The Problem With Stress
Stress is bad for your health. Short term episodes of stress can make you distracted, irritable, indecisive, panicked, affect your digestion, have low libido, be more likely to suffer from cold bugs and even experience palpitations.
Long term, or chronic, stress is linked to suppression of the immune system, heart disease, hypertension and high blood pressure, stroke, IBS, ulcers, diabetes, infertility, alopecia, allergies, joint pain, poor memory and skin ageing. It can even cause structural changes in the brain.
So getting a handle on your stress levels is really important for overall health and happiness.
Here are my 7 top tips to reduce your stress levels and boost your health.
As I have mentioned in other features, exercise stimulates the release of the hormones and neurotransmitters endorphin, dopamine and serotonin. These are your feel good hormones and so can help to counterbalance any feelings of stress that you may be experiencing. Research suggests that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily is more likely to boost endorphins than short bursts of exercise.
2. Get Outside
Spending time in nature can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. As well as the physical benefits of walking or running outdoors, the peace and quiet and connection to nature all help to boost our mood, in addition to the physical act of taking time out from work tasks or household stresses and strains. Try exercising outdoors and with friends to maximise the positive effect on serotonin and oxytocin (another feel good hormone) too.
3. Be Mindful & Breath
There is an increasing body of research to suggest that practising mindfulness can reduce the effects of stress and anxiety on our bodies. Mindfulness is, in very simple terms, learning to pay attention to thoughts and feelings so as to help you manage those thoughts and feelings when faced with difficult situations.
A simple mindfulness exercise is to sit quietly and comfortably in a room, close your eyes and try to clear your mind of thoughts by listening to your breath move in and out of your body. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the sound of your breathing. Try this for a few minutes each day. Don’t worry if you find it difficult at first, or more difficult on some days than others. It gets easier the more you do it.
4. Avoid Sources of Stress
Try to identify the main sources of stress in your life. Think about the ones which have a practical solution – it may be a person you can avoid, not listening to bad news, changing a job that is making you unhappy, or making alterations to the way you work like devolving responsibility for tasks to someone else – and then take steps towards resolving these.
5. Eat Healthily
Ensure that your diet comprises mainly whole (unprocessed) foods, in particular fruits and vegetables, and ensure you have plenty of variety in your diet to make sure your body is getting all the essential nutrients for brain health.
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption as while alcohol may seem to relax you in the short term, over consumption can actually lead you to feel depressed and more stressed.
6. Connect With People & Enjoy a Hug
Meet up with friends and family. Human contact, eye contact, smiling, hugging are all hugely important for your health and well-being and similarly, being deprived of these things can have a hugely negative impact on both your mental and physical health.
In times of stress, touch in particular helps you to cope by calming the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone. We have an entire set of nerve fibres (called CTs) across our skin whose sole function is to register gentle stroking touch. These neurons play a vital role in social development and your ability to withstand stress. They stimulate the release of dopamine and oxytocin (feel good hormones), lowering cortisol and improving our mood.
7. Practise Gratitude
Start each day by saying out loud 3 things that you are grateful for. It is amazing what a positive boost this can give you and can help to put other stresses into perspective.