(image: Healthy Today Club)
With research increasingly demonstrating the correlation between prolonged stress and a shorter lifespan, we would all like to avoid the spectres of stress and anxiety. But since chances are the vast majority of us have been confronted with both at some point and will be again in the future, what does it take to manage pressure yourself – or even better, to build a lifestyle which doesn’t allow stress a look in?
Check out our 5 simple tips to get started on your journey to calm.
- Avoid triggering substances or habits
We hear it all the time, but it’s true: the things you fuel your body with significantly affect how you feel. Particularly if you’ve been diagnosed with a gut condition such as IBS (which has been shown to worsen in times of stress), you’ll want to ensure your diet is full of colourful, digestible wholefoods. In times of stress, a salad is often the last thing most of us want to reach for – but even if your current best move is reducing your caffeine intake, that is a step in the right direction.
If you’re currently using other substances to self-medicate during or after a long day – we’re talking nicotine (a stimulant) and alcohol (a depressant) – then let this be the push you need to give up those bad habits.
- Anticipate and respond
Particularly for perfectionists and people who experience social anxiety, stress is unavoidable in daily life. Although easier said than done, try to embrace this inevitability as best you can – as our fears often lose their power if we are prepared for them to manifest. When you are in the midst of responding to stress directly, keep these coping mechanisms in mind:
- Exercise – put those fight-or-flight hormones to good use and have a workout while restoring yourself to calm. This doesn’t have to be an hour-long run at peak intensity: it can be as simple as walking around your office block when you need a workload break.
- Breathe – if you’re delayed in a waiting room or have just received challenging news, don’t panic. Sit or stand somewhere comfortable, close your eyes, visualise a serene place in your mind, slowly breathe in and out, and relax to the sound of your exhalations until your heartbeat slows and you can figure out your next step.
Even for those of us who believe we need no more than 5 hours of sleep per night, humans just aren’t built to withstand such short stints of shut-eye on a regular basis.
The proper functioning of both body and mind rely on essential processes that occur during sleep, including the renewal of skin cells and the retention of information in the hippocampus – the main memory-processing section of the brain. Since these processes can only be completed in a state of sleep, it’s best to take your zzz’s seriously.
But since stress may be the exact thing keeping you up at night, here are some rituals to build into your bedtime routine:
- Stop work at least an hour before bed
- Have a warm bath or shower at night
- Put some lavender oil on your pillow
- Read (a book, rather than a screen!) before you turn off the light
- In the dark, focus on relaxing every separate limb and muscle of your body before going to sleep.
- Get talking
John Donne was right: no man is an island. Bottling up your stress and trying to manage alone may work in the short-term, but not forever. To avoid building up pressure that leads to breakdowns, consider chatting to a counsellor or a grounded friend about how you’re feeling, or join a club or society which will allow you to talk with like-minded people who may struggle with similar problems. If you are internet savvy, even online discussion boards and forums can be a safe place to air your woes.
- Prioritise and identify
Are you staring down a hectic month of appointments, task-juggling, and trying to perfectly fulfil a different role for everyone in your life? Compartmentalise to deal with the mayhem.
What do you need to prepare for your next move? Tackle your tasks individually and avoid thinking about your myriad other tasks until you are finished working on each one. Stress often peaks when we consider all our problems or tasks in their monstrous sum, whereas they are much more manageable taken alone.
If you struggle through every month, you need to identify what causes your stress. No one can do everything, and you may find that you have overcommitted to tasks. What can you say No to? At times like this, it’s worth remembering that you are the only person in control of your life: so put your wellbeing first.
Cloe Matheson, the author of this article is a writer and blogger. She can be contacted here: https://cloewrites.tumblr.com/