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.
22 thoughts on “Want to address and reduce your stress”
Excellent post, thank you for this.
Thank you Simon, much appreciated.
I get stressed very easily! Thanks for these awesome stress reducers! xo
I hadn’t heard of the stress bucket before. What a great idea!
Yes, it’s a great tool for understanding our stress levels and how to reduce them, I think 🙂
This is great!
Thank you Mio 🙂
Some fabulous material in this post, Caz. I like how you have listed the different types of stress. It helps put in perspective how there might be more than one causal factor going on.
I’m far from perfect when it comes to dealing with stress. However, many people have said over the years how I bring calm with me into an organisation or community. I always find that flattering, but the reality is: calm exterior with duck feet paddling like crazy underneath.
I find stopping and doing something different, even for a minute, is a great help. I will even tackle the dishwasher! Not taking on someone else’s time poor behaviour is another – you know the one: thanks for inviting me to that meeting because you’re in a flap about something you should have dealt with already, but I can’t do that right now because I have 10 million other deadlines to meet, but I do have some time available for you tomorrow 😂
Glad you like it Sean, thank you. Yes, I think it’s key that we understand stress in all its guises.
Lol, made me laugh – duck paddling under water. Been there 🙂
Oh, and those meetings 😉 We’re really strange characters, us humans, eh? 😉
It is key, Caz. In fact, your post helped me calmly deal with an issue yesterday re my son’s stress. So, I’m very appreciative.
Yes, we are strange characters. And as I said to someone the other day, what’s normal anyway? I keep apologising to my children for passing on some of my wonky traits 😂 They say: it’s alright dad because we have some of mum’s too 🤣
Lol and yes, I’m sure my sons’ would say something similar. And you’re right, everyone’s ‘normal’ is different 🙂
Really great post! I find breathing exercises, yoga and meditation incredibly helpful for when I am stressed out. I also find that getting a good nights sleep and eating healthy helps me stay more calm and relaxed as well.
Thank you Pooja and I’m delighted to hear you have techniques that help you. Yes, a good night sleep would work wonders for me too, if I could get one lol.
you’ve been quite quiet lately, I hope all is well.
Hey P, nice to hear from you. I was just on your blog this morning. I had several sets backs in the last two week. I thought I was on the mend then I got flu only yesterday. Still don’t feel great – flug bug, so I can’t do much right now.
Thank you for asking P and I hope you and yours are all good 🙂
Yeah, we’re getting by. Healthy, at least. I’m still easing myself into doing productive things during the day.
Good to hear P 🙂
I’m sorry you’re not feeling too well, but thank you for sharing this post! I never really think about my anxiety as stress, and this post has helped me do that in a good way. We all have stress, we all just handle it in different ways! I tend to go for runs when I’m feeling particularly stressed – any situation helps if I be too physically tired to think about my metal stress.
The Stress Bucket is a great way to visualize the balance of stress. I know most of my warning signs of excessive stress, but I sometimes ignore them thinking that if I push through, I’ll finally get enough done that I can rest. It’s a bad habit, because I know from experience that taking an hour or a day “off” can change my outlook on things from impossible back to achievable. Walks and showers are my favorite mini-de-stress tools. They help me get back into a sense of flow.
Haha, bad habits eh? Even if you only take five-ten minutes a day at work and practice some breathing exercises,visualisation or any other stress reliever that you find useful.
Go for a 5 minute stroll around your workplace, outside and just take it all in. Forget work for 5 minutes 🙂
An insightful post, Jon! Your post gave me a clear idea about stress. It is quite right that everyone fills their stress bucket with unwanted stress and worries. Healing therapies helped to get rid of my stress. I also came to know about the immense benefits healing therapies from https://www.dasgesundheitsblog.com/.