April is Stress Awareness Month and as a subscription box that supports mental well-being, we wanted to share some invaluable information about stress how it affects the body and what you can do to live a more peaceful, stress-free life.
So, let’s talk about stress! We have all felt stress at one time or another because let’s face it, life is stressful. Stress can be caused by many factors, such as an increased workload, financial worries, relationship issues, or a combination of many different factors. I think it is fair to say you've been in a situation at some point where you've ended up feeling so overwhelmed. So overwhelmed that you no longer knew how to handle it, I bet it wasn't long before the cracks started to appear...
But what is stress? Stress is the body's natural response to any demand placed on it and it's not all bad news! The human race wouldn't have gotten this far if we didn't have the ability to feel stress. For some stress can actually be a positive experience where people thrive off the energy and become more productive (hats off to you peeps)! But for many, constant triggers can start to build up causing both physical and emotional changes to take place in our bodies.
These changes happen because when you are stressed, your sympathetic nervous system is activated and you release stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. This release of hormones is what triggers your "fight-or-flight" response and primes your body for action. These hormones make your heart beat faster, gives you more energy, and makes you breathe much faster. In the short term, this can be helpful should you need to run away from a dangerous situation.
However, the problem occurs when this stress response is constantly triggered by things ranging from; workload, money issues and childcare - right down to inconvenient roadworks that always seem to pop up whenever you're running late. These constant triggers mean your body is never given a chance to reset itself and instead gets stuck in a cycle of fight or flight. And because our lives today are very different to those of our caveman ancestors who relied on stress, we are no longer equipped to handle it. I mean you can't start actively running away every time a bill comes through the door, nor can you start fighting your boss when you're handed another file to work on. But if we did know how to handle modern-day stress then we can recover quicker and prevent it from escalating later on.
What changes can stress cause? Stress can take a toll on your body and mind, causing everything from headaches and anxiety to heart disease and high blood pressure. If you're feeling overwhelmed by stress, it's important to notice the symptoms as they start, because the negative effects of stress are profound. They can cause a range of physical as well as psychological symptoms including a lack of concentration, negativity, insomnia, feeling worried, anxious, overwhelmed, changes in mood, mood swings, short temper, irritability, depression, low self-esteem, unable to relax, changes in eating habits, changes in sleeping habits, aches and pains, loss in sex drive, nausea, dizziness, constipation, diarrhoea and even an increase in alcohol and/or tobacco consumption. Ignoring the negative symptoms of stress over a prolonged period of time can lead to serious health problems.
Over the years chronic stress has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health problems. It can also weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and other illnesses. Stress can even cause hair loss! None of these symptoms are pleasant, especially if they continue to last for a period of time. That is why it is so important to nip stress in the bud as soon as possible and discover the cause.
So what can you do to reduce stress in your life?
The key first of all is to learn how to manage and handle stress in a way that works for you. This means you may need to experiment with different ideas below until you find what works. But the important thing to remember is you need to take care of yourself and not let stress take over your life. Whilst it's true that stress can have negative effects on our health, it's also important to remember that stress is a natural response from our body. In some situations, stress can actually be helpful!
Here are 10 tips to help you live a more peaceful, stress-free life:
1. Identify your personal sources of stress: What are the things in your life that tend to trigger a stress response? Once you recognise what these triggers are, you can work on avoidance or management strategies.
2. Make time for relaxation and self-care: It is important to schedule time for activities that help you relax and take care of yourself. This could include things like; yoga, meditation, reading, spending time in nature or getting regular massages.
3. Exercise regularly: Exercise is a great way to reduce stress levels as it helps release endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects.
4. Connect with loved ones: Spending time with loved ones can help reduce stress as it provides social support and allows you to express your feelings openly without judgement.
5. Get adequate sleep: Sleep plays an important role in reducing stress as it helps the body recover from the day’s events and restore balance. Make sure to get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
6. Keep a journal: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help relieve pent-up emotions and provide clarity on stressful situations. Sometimes simply putting your worries down on paper can help them feel more manageable.
7. Live in the present moment: One of the best ways to combat stress is to focus on the present moment and not dwell on past mistakes or worry about future problems. Try practising mindfulness meditation or other mindfulness-based techniques.
8. Be proactive instead of reactive: It is important to remember we cannot control everything in our lives, but we can control how we react to stressful situations. If you find yourself getting wrapped up in the stress of day-to-day life, take a step back and focus on the things that you can change.
9. Let go of perfectionism: Trying to be perfect all the time is an unattainable goal and will only lead to more stress. Learning to accept yourself, your mistakes and your imperfections can be liberating and help reduce stress levels.
10. Seek professional help: If you are struggling to cope with stress on your own, it may be helpful to seek out professional help from a therapist or counsellor who can provide guidance and support.
So those are my top ten tips for keeping stress at bay! But should you currently be in or find yourself faced with an incredibly stressful situation, there are also three main core stress management skills you can learn.
The three core skills you can learn are:
1. Relaxation: Try breathing techniques & relaxation imagery.
When it comes to relaxation, one of the simplest and most effective things you can do is focus on your breath. Taking slow, deep breaths activates the body’s relaxation response, which helps to lower heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones.
An example of a breathing technique is 4-7-8 breathing:
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Imagery is another powerful relaxation technique that can be used to reduce stress. It involves picturing a peaceful scene in your mind’s eye and focusing on the details of that image. The more vivid the image, the more effective it will be at promoting relaxation. You can perform this for as long as you like.
2. Cognitive Techniques: Review your attitude, behaviour, and reaction to stress. Restructure how your think. Set achievable goals.
It’s not just our physical reactions to stress that we need to worry about, but our mental reactions as well. The way we perceive stressful situations plays a big role in how they affect us emotionally and physically.
One cognitive technique that can be helpful in managing stress is goal setting. When we have clear goals that we are working towards, it can encourage us to stay focused and motivated even when things get tough. Make sure to set realistic goals that you know you can achieve. This way you don’t end up feeling even more stressed out by trying to accomplish something that is unrealistic.
It’s equally important to review your attitude and behaviours when it comes to stress management. Are there certain attitudes or behaviours that are causing your stress to worsen? If so, try to adjust these habits so that you can better cope with stressful situations. For example, if you tend to bottle up your emotions: try expressing them in a healthy way instead, like through journaling or talking to a trusted friend or family member.
Behavioural Techniques: Manage and share your expectations, communicate what’s achievable, and be assertive.
In addition to changing our thoughts and behaviours, it’s equally important to change our actions. This means learning how to communicate effectively, manage expectations, and be assertive.
All of these skills are essential for managing stress in a healthy way, so you can enjoy a peaceful and stress-free life.