In its simplest form, stress can manifest in temporary feelings of frustration and hopelessness, but in its severest form, it can become something a lot more sinister, affecting your work and social life, and even developing into depression.
Unfortunately, feelings of stress are often inevitable. The good news is that there are ways in which you can reduce your stress levels before they become too dangerous.
Develop a positive mind-set
Reducing your stress levels starts with a positive mind-set, and the willingness to try and change your situation. Health professionals know that doing this isn’t as straightforward as reading a few inspirational quotes – it will take a concerted effort over time.
Try writing down three things at the end of each day that made you happy, which were a success or that you are grateful for. You may find that this brief shift in perspective becomes more infectious, and feeds into your normal mind-set. It’s also good practice to examine your habits and attitude and identify anything that could be causing unnecessary stress. For example, your deadlines might be stressful because of your tendency to procrastinate, rather than a lack of ability.
Swap out temporary stress busters
By ‘temporary stress busters’ we mean things like cigarettes, alcohol and the tendency to withdraw. While they may provide a brief reprieve from stress, they can themselves go on to create additional problems. Instead, replace them with healthy alternatives like peppermint or chamomile tea (which are known for their calming properties), a healthy refreshing snack like some fruit, and some quality time with your loved ones.
We’ve all heard of endorphins, otherwise known as ‘happy hormones’. These little mood-boosters are the body’s natural opiates and are produced more often during exercise – a trait which is thought to increase our wellbeing. It makes sense, then, that exercising can help to reduce our stress levels, but endorphins aren’t the only reason why exercise can help. Going for a run, doing yoga or even just going for a walk gives you something else to focus on, as well as time to think through the source of your stress.
Eat a balanced diet
The sugary foods we turn to during periods of stress may provide temporary gratification, but are typically followed by a crash in both energy and mood levels once their effect wears off. Eating the right things, on the other hand, can provide balance and lift the mood, and don’t produce the same crash in energy and mood later.
Avocados, for example, contain folate, which helps to promote feelings of calm, while raspberries and blueberries contain high levels of vitamin C, which is shown to be helpful in combating stress. Even dark chocolate (in small doses) can help to lower blood pressure and promote a feeling of calm.
Get enough sleep
It’s no secret that we aren’t getting enough sleep. In fact, our Health of the Nation survey revealed that the average person in the UK only sleeps for around 6.4 hours a night, as opposed to the recommended seven to eight hours. When you consider that sleep helps to heal the body and mind, and helps us to process the day just passed, it becomes clear why a lengthy visit to the land of nod is so helpful in reducing stress levels. Feeling tired can increase irritability, meaning we become more highly strung and likely to think irrationally.
Designate a time for relaxation
Did you know that the UK workforce works the longest hours in Europe? It’s no wonder we find so little time to relax. Designating a time for relaxation is incredibly important, however, and can help to reduce your stress levels. Whether it’s using your lunch break to read a book, setting aside an hour in the evening for a long soak or freeing up each weekend just to go for a walk, do something that keeps you calm.
Talk to someone
Whether you decide to confide in your loved ones or visit a trained professional, don’t be afraid to talk about your problems. Letting everything out can be a huge weight off your shoulders, and you may find that other people are experiencing exactly the same thing. It might be that you simply can’t cope on your own, which is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
There isn’t a one size fits all solution to reducing your stress levels, but by trying out some of these coping methods, you will at least have a head start in deciding what works for you.