It can be caused by the commute, things going sour at home or at work, because of money problems, because you have to do a PowerPoint presentation.
Stress is a response to any situation that puts you under emotional or mental pressure. It’s always a subjective experience; one person’s stress is another’s walk in the park.
Yet stress and anxiety affects our bodies in similar ways; our heart beats faster, our muscles tighten up, our stomach churns. This is our body acting on our hard-wired “flight-or-fight” response, which is a useful motivator to help humans get away from, say, woolly mammoths.
It isn’t a particularly useful response to daily life. In fact, chronic stress can make us sick, leading to high blood pressure and heart disease, contribute to asthma, digestive disorders, cancer and other health problems. Though some stress is an inevitable aspect of life, there are ways you can calm your anxious mind, and by correlation, your body’s response to it.
Easy stress-busting tips to help deal with stress every day
Exercise and stress
You know exercise is good for you, and when you’re stressed you just don’t feel like it. Yet exercise is a crucial palliative to stress and anxiety. It pumps up your endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, sometimes known as a runner’s high. Any form of exercise can create the feeling.
Think of exercise as meditation in motion. A game of tennis or a few laps in the pool will help you concentrate on the way your body is moving and before you know it, you’ll have forgotten all about the stressors of the day.
As you begin to regularly dispense with your daily tensions through exercise, the resulting energy and optimism can help you think more clearly. Chances are it will also improve your sleep.
Breathing, meditation and mindfulness
Now find a comfortable position, take a deep breath, and breathe. Try to focus your mind on the repetition of a sound, word, phrase or movement. Some find it helpful to count inhalations and exhalations. Allow your thoughts to come and go as you focus on the repetition. If your thoughts hijack your attention, gently refocus your mind on the sensations of breathing.
Focusing on the breath is a kind of meditation for beginners; a gateway to a broader practice of “mindfulness,” the practice that ultimately aims to focus your attention to the present and accept it without judgement.
You might be anxious about not sleeping well, or not sleeping well because you’re anxious, but both will leave you in the same place – tired, and likely more inclined to stress and anxiety.
Some common tips for a good night’s sleep:
- Keep regular sleep hours – go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
- Make your bedroom a sanctuary, one that isn’t too hot and isn’t too cold, dark and quiet. If you have a pet that’s likely to wake you up, toughen up and don’t let it sleep with you.
- Cut down on caffeine, especially in the evening.
- Cut down on the alcohol, especially late at night. It might help you get to sleep, but you’re almost certain to wake up a few hours later.
- If you lie awake worrying about what you have to do the next day, or worrying that you’re going to forget what you have to do the next day, plan your day and write it down before you go to bed.
The extracts of St John’s Wort (also known as hypericum, Klamath weed, goatweed or, in botanically as, Hypericum perforatum) have been used traditionally for centuries as a sedative to help relieve nerve pain. Today, St. John’s Wort is commonly used for anxiety and for sleeplessness. St John’s Wort comes in many forms, in capsules, tablets, tinctures, tea and oil-based skin lotions, or as powdered version for the dried herb.
Bear in mind that it can take up to three to six weeks before you feel any effects of St John’s Wort.
St. John’s Wort can affect the way many prescriptions medicines work, including the contraceptive pill. Consult your doctor before using. Make sure you read the label and take it only as directed.
There are a number of books and websites that offer advice on how to manage your time, to help you manage stress at both work and home. Recommendations for work include taking a lunch break, learning how to prioritise tasks, trying to do the job well rather than spend all your time doing it.
We also recently came across the four Ds, on how to manage email stress.
- Delete: you can probably delete half the emails you get immediately
- Do: if the email is urgent or can be completed quickly, then do it.
- Delegate: if someone else is in a better position to deal with it, then let them.
- Defer: set aside time later to spend on emails that require more time (as long as you don’t defer too many of them).
See your doctor
If you’ve tried everything and they aren’t working, you should go to see your GP. They may suggest other coping techniques or recommend some form of counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.