Stress is a sensation everyone experiences at some point. It can be sudden, intense, overwhelming and even horrible. Stress is often short-lived, such as sitting an exam, being in an accident or having a disagreement. But stress can also be a lower grade, longer-lasting problem which infiltrates every day – and, over time, puts you at higher risk of major medical conditions such as depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.
If you’re living with high levels of stress, you’re putting your entire well-being at risk. Stress wreaks havoc on your emotional equilibrium, as well as your physical health. It narrows your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and enjoy life. It may seem like there’s nothing you can do about stress. The bills won’t stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and your work and family responsibilities will always be demanding. But you have a lot more control than you might think.
- Get the right amount of sleep – Too much sleep may put you behind the curve and make your day harder, but too little stress may set your nerves on edge.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and sugar – Coffee, nicotine, and energy drinks keep you tense and make it very hard to calm down when in a stressful situation. Alcohol may seem to make you feel calmer at first, but the overall effect is poorer functioning. When you aren’t at peak performance, challenges seem even more stressful. Too much sugar can boost your energy too quickly and then send you into a crash later. This can make you feel sluggish and unable to manage small tasks.
- Get physical – Exercise helps relieve tension. If the thought of going to the gym makes you cringe, try taking a long walk.
- Get into nature – Research shows that being in a natural environment improves the body’s functioning and decreases stress levels.
- Have a heart-to-heart with a friend – Talking to a friend can help with stress management in two ways. First, it gives you a chance to release tension that has built up during the day. Second, you can talk about other things to distract yourself from the stress.
- Take a class or read a book about time management – When you manage your time effectively, your day seems less rushed. Tasks seem easier to accomplish, and your schedule really is more manageable.
- Don’t say ‘yes’ to everything – Saying no sometimes can keep you from overbooking yourself on too many tasks. You may need help learning to say ‘no’ if you feel obligated to do everything that’s asked of you. Or, if you are afraid people won’t like you when you say ‘no,’ building up your self-esteem can help you feel confident enough to say ‘no’ when you need to say it.
- Learn to breath The ability to deep-breathe, right into your diaphragm, is an instant tool for calming yourself. Knowing you can quickly reduce the unpleasant feelings of stress by simply closing your eyes and taking deep breaths is very reassuring. It takes practice to master so spend some time each day enjoying the peace of proper deep breathing.
- Meditation and mindfulness It can be very challenging to sit and focus on only the present moment when you are feeling stressed, but mindfulness meditation is a skill you can learn. Being able to empty your mind of all the racing thoughts and worries, even if only for a minute or two each day, gives you mental space. It is refreshing and helps you see things more clearly. Starting your day with a short meditation will help you to cope with the stresses of the day.
- Affirmations Stressed out people need to rewire their brains and get rid of the fixed and limiting beliefs they have about themselves. If you think you are a ‘stress-head’, you will be a ‘stress-head’. Write down what you would rather be. For example, ‘I am calm and take stressful situations in my stride.’ Read this affirmation out loud, at least once every day, with meaning, and again when you find yourself feeling stressed. Saying it will eventually lead your brain to believe it is the truth. Speak kindly and positively to yourself. Learning you can control your thoughts is very powerful.
- Connect with others Having a community of people who support you helps you to feel calm. You know that when things aren’t going right there are people who will come to your rescue and have your back. You feel much less stressed when you have the security of colleagues, friends and family on your side. Build your support network by giving to others when they need you and don’t be afraid to ask for the same in return.
- Learning to talk Thankfully conversations about mental health are becoming more acceptable and normal. However, it can still be hard to share your feelings. Learning to open up and to discuss your innermost thoughts can be liberating. Other people can offer different perspectives and you discover that you aren’t alone. It’s vital to choose someone you trust. You can also consider speaking to a health professional. Talking is an excellent way to understand why you think the way you do and how changing that thinking can alter the way you feel and act. Your GP can refer you.