Do you know of anyone who has never experienced stress in their lives? In the modern life, many people are faced with ongoing stress juggling multiple tasks and responsibilities such as work, family, finance, travel, relationships and health.
Stress is a normal part of life.
In response to stress, our body reacts by naturally releasing a hormone known as cortisol, which helps break down stored fuel fast in order to give us a burst of energy to deal with stressful situations.
Why is stress dangerous?
People respond to stressful situations differently. Some can handle immense stress well, while others are easily stressed out.
Most of us understand the results of not controlling our emotions and stress well. Yes, stress affects every part of our bodies. Poorly managed chronic stress could negatively impact us mentally, emotionally and physically, which can cause symptoms such as migraines, poor concentration, fatigue, hair loss, stomach discomfort, indigestion, poor sleep, anxiety and depression (1). Prolonged stress may also increase the risk of many chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune diseases (2,3,4,5).
Therefore, it is imperative to identify your stress triggers and manage your stress levels in order to live a better, healthier life. Here are 7 tips to manage stress:
1. Get more sleep
Are you getting enough sleep?
Sleep is so crucial that even slight sleep deprivation or poor sleep can significantly increase your stress levels and mood (6). Here are some tips to help you optimise your sleep at night:
- Make sure that your bedroom is a tranquil and comfortable environment with no reminder of distraction that may cause you stress.
- Avoid strong drinks such as coffee, tea or alcohol in the evening to avoid over-stimulation of your brain that may lead to increased stress, anxiety and disturbed sleep.
- Dim your bedroom light as much as possible to maximise the production of melatonin for better sleep.
- Stop doing anything that is mentally demanding several hours before bedtime to help you calm your mind and maximise your relaxation.
- Avoid going to bed with a full stomach. Have a lighter meal in the evening and keep the last meal at least 3 hours before you go to bed to give your body sufficient time to digest and have a full rest during sleep.
- Take a nice warm bath or read a book before bedtime to relax your mind and body and help you forget about things that worry you.
- Avoid over napping during the day and get some sunlight. If you have some time during the day, go and get some free natural anti-depressant remedy – Vitamin D under the sun for about 15-20 minutes instead of lying in bed napping. Studies show people with vitamin D deficiency were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels (7,8). If we don’t get enough vitamin D, sleep suffers. Get some free vitamin D under the sun and be refreshed!
- Develop a good sleeping routine to give your body cues that it is time to slow down your mind and prepare to rest.
2. Deep breathing
Take a 5-minute break each day to practice deep breathing. Slowly breathe in through your nose and hold your breath for 5 seconds and then breathe out through your mouth as slow as you can. Repeat this deep breathing exercise up to 10-20 times each day.
It’s a proven stress-relieving strategy to help calm your mind.
3. Have some ‘me time’ and get back to nature
A lot of the time we are so busy with things in life that we forget to spend time focusing on ourselves by doing things that we really enjoy.
Take a break and spend some quality ‘me time’ away from your busy schedule and get back to nature.
You don’t necessarily have to travel far to enjoy nature. You can take the time to have an enjoyable walk around the block, walk the dog at the park, water your plants or simply sit back and relax in your back yard or go to the beach and listen to some music.
Do whatever you like, so long as it relaxes you. Read, sing, meditate, or sip tea. Spend some quiet time by yourself in an environment your find mentally soothing, as frequent as you can, to help calm your mind.
Even if it is just a few minutes each day, find the time to simply relax, unwind and distress in an environment that makes you feel at ease mentally.
4. Make sure you move
Exercise is a great way to de-stress!
Many studies have shown that exercise is very effective in reducing stress hormones, as well as improving concentration, physical and mental fitness and cognitive function as well. Exercise stimulates the production of happy hormones in the brain, which are known as endorphins and act as natural stress relievers that calm and stabilise your mood.
Aim for 30 minutes of any form of aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, swimming or cycling, 4-5 times per week and if you can do some resistance exercise it would be even better.
5. Connect with people
When you feel overwhelmed by a stressful situation, take a break to call someone who you can comfortably talk to and trust. A good social support of friends, family, colleagues or a support community from an organisation or religion can help ease your stress levels and see things from a different perspective.
6. Avoid unhealthy habits
Indulging yourself with a big pack of chips, chocolates, a bottle of wine or a pack of cigarettes when you are under intense stress may bring a temporary relief, however, opening doors to unhealthy habits will only make things worse.
These poor habits and comfort eating will be a vicious cycle of making you feel horrible about yourself and more stressed out unless you make a decision to break the vicious cycle by saying no to them.
7. Express gratitude
Being grateful is a wonderful thing to experience happiness and contentment and it can significantly reduce your stress levels.
Can it be that easy? Research says yes!
Studies show that cultivating a sense of gratitude can make you happier, reduce stress, strengthen your immune system, improve your mood, enhance sleep and even improve relationships (9).
Write down your feelings of gratitude in your personal diary journal or notebook.
Write down 3 things you are grateful for each day and make a commitment to doing so for 30 days and notice how your perspective changes.
When you’re grumpy towards a stressor in your life (such as relationship problems, job stress, financial or other daily hassles), write down the 3 related things that you are grateful for and take note of how much better you feel.
You may even wish to send little love notes to your friends and family or even give them a big cuddle to show much you appreciate them.
Acknowledging that stress is a normal response to everyday life is the first step to ensuring you can overcome it when the levels begin to rise.
By using some of these simple solutions to combat stress will have you feeling happy and healthier.
Don’t be a victim to the stressors of life but instead, rise above them so that you can live the most fulfilling life possible.
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Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and WGBH Educational Foundation. (n.d.). Consequences of insufficient sleep. Healthy Sleep. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences.
Hossein-nezhad A, Spira A, Holick MF. Influence of vitamin D status and vitamin D3 supplementation on genome wide expression of white blood cells: a randomized double-blind clinical trial. Epub. (2013) 8(3):e58725. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058725.
Anglin, R.E., Samaan, Z., Walter, S.Det al., Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Psychiatry (2013) 202: p. 100-7.
Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of personality and social psychology (2003).