’t find a way to remove yourself from your work, social media or your phone then you never really switch off.
Making yourself available 24/7 exposes you to a constant stream of stress that prevents you from relaxing and recharging your batteries. If taking the entire weekend off work isn’t realistic, try designating specific times on Saturday and Sunday for checking e-mails and responding to voicemails. For example, check your messages on Saturday afternoon while your kids are getting a haircut and on Sunday evenings after dinner. Scheduling short blocks of time will alleviate stress without sacrificing availability.
'Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without' - Buddha