Stress is often seen as a bad word, but, a little stress can be good for us. It keeps us away from dark alleys at night, rogue sabre-toothed tigers and gives us the incentive to push towards our goals. This has been all well and good for thousands of years until we reached the 21st century where a new level of ever-present stress has become synonymous with modern life.
With rolling 24-hour news, access to unprecedented levels of information and the ability to order anything we want at any hour of the day (or night) has seen many people living their lives more online than off. We work longer hours, take less breaks and use our downtime to binge watch ‘reality’ tv. Our minds never have the chance to switch off and it’s taking it’s toll on our physical and mental health.
Our bodies react to stress in unique ways – it could be a flair in IBS symptoms, increase in tension headaches or migraines, insomnia, breakouts in psoriasis or eczema. These symptoms can be the first sign of our stress levels beginning to raise, and it’s important to understand how our own bodies and minds respond. When these indicators begin to build in frequency, we need to recognise that our body is literally shouting (screaming!) that we need to slow down, switch off and check in with ourselves.
If left unchecked, continuous stress can have many negative affects on our physical and mental health. Health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system can all be related to consistent levels of stress, over a long period of time. With out health on the line, it’s worth taking some time to develop skills to help manage stress. As always, if you don’t feel better after a few days or have been suffering for more than a week, please visit your GP.
B – breathe.
Breathing slowly and deeply activates the parasympathetic nervous system, taking our body out of ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode. This is easy to implement, as we focus on inhaling for a count of 4, retaining the inhale for a count of 4, exhaling for a count of 4 and retaining the exhale for a count of 4. Repeat 5 times, or for up to 5 minutes to encourage the breath to slow, deepen and to bring focus back into the present moment.
S – smile.
Smiling releases endorphins, natural painkillers and serotonin – these are chemicals which help to elevate our mood, relax the body and reduce pain. Simply by smiling we can ‘trick’ our minds into releasing feel good chemicals which will help us manage the symptoms of stress.
M – meditate.
There are loads of amazing meditation apps out there, and a lot of them are free. If you type meditation into YouTube, you’ll also find a wealth of videos which will guide you through the process. Mediation is easy and quick to do, when you’ve learned a technique. However, it’s a bit like taking a shower for your mind, you need to practice regularly to get the maximum benefits from it.
A – activity.
Any form of activity is going to help burn off excess nervous energy, tire out your body and allow you to focus on something other than the stressor. You don’t need any fancy equipment, heading into the fresh air for a short walk at lunchtime might be just the change of scenery you need. Yoga is another great idea, as it combines movement with the breath and a dose of meditation too. You basically get a triple whammy of stress busting techniques in one class.
R – rest and relax.
Relaxation is a lost art. I don’t mean sitting watching another episode of whatever show you’re following; I mean removing any external stimulus from the mind and letting it switch off. If you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s a good idea to teach the body to switch off without having the pressure on the mind of ‘having’ to fall asleep. You could try Progressive Muscle Relaxation or Yoga Nidra, both are effective methods of relaxation, and can be practised by anyone.
T – time out.
Sometimes we just need time away from whatever is causing us to feel increased stress levels. If this is work, book a day off and head for a wander around the shops or a museum. Take yourself away from wherever, whomever and whatever is winding you up. By stepping back we can gain perspective, coming back to the situation with a fresh point of view and feeling recharged and ready to move on.