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7 different ways to cope with stress
There are many things in the world that cause us stress, from small annoyances like travel delays, to big life changes such as moving house.
Often, our families cause us a significant amount of stress too.
Relationships, illness, and generational challenges such as the changing needs of an elderly parent, can all cause worry. Trying to support loved ones through these difficult times can leave you feeling drained and anxious.
And, while a little stress now and then is a normal part of life, constant stress can have a lasting impact on both your physical and mental health.
While it’s not always easy to put your own well-being first, it’s worth remembering that you won’t be much help to others if you’re struggling yourself. This Stress Awareness Month, we’ve shared some quick tips to help you reduce stress and give yourself a break.
What are the two main types of stress?
Acute stress affects most of us from time to time. Things like running late for an appointment or a work deadline can cause acute stress.
Acute stress activates your body’s natural fight or flight response (sweating, racing heart) but rarely has any long-term effects. Symptoms can be managed with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness.
Chronic stress comes from constant exposure to threats or high-pressure situations. Over time it can have a big impact on your physical and mental health and is closely linked to feelings of depression and anxiety.
These feelings can make you withdraw from friends, family, and the things you enjoy. However, the best way to reduce the impact of chronic stress is to speak to someone. You can always talk to a health professional, or an organisation like the Samaritans for support.
1. Create your own stress management plan
Feeling prepared for a stressful situation can help you to stay in control and approach it rationally. A simple stress management plan can help.
Start by thinking about your stress signals – do you become forgetful, find it difficult to concentrate, or get irritable? Recognising these cues gives you time to take some deep breaths or remove yourself from a situation before you become overwhelmed.
It’s also important to map out any stressful tasks you have coming up, and think about what would help you feel more confident when facing these. For example, if you have an important form to complete, gather all the resources you need beforehand and don’t put pressure on yourself to complete it all in one go.
2. Look after your body
Some people find they catch colds and generally feel under the weather more frequently when they’re stressed. Research suggests chronic stress can lower your immune response, and leave you more vulnerable to viruses.
So, being mindful of what you put in your body is important. Some people increase their intake of alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine when they’re feeling under pressure. We all know that in large quantities these drugs are bad for us, however, not everyone knows that, as stimulants, they actually increase our stress levels too.
Eating foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin B, selenium, and magnesium could help improve your wellbeing and reduce anxiety and stress. Nutritionists believe there is a link between gut health and mood, and that eating well (and often) is a quick route to feeling good.
Foods to eat when stressed
Dark chocolate – believed to reduce stress hormones due to its antioxidant properties
Avocados – packed full of omega-3 fatty acids, which researchers have found to improve concentration and mood
Pistachios – researchers think they may lower blood pressure and relieve stress
Oranges – some studies have suggested high levels of vitamin C can combat stress symptoms.
3. Join a support group
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a stress-related support group, just any social group that gives you the opportunity to relax, chat, and have some fun.
As humans we’re not built to be solitary. Socialising with others stops us from focusing on negative thoughts and gives us a chance to recognise that we’re not alone in the challenges we face.
Spending time with others also helps your brain to release oxytocin, which can reduce anxiety levels and stimulate your production of dopamine – the brain’s happy hormone.
4. Know what to avoid
If you’re feeling stressed out or upset, it’s often a good idea to avoid certain types of media.
When we’re feeling stressed or anxious, we’re more likely to absorb negative things and hold on to those feelings for a long time. A rude comment on social media or an upsetting television programme can be all it takes to keep you feeling low for longer.
Instead, try watching a feel good film, going for a walk, or catching up with a friend to reset your mind and mood.
5. Give yourself time
If something isn’t urgent, there’s no need to set yourself a time frame. Giving yourself unnecessary deadlines causes urgency, which in turn leads to worry.
If you’re caring for a parent or young child, remember older people naturally slow down with age, and children get distracted, so things are likely to take longer than if you were doing them alone. Be forgiving of others, and of yourself.
If you have to work to a schedule be sure to have no more than 1 or 2 ‘must do’ tasks a day, and block out as much time as you can to do them. Anything else you accomplish will be a bonus.
6. Get a good night’s sleep
This may seem obvious, but a good night’s sleep is often one of the first things to go when you’re feeling stressed.
Technology may be a big part of modern life, but it shouldn’t be part of your bedtime routine. Smartphones and tablets all emit a type of light called ‘blue light’ which can decrease feelings of sleepiness. Blue light is also believed to reduce REM sleep, which is the stage of sleep that supports learning and memory.
Try not to use electronic devices at least 2 hours before bed. Also ensure the light, noise, and temperature levels in your room are comfortable well before bedtime. This will train your brain to associate bedtime with sleep, rather than small ‘busy’ tasks like finding ear plugs or adjusting the thermostat.
If you find yourself lying awake frustrated at night, forcing yourself to sleep will only cause more stress. Instead, try getting up and making a warm drink such as milk or a calming tea, and returning to bed when you feel sleepier.
7. Get practical advice
There’s no need to shoulder any stress on your own. If you need practical help an advice service is a great place to start. Even if they are unable to solve the root cause of your worries, they will be able to put you in touch with the right support.
Citizens Advice offers free, impartial advice on anything from finances and benefits, to health and immigration, and can provide support in person, or over the phone.
Ultimately, no matter what is causing you stress, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Knowing when and where to ask for support may seem overwhelming but there are people who can and want to help you, including the team here at Elder.