With gloomy January out of the way, we take a look at...
5 achievable ways to reduce stress
We all know the benefits of reducing our stress levels. The problem is, it’s much easier said than done, especially if you’re already feeling the pressure.
With this in mind, we’ve put together some tips for reducing stress in your everyday life. First, let’s take a look at what stress is and why it shows up in our lives…
Why do we feel stress?
Humans have been stressed for ages. Stress told your caveman ancestor when there was a predator nearby, when food was scarce, and who out of the tribe was most likely to beat him up and steal his mate.
The world’s changed a bit since then. We’ve replaced the threat of being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger with the threat of not making enough money, letting our loved ones down, or losing a staring match with the dog (that last one might be just me though).
The point is, our caveman brains are still on high alert for the next thing that could kill us (believe me, my dog’s capable of anything). Also, because evolution’s kinda slow, this is likely to be the case for thousands of years to come…yay.
What are the symptoms of unhealthy stress?
The following could be signs that stress is affecting your life in unhealthy ways:
- Low energy
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
- Frequent colds and infections
Is stress ever a good thing?
Yes. Stress can make us mindful of the consequences of not doing or achieving certain things. Here are some examples:
- Practicing an instrument ahead of a concert so you play at your best
- Sticking to a budget so you can save money towards an item you really want
- Studying for your final exams means you should, y’know, pass them?
Once you deal with these challenges, stress is meant to lift. However, if you avoid the source of your stress, it can cause real harm to your physical and mental state.
So now we know what stress is, here’s how to keep it to a minimum…
1. Reduce your alcohol, nicotine and caffeine intake
Many people relish a Friday night tipple at the end of a long week. However, alcohol’s a depressant. This means it can leave you feeling anxious or uneasy, which is the opposite of a stress reliever.
Alcohol can also mess up your sleep which only increases stress. Although a nightcap might seem like a good idea, it’s probably better for your body to drink hot milk or herbal tea.
When out socialising, take turns drinking water or soft drinks between alcoholic drinks. Hangovers are a result of dehydration, so water should reduce the chance of a sore head in the morning.
Currently, the NHS recommends no more than 14 units of alcohol a week for men and women. That’s about 6 pints of beer or 7 medium glasses of wine.
Like alcohol, nicotine leaves you feeling calmer, lowering your stress levels and relaxing muscles. As time goes on, you’ll need to smoke more to feel that nicotine hit. The resulting withdrawls can cause more anxiety and mood swings.
The NHS Smoke Free website can help you kick the habit. If you’re serious about quitting, keep track of what you’d be spending on ciggies in a notebook. Chances are the results will shock you.
This stimulant can be found in tea, coffee, energy drinks and even chocolate. Millions of people rely on it to feel more alert for the day ahead. Too much caffeine can increase your hormone levels (cortisol), making you feel more anxious. If you drink it too late in the day, it can wreak havoc on your sleeping pattern.
- Switching to decaf, or fruit or herbal teas in the afternoon
- Showing your body some TLC by increasing your water intake. Your body goes through a lot of water by cleansing your internals as you sleep. A pint of water in the morning will be gratefully received, and can perk you up just as well as coffee.
2. Get more active
The benefits of exercise are extensive. The more you do, the better you’ll feel in the short term while improving your health over the long term. If the thought of spending a fortune on a gym membership fills you with dread, there are alternatives:
- Get off the bus a couple of stops earlier, or walk into work when the weather’s nice
- If you fancy cycling to work, a lot of employers have schemes to help you pay for a bike. You can also find second-hand ones fairly cheap on sites like Gumtree
- Get the whole family involved in some team sports. Invest in a rounders or cricket kit. You could have a game in your garden or head to your local park
- There may be local sports teams you could join. If you fancy a kickabout, but you’re worried your skills aren’t quite at the premier league level, have a look for Just Play! The FA scheme encourages players of all ages and ability to turn up for an hour of friendly football, with no need to organise teams or venues
- If netball’s more your thing, Back to Netball holds sessions for all abilities, across the UK
3. Get more sleep
Poor quality sleep not only makes you grumpy in the morning but can affect your stress levels. Here’s how to improve it:
- Get into a bedtime routine, so your body knows when it’s time to rest
- There’s a reason mothers want their children in a ‘bath and bed’ routine. A warm bath at night relaxes your muscles, signalling that it’s time to go to sleep
- Studies have shown that drinking caffeine with less than six hours to go until bedtime can reduce your sleep by one hour. Try to resist caffeinated drinks later in the day, or switch to decaf.
- Turn off phones, computers or tablets, as the light they emit can actually keep you awake. The Twilight app can steadily reduce the brightness of your smartphone or tablet screen before bed (Android only). On iPhone there’s a similar tool, called Night Shift. Go into Settings > Display & Brightness, and switch Night Shift mode on. Make sure it’s set to come on at least half an hour before you normally go to bed
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, writing things down can help you easily organise your thoughts and make sense of your worries.
Start off by writing a to-do list of:
- What to do today
- What to do this week
- What to do this month
You could take your list one step further, and make it an action plan. What can you do right now, so you can cross it off your list?
Some of my colleagues swear by bullet journaling, or BuJo, which thousands of people do in order to keep their thoughts and worries under control.
5. It’s good to talk
A problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes. So, make a cuppa, pick up the phone and have a natter with a friend or family member. Better yet, make a trip to see them in person and get everything off your chest.
Once your friends and family know what you’re dealing with, they may offer you support or ways to help. You don’t have to take them up on their offers, but it can be nice to know you’re not in this alone. If debt or money worries are getting you down, our guide to talking to your loved ones can help.
If you’re feeling stressed take the opportunity to treat yourself to some ‘me time’:
Take a few minutes to meditate every day. There are lots of great apps you can download for free to help you meditate. They’ll guide you through a series of breathing exercises and ways to clear your mind.
If your mind races as soon as your head hits the pillow, ambient sounds can help. There are apps that play all kinds of soothing sounds such as soothing waves and rainfall to quietly comforting music.
In conclusion, stress isn’t going anywhere. But unlike that sabre-toothed tiger of yesteryear, it can be tamed!
Do you have any top tips that help you relax? Tell us all about it in the comments, or email us with your suggestions.