The value put on mental health has grown exponentially in the past few years, particularly in the aftermath of the social isolation caused by lockdowns in 2020.
Stress has become a big talking point in this area, particularly in the context of the workplace.
Stress is an in-built and perfectly natural human response to difficult situations. It’s hardwired into your brain to use stress to protect yourself when the going gets a bit tougher.
Unfortunately, as you may well know, stress can also quickly become overwhelming, especially if things are moving quickly and everything starts to feel like too much.
April 2022 will mark 30 years since the first Stress Awareness Month was celebrated in the UK in 1992.
So, here are five simple and calming tips to help you beat stress for this year’s Stress Awareness Month.
1. Identify your stress triggers
To begin with, try to identify the things that make you stressed in the first place. Doing this will help you to find specific methods to combat stress so you can start to feel in control and like yourself again.
Triggers can be everywhere, but some common ones according to mental health charity, Mind, are:
- Being under a lot of pressure, particularly at work
- Facing big life changes, such as starting a new job or moving home
- Feeling out of control in situations around you
- Worrying about something that’s stuck in your mind
- Uncertainty, whether that’s in your personal or professional life.
For example, if work pressure is a trigger for stress, look at how you can reduce this effect. Creating a schedule for work so you avoid procrastinating could be an effective method.
Alternatively, learning to say “no” to new tasks when you have too much on can lighten your workload.
Watch out for the things that trigger stress for you. That way, you can work to beat them next time before stress arises again.
2. Get active
No matter what your stress triggers are, getting active by exercising can be a great way to reduce the negative feelings.
According to non-profit medical organisation Mayo Clinic, your brain releases endorphins when you exercise, a chemical that gives you a sense of elation. You may have heard this colloquially referred to as “runner’s high”.
Exercise and activity also provide a sort of stress relief. If you imagine your stress response as triggering your “fight or flight” response, exercise gives your brain and body the feeling of taking that action. As a result, it can help to reduce the negative effect of stress that you may feel.
Whether you simply manage to go out for a brisk, half-hour walk every lunchtime, or you design a new workout routine that really puts you through your paces, all movement can help to reduce stress.
3. Follow a healthy diet
In a similar fashion to being active, improving your diet can also help to reduce stress.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports that following a healthy diet can help to boost your immune system, while also providing you with the energy you need to battle back when stressful events occur.
They also report early evidence that vegetables and foods rich in omega-3 fats can help to regulate cortisol levels. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that your brain releases in situations that seem stressful.
So, by eating these foods, you may be able to help your body better regulate your stress response, stopping it from kicking in when you don’t need it.
4. Try mindfulness techniques
Mindfulness has become popular over the past few years, with apps such as Calm and Headspace making mindfulness techniques even more accessible.
Mindful practices are based on Eastern religions and traditions, using techniques such as meditation to pay close attention to your body and centre yourself in a moment.
A Headspace study found that people who used the app to meditate reported an 11% decrease in stress levels in just 10 days.
This became even more pronounced after 30 days of use, with individuals reporting a decrease of 32%.
Try using the techniques that these apps teach, such as visualisation and focused breathing, when you experience feelings of stress.
Mindfulness is not for everyone, and it may not suit you. But there’s no harm in giving it a go to see whether it can help.
5. Talk about your feelings
Whether that’s with family, friends, or even a professional, speaking to someone about your stress is highly important, especially if you feel that you’re struggling.
This has two fantastic benefits: firstly, it gives you a safe environment for you to speak openly about what you’re going through without judgement. The positives of doing this, particularly with a professional, are well documented, so it could make a huge difference to the way you feel.
Secondly, socialising is a great way to reduce feelings of stress in general. A friend empathising with you and allowing you to vent can normalise what you’re feeling, and subtly make you feel better without having to really do anything.
Find the people that you feel comfortable doing this with, and be willing to ask for help when you need it.