Effective stress management is more important than ever before, due to the increasing pressure of modern living. It’s hard to juggle the 101 things life throws at us. We’re trying to balance work, studies, family responsibilities and life admin - all while trying to maintain some sort of sanity and a social life.
Whether you’re 20 or 50, the demands of modern living keep piling up. That’s why one of our key focus areas during Self Care Week is teaching you how to reduce your stress levels.
How to reduce stress naturally
We spoke to our wellness team for some tips to help reduce stress naturally. You can try some of the following stress management techniques at home.
Exercise is the best medicine
You’ve probably heard this on many occasions, but exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Not only does exercise boost your mood by promoting the release of endorphins, it can also be used as a form of meditation in motion. By exerting yourself physically, and focusing on your breathing and movement you’re actually practicing a form of mindfulness.
Stress, sleep and exercise
Getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night plays a vital role in our ability to cope with stress in our daily lives. A good night’s sleep helps to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in your body. However, when you’re extremely stressed, your sleep is often interrupted and you can develop sleep disorders such as chronic insomnia - which can worsen the effects of stress.
Exercise helps ensure that you get a good night’s sleep
Studies (on the effects of exercise on sleep) showed a significant improvement in sleep quality when participants engaged in even a single, moderate intensity cardio session (such as running, swimming or cycling). After four to 24 weeks of consistent exercise, participants with chronic insomnia “fell asleep more quickly, slept slightly longer, and had better sleep quality than before they began exercising.”
Read our article, 6 simple exercises to help you stay active, for some easy exercises from our sports scientists that you can do at home.
Eat a healthy balanced diet
Again, this might seem very obvious, but eating a healthy balanced diet is vital for stress management. Limiting processed foods (which cause a spike in your blood sugar) helps to keep your mood stable throughout the day. You need a wide variety of whole foods (especially fruit and veggies) to ensure that you get all the macro and micronutrients necessary for good health.
Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly helpful when it comes to reducing the symptoms of anxiety. A study found that “medical students who received omega-3 supplements experienced a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms”. Drinking green tea, for those of you who enjoy it, was linked to increased serotonin (the “happy” chemical) levels. Green tea is also packed full of polyphenol antioxidants, which help to fight disease.
Read our article, Healthy food hacks for busy people, for some simple meal prep tips from our wellness team and an example of a quick and healthy menu plan.
Reduce your caffeine intake
As you might expect, caffeine can exacerbate stress and anxiety. But the real impact depends on your genes. If you’re a fast metabolizer of caffeine, four cups a day probably won’t bother you that much. However, if you’re a slow metabolizer, four cups day won’t just leave you feeling jumpy, it’ll actually increase the risk of developing chronic high blood pressure.
From a sample of 50,000 people who have used DNAFit, 57% need to limit caffeine.
Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment. What can you see, smell, touch, taste and hear in your immediate environment? It’s one of the most popular forms of meditation. It’s an easily accessible way to start your meditation journey.
Paying attention to the present helps you enjoy life more and understand yourself better. The founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction technique, Prof. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding experience in the moment .”
We recommend starting small. Spend a few minutes trying to be mindful. Simply slow down for five or so minutes, and if you find this easy, then you can build from there.
A study showed how important reducing stress was for longevity by selecting 73 residents of 8 homes for the elderly. They were randomly assigned among no treatment and 3 treatments highly similar in external structure and expectations: the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program, mindfulness training (MF) in active distinction making, or a relaxation (low mindfulness) program. A planned comparison indicated that the "restful alert" TM group improved most, followed by MF, in contrast to relaxation and no-treatment groups, on paired associate learning; 2 measures of cognitive flexibility; word fluency; mental health; systolic blood pressure; and ratings of behavioural flexibility, aging, and treatment efficacy. The MF group improved most, followed by TM, on perceived control. After 3 years, survival rate was 100% for TM and 87.5% for MF in contrast to lower rates for other groups.
Spend more time with friends and family
Humans are inherently social creatures. Spending time with our loved ones, having a good laugh and simply enjoying their company is a great way to reduce stress.
A recent study discovered that the sheer size of a person's social network was important for health in both early and late adulthood. In adolescence, social isolation increased risk of inflammation by the same amount as physical inactivity, while social integration protected against abdominal obesity. In old age, social isolation was actually more harmful to health than diabetes on developing and controlling hypertension.
So, next time you’re feeling a little tightly wound, give your best friend call and meet up for some coffee and a catch up session! If you’re more of an introvert, you might consider getting a pet.
Why is it so important to reduce our stress levels?
Well, stress has many adverse side effects...
The negative effects of stress on your body
Chronic stress (stress experienced for a prolonged period of time) can have negative effects on your body. Sometimes, our body’s stress response doesn’t stop firing - which causes our stress hormones to remain elevated for much longer than necessary. This can cause symptoms such as irritability, agitation, anxiety, depression and insomnia (difficulty sleeping). When this happens, it can have damaging side effects such as:
- Heart problems (including increased risk of heart attacks)
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Rapid breathing
- Sexual dysfunction
- Tense muscles
- Weak immune system
Self care is very close to our hearts at DNAFit, as it’s a core element for living a long, healthy and happy life. Because of this, our wellness team created a handy measurement guide to check if you’re looking after yourself as well as you could be. Download Mastering the Art of Self Care, to see if you’re a self care champion or in need of an intervention!