What is stress?
Stress is the body’s response to feeling threatened or under pressure and is a hugely common mental wellbeing concern. When we’re stressed hormones such as cortisol flood our system and produce the ‘fight or flight’ response – our heart rate goes up, our breathing gets heavy and our blood vessels constrict.
How does stress affect us?
Now, this is great if we’re being chased by a pack of wolves or a crazy axe-murderer, but most of the time that is not the case (thank goodness). However, our bodies can’t tell the difference between an approaching wolf and a pee’d off partner or particularly irritating work colleague, so our stress response is triggered even when there is no imminent danger. Therefore, instead of helping us escape (which in fairness we probably want to do sometimes) this rush of hormone can cause hypertension and headaches, as well as depression and anxiety.
So, if you’re getting stressed reading this – don’t. I have good news!
De-Stress with These 8 Tips
Whilst we don’t really have a choice when it comes to getting stressed, we can work to undo its affects and lower its effects going forwards. So, here’s 8 ways that you can de-stress and keep it under control:
Regular exercise is great for reducing and managing stress, from a walk in the park to throwing weights around in the gym. Exercise produces endorphins (the feel-good hormones) which in turn reduces stress. Physical activity can also to help take your mind off of your worries, with the repetitive movements involved promoting a focus on your body, rather than your mind.
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. The way you breathe affects your whole body, and when you breathe deeply it sends messages to your brain to calm down and relax. Breathing exercises can be a great tool for managing stress and helping to bring your heart rate and blood pressure back down.
See Your Bestie
‘A problem shared, is a problem halved’. Friends aren’t just for the fun times and wild nights; studies have shown that close friends can actually reduce levels of cortisol. If you’re stressed out due to a particular circumstance or event, try talking it through with a friend. Talking about a problem helps you to process whatever it is you’re worried about and maybe gain some new perspective.
Now, I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard about the mandala colouring craze to aid positive mental wellbeing – I certainly have a few colouring books! Craft activities encourage gentle movement which can help to lower cortisol levels as well as increase levels of dopamine (the feel-good hormone). So, sit down with a colouring book, grab your knitting needles or anything crafty that you enjoy and feel the stress melt away.
Turn Your Phone OFF
Whilst this may seem like a daunting prospect as our phones seem to be glued to us and without them, we may die… smartphones are actually linked to an increase stress. More and more people are traipsing through social media comparing themselves to others, feeling pressured to respond to messages all of the time and missing out on doing practical things they enjoy because they're too busy staring into a screen. So, set yourself a time in the evening where you turn your phone off (and leave it off) until the morning – I dare you.
Visualization involves mental imagery to achieve a more relaxed state of mind and is useful to unwind and relieve stress. Visualization can be done anywhere, simply make yourself comfortable and then try to picture a peaceful scene – whether that be a future holiday, accomplishing a goal or snuggled up with Tom Hardy...see it’s working already.
Get a Plant
House plants not only jazz up a living room or workspace, but they actually do wonders for your mental wellbeing – including to reduce stress! Research has found that being around plants can induce your relaxation response and thus causing a drop-in cortisol levels. See my post on the top house plants to de-stress your home or office!
Listen to Music
Music can act as a distraction as it absorbs our attention, helping to stop our minds from wandering into negative thoughts. Music preference obviously varies widely between individuals and any music you enjoy is likely to release levels of dopamine and keep the mind pre-occupied, however slow, quiet music has particular benefits. Music such a classical, can help slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure and decrease levels of cortisol.
And there we have it, my 8 tips to de-stressing and leading a happier life.