We all have to face life’s stresses and strains. How we cope with these is affected by our genes, our experiences and our upbringing. The good news is that you can learn to deal with stress and stay healthy and happy no matter what your genetic make up.
Work it out
Exercise is the best stress-buster there is, acting in a number of different ways to protect our bodies and minds from the negative impact of stress:
Sport can provide a time of release from the tensions of the day, the focus needed can be a welcome distraction from work or home problems and a time to heal.
Research shows that physical fitness also appears to protect us against stress and stress-related chronic diseases. Exercise can dissipate the biochemical and physical changes caused by the release of stress hormones. This can decrease the blood pressure and ease muscular tension. Activity can also stimulate the release of feel-good hormones, endorphins, which decrease pain, give a sense of wellbeing and help us get the sleep we need.
Finally exercise appears to improve the brain’s ability to adapt to changes throughout life, which can improve mood and cognitive function.
In periods of tension, those who exercised less frequently reported over a third more stress symptoms than those who exercised regularly.
When we’re stressed it’s easy to reach for the food we crave instead of the nutrition we need. But sugar, caffeine and fast-food highs disappear quickly, leaving our blood sugars, mood and resilience to stress low. Choose complex slow release carbs, plenty of fruit and leafy green vegetables and healthy fats from fish, avocado and nuts to nourish your body.
Rest and relax
Take time to rest and switch off, you will return to your work with renewed vigour. Effective relaxation techniques include deep abdominal breathing, focusing on a soothing word and calming exercise options like yoga and tai chi.
Scientific studies suggest that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stress. It is a simple form of meditation in which you focus your full attention on your breathing following the air in and out, this allows you to dispassionately observe any negative thoughts and eventually let them go. Find out more here.
A problem shared
Friends, family and work mates can soothe stresses and help us view problems from another perspective. People with a close social network get emotional support that helps to protect them during difficult times and may even help them live longer.
When you’re under pressure it can be tempting to rely on coffee, cigarettes or booze to keep going. But caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can actually increase the stress response and leave you feeling anxious and twitchy. Alcohol may seem to soothe but it is a depressant, which may leave you crying into your beer glass, so drink in moderation only. Eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting sufficient sleep will keep your body fit enough to cope with the problems that life throws at it.
It’s impossible to get rid of all the stresses in your life but you can make changes to decrease the pressures you face so that they’re easier to deal with:
Manage your time: It’s easy to waste time doing easy, unimportant tasks or engaging in social media. Write a list and prioritize the vital jobs, procrastination only ramps up the stress levels.
Know your triggers
Think about what stresses you out and control its impact. If being late or traffic jams send your blood pressure soaring, leave earlier so that you have time to spare.
Learn to say no
Overloading yourself with commitments at home, work or play can increase tension. Learn to delegate and have the confidence to say no to tasks when you need to.