Stress occurs when you perceive that demands placed on you - such as work, school or relationships - exceed your ability to cope. Some stress can be beneficial at times, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines. However, an extreme amount of stress can have health consequences, affecting the immune, cardiovascular and neuroendocrine and central nervous systems, and take a severe emotional toll.
Untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity.
But by finding positive, healthy ways to manage stress as it occurs, many of these negative health consequences can be reduced. Everyone is different, and so are the ways they choose to manage their stress. Some people prefer pursuing hobbies such as gardening, playing music and creating art, while others find relief in more solitary activities: meditation, yoga and walking.
Here are five healthy techniques that psychological research has shown to help reduce stress in the short- and long-term:
1. Take a step back
You're not a toddler, but that doesn't mean a time out doesn't apply when you're stressed. Just like in children, stress can affect our emotions and how we behave, as well as our physical and mental health. Stress might make you become irritable or short tempered, easily upset or agitated. When you start noticing that stress is affecting how you feel or behave, it might be time to step away and spend a few minutes just focusing on yourself. Time outs don't have to just be reactive: proactively build some 'you time' into your schedule each week, allowing yourself to do something enjoyable whilst looking after your health.
Stressful situations increase the level of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in your body. These are the "fight or flight" hormones that evolution has hard-wired into our brains and which are designed to protect us from immediate bodily harm when we are under threat. However, stress in the modern age is rarely remedied by a fight or flight response, and so physical exercise can be used as a surrogate to metabolize the excessive stress hormones and restore your body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state. When you feel stressed and tense, go for a brisk walk in fresh air. Try to incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine on a regular basis, be it strength exercise, aerobic, yoga or the like, either before or after work, or at lunchtime. Regular physical activity will also improve the quality of your sleep.
3. Get more sleep
A lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress. Unfortunately, though, stress also interrupts our sleep as thoughts keep whirling through our heads, stopping us from relaxing enough to fall asleep. Rather than relying on medication, your aim should be to maximise your relaxation before going to sleep. Make sure that your bedroom is a tranquil oasis with no reminders of the things that cause you stress. Avoid caffeine during the evening, as well as excessive alcohol if you know that this leads to disturbed sleep. Stop doing any mentally demanding work several hours before going to bed so that you give your brain time to calm down. Try taking a warm bath or reading a calming, undemanding book for a few minutes to relax your body, tire your eyes and help you forget about the things that worry you. You should also aim to go to bed at roughly the same time each day so that your mind and body get used to a predictable bedtime routine.
4. Get social support -
Just talking to someone about how you feel can be helpful. Talking can work by either distracting you from your stressful thoughts or releasing some of the built-up tension by discussing it. Stress can cloud your judgement and prevent you from seeing things clearly. Talking things through with a friend, work colleague, or even a trained professional, can help you find solutions to your stress and put your problems into perspective.
If you haven't tried mindfulness, meditation or relaxation exercises yet, there's no better time to start. Scientifically proven to help decrease and manage stress, and promote mental wellbeing, these tools are useful for when you're experiencing stress and as prevention tools in times when you're not feeling well. There are many programs, websites, books and apps to help you practise these exercises. Thinking of positive phrases such as "calm", "relax", "serenity" will help calm the mind, conversely guided meditation program will assist in create a positive yet simple framework to drift in and out of.
So next time you are feeling more pressure than you feel you can handle, guide yourself through our checklist and you will find in no time that you will be full of energy again and ready to take on the next challenge with positivity and optimism!
*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.