Easy ways to address and reduce your stress
Are you prone to high levels of stress, and need simple strategies to help address and reduce it? I’m guessing that, like many of us, you get stressed to the max sometimes. Honestly,I know I get stressed out really quickly, so I feel for you if you do too.
Okay, let’s take a look at ‘what stress means’, what causes it, and the signs and symptoms. We’ll also explore tools that can help us understand how we experience stress and how to address our stress levels. Then we’ll delve into some simple evidence-based techniques to alleviate some of our stress.
What is stress?
Stress is the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of unmanageable pressures. Moreover, stress, at the most basic level, is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. What contributes to stress can vary hugely from person to person. It also differs according to our social and economic circumstances, the environment we live in and our genetic makeup (Mentalhealth.org).
Stress isn’t always bad, and in small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price.
If you find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed by stress, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself—and improve how you think and feel—by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.
What causes stress?
Understanding what causes us stress and taking action to manage our stress levels is a key part of looking after our wellbeing. Take a look at MHFA’s Stress Container, an interactive tool that can help us understand how we experience stress and how to address our stress levels.
Some people (me included) are unlucky and have a high vulnerability to stress. Is it ‘nature’ (genetic) or ‘nurture’ (learnt behaviours) that causes stress? To be honest, it doesn’t really matter where it came from, it’s knowing what to do about it that’s important.
Different types of stressors
We all experience many and varied stressors at certain times in our lives and some stressors might include:
- The ones that we choose, like moving house, getting married or organising a family holiday.
- Although we love our family and friends, these relationships can also place us under a great deal of stress at times.
- Work stress is a common problem and can include things like workload, flexibility and relationships within the workplace.
- Financial stress including mortgage, bills and supporting our families, or even unemployment, job loss and redundancy.
- Environmental stress; including what we see in the news, our neighbours, or even the weather.
- Self-imposed stress such as negative attitudes and lifestyle choices like gambling, drugs or alcohol, alcohol that add to our stress
If our stress bucket gets too full we can suffer from mental ill health. Certain life events such as unemployment, divorce, bereavement, or chronic illness can cause our buckets to overflow quite quickly. But sometimes, even small life stressors can build and accumulate also causing our buckets to fill.
When we have stressors we perceive we can’t cope with, our bucket becomes full and it starts to overflow. The Stress bucket reflects our capacity to cope with stress, and the water level is the stress load. The more demands or stressors in our life, the higher the water level and we start to feel stressed.
There are ways however, to reduce our stress and let the water flow out of our buckets. We can make better choices, problem solve, or ask for support. And you can grow the size of your bucket by developing resilience, and skills levels in coping with stress, to stop it overflowing.
For someone like me, with high vulnerability to stress, my bucket will fill up and overflow quite quickly. However, I can use my coping and problem-solving skills to reduce the amount of water (stress) in my bucket, stopping it for overflowing.
For someone who has low vulnerability to stress, their bucket never seems to overflow. You know — that person who never flaps, always remains calm and tells you to “chill out” or “relax”.
Signs and symptoms of stress overload
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll.
That’s why it’s really important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload. Do you know anything about cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioural symptoms of stress can can warn us that we’re becoming or are already stressed out? Let’s take a look:
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor judgment
- Seeing only the negative
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Anxiety and agitation
- Moodiness, irritability, or anger
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Loneliness and isolation
- Aches and pains
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea, dizziness
- Chest pain, rapid heart rate
- Loss of sex drive
- Eating more or less
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from others
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
I often have to remind myself to use some of the evidence-based coping strategies I used to teach patients. Like this one:
- let the shoulders drop (I’ve just realised right now, they’re up around my ears and they ache like hell)
- unclench my teeth and relax my jaw
- stop frowning (I do that when I’m concentrating)
- unclench my hands (my balled fists look ready to punch someone)
- get up, away from my laptop, stretch and pace the floor for a bit to loosen my limbs and knotted muscles
- breathe (I tend to hold my breath when I concentrating too) slowly – out for the count of 6, then in for 6, for about 30 seconds
- do some mindfulness for anything between 3 minutes (for a quick de-stressor) and 15 minutes (totally de-stressed). I get it; some people just aren’t into mindfulness, and that’s okay. Perhaps you can simply ‘be’.
I’ve just done all the above, and feel a bit better, despite having ‘flu’. If you’re prone to stress, you could try this coping strategy. The body can’t possibly be tense and relaxed at the same time so, it makes sense that if you’re relaxed – your stress levels will lessen.
You can use this strategy anytime, anywhere; say in your GP surgery, the dentist or on public transport etc. Sit (if possible) on a chair with a back on it, place your feet flat on the floor (no crossed legs – this creates tension in your muscles), rest your palms on your thighs, let your shoulders drop and ……………. de-stress.
I can’t say it enough, when learning any new skills/coping techniques, it takes practice. Practice the above technique over and over, and you’ll be able to summon it quickly when you actually need it.
More stress reducing activities
There are many ways of reducing your stress levels, quickly and easily, some of which might be:
- Staying in contact with family and friends, even when you don’t feel like it. Whether you want to offload or listen to someone else offload, just hearing another voice or seeing someone smile, can help.
- Exercise is known to relieve stress and to help your mood/mental state. A light jog, or even a casual stroll in your local park will still help. Remember how action comes and motivation follows.
- Visit free places like museums, galleries, forests and lakes. These can offer a safe haven and positive distraction, while inspiring your creativity and reducing tension.
- Stop multitasking. No wonder we’re all super-stressed. I see family or friends replying to text messages, watching TV and simultaneously talking on the phone! Furthermore, multitasking isn’t only totally inefficient, it’s also linked to the increased production of stress hormones that can send your body into panic mode!
- Invite your girlfriends round, put facemasks on, sit back and relax for 10-15 minutes to look and feel rejuvenated. You might end up laughing hysterically at each other and that, together with the social connection, is always good for stress reduction.
- Organize ‘time to worry’. Worry can occur at any point in the day and release stress hormones that can cause anxiety and lower our immune systems. So schedule a 10-15 minute worry window in your day, where you can write down your worries, work through them and problem-solve.
- Turn up the music and dance! This can help forget your worries for a while, build self-esteem, lift your mood and reduce anxiety.
- Smell flowers or lemons — yes, they’re also known for their mood enhancing properties.
- Cuddling up and stroking a pet also has anxiety reducing benefits, through the release of oxytocin in your brain, and make you feel cared for, helping to boost your self esteem.
- Having a hot shower or bath relaxes your muscles, enabling you to unwind and help prepare you for a good night sleep too.
Of course, there any many other ways to address and reduce your stress, and perhaps you have your favourites, which is great. However, if you’ve tried and found that something doesn’t work, yet work for you, don’t give up — keep trying to find something, and you will start to feel better.
Just remember, thoughts, feelings and your body, you might remember from previous posts, are all interconnected. So, if you feel better in one of these areas, you’ll feel better in the others too.
Like I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I’ve had both physical and mental setbacks, and I really thought I was on the mend. However, only this morning I’ve woken to a terribly high temperature, sore throat, aches and pains and headaches. I think it’s maybe a flu bug but I will have it checked out online or by phone to my GP.
AArrrrgghhh! I hate feeling so unwell and not being able to do basic things like walk from the sofa to the kitchen without feeling faint. Moreover, it’s taken me all day (lol) to write this post but I was determined to get it out today. Now I’m stressed out!
Over to you
Are you feeling stressed to the max? I’d love to know what’s in your Stress Bucket right now? I’d love to know how you de-stress too. Any hints or tips for our blogging pals? I look forward to any comments and question, and please feel free to constructively criticise other aspect of my blog.