In simple terms, stress is your body’s reaction to a situation or life event. Those events can be positive or negative. Your body reacts to those events with emotional, mental and physical responses. To manage those responses you need to find ways to reduce stress.
What seems like positive events from the outside can also produce stress. For example, the birth of your child, going on a first date or an important promotion. Everybody perceives stress differently. What causes stress for one person might not have the same effect for another.
When you feel threatened, your body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones trigger a “fight or flight” response in your body. Your muscles tighten, your blood pressure increases and your senses become sharper. Stay and face the danger or run as fast as you can.
Stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it can even be beneficial. It keeps you alert and might help you to push through a demanding situation like a public speech. Stress can be a motivational factor.
Such situations are short term though. Thereafter, you return to a relaxed state. There are no negative effects and you might be able to handle the same situation better the next time.
Most people can deal with a certain amount of stress without any lasting effects. Certain people, including myself, work better under stress and pressure. But only for a certain period though and provided I can follow my workout routine.
If stressful events occur after one another you don’t get time to relax between them. Without such relief, you end up overworked, under tension and having wear and tear effects on our body. The reason is your body never receives a signal to stop producing stress hormones to slow down.
What is good for you in small doses is your undoing if it never stops. You soon feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. If that happens we speak of chronic stress. Chronic stress pushes the body’s homeostasis out of balance.
How do you know you are stressed?
For some people, this question is difficult to answer. Because they are used to stress symptoms and perceive them to be normal they only realise when they experience a breakdown.
Chronic stress causes physical as well as emotional effects.
On a physical level, you might experience headaches, an upset stomach, frequent colds and low energy.
On an emotional level, you might struggle to concentrate and feel overburdened. You feel anxious and you constantly worry about things. Changes in your behaviour start to creep in. You are struggling to sleep. Your appetite changes.
Worst case you turn to alcohol and cigarettes.
Anxiety Vs Stress
Don’t confuse anxiety with stress. Sometimes, they are used interchangeably and there is some overlap. But they are different. External factors such as work, friends, and loved ones can cause stress. When an event happens and time goes by stress decreases.
In contrast, anxiety is a reaction to stress and caused by internal factors. Stress can trigger anxiety. As time goes by anxiety can persist in the form of a nagging worry. It’s important to spot anxiety early to prevent the development of anxiety disorder.
Your way out
There are several ways to reduce stress. Long term stress is unhealthy and doesn’t make you feel good. It’s important to start early and combat first signs. The more stressed you are, the more effort it will take to bring you back into balance. Don’t underestimate the symptoms as they soon pile up.
Below are 10 ways to combat stress. You don’t have to practice all of them. Even a few methods will go a long way if you practice them consistently.
1.) Get more sleep
Sleep is often underestimated when it comes to stress. A good nights sleep regulates mood and increases mental clarity. It restores your body to a balanced state.
Scientists recommend you sleep around 7 – 8 hours on average a night. Often people say “I need to sleep over it” implying the clarity they get from having a good nights sleep. Enough sleep makes you a better decision-maker for those problems that stress you out.
If you are struggling to sleep due to your stress there are few things you can do. Most important of them all, unwind and relax an hour before going to bed.
Enjoy some quiet time by reading a book, take a long shower or a bath. Step away from the daily stressors. Have a cup of (caffeine-free!) tea. Switching off all screens at least half an hour before going to bed helped me increase my sleep quality a lot
2.) Get active
For me, this is one of the essential ways to reduce stress. I notice increased moodiness if I can’t maintain my usual gym routine. I get snappy, easily irritated and I feel under pressure much quicker.
But that doesn’t mean you have to maintain a gym schedule for a few hours each time as I do. Going for a fast-paced walk each day, during your lunch break, works wonders.
Getting active means exercising your body each day in some form or shape. You could walk part of your way to work for example.
Whenever you exercise or are active your body produces endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in your brain that act as natural pain killers and mood lifters. Frequent exercise also reduces adrenaline and cortisol. Remember what those are? Correct, typical stress hormones.
So what are you waiting for? Get moving!
3.) Think about supplements
When you think about supplements, what comes to mind? Pills? Shakes? Powders? A supplement can be anything that you add to your normal diet.
Which means even herbal tea is a supplement. Certain teas including chamomile or valerian root promote relaxation and sleepiness. They are ideal before going to bed.
Ashwagandha root is another amazing gift of nature. A study published in 2012 showed ashwagandha root extract to increase resistance towards stress.
Rhodiola is a second plant with similar effects. It grows in Russia and Asia. Rhodiola is well tolerated and safe to take. A study published in 2009 showed the plant has a beneficial effect on mental performance. It also reduced stress on volunteers.
If you are already experiencing chronic stress and first signs of anxiety try CBD. You can find the benefits of CBD here. In a nutshell, CBD can be used as an anti-anxiety supplement. Various studies show that the substance has therapeutic and relaxing effects.
This is one of the easier ways to reduce stress.
4.) Give mindfulness a try
Mindfulness means being present with your mind in the current moment. It means not overreacting to things around you. Instead, you recognise what’s happening and don’t let your mind drift off.
Especially when it comes to routine tasks, your mind seems to work on autopilot. “I could do this in my sleep” as the saying goes. When you are mindful, the autopilot switches off. Meditation is one way of being mindful.
So how does this reduce stress? When you practice mindfulness you become more aware of your thoughts. In return, you don’t immediately react to a situation.
Remember, stress is a reaction of your body. As you have your thoughts in check, your emotional intelligence rises. You become more aware of other’s emotions and are less likely to go into conflict. Your ability to focus increases.
5.) Clean up your diet
Chances are you are grabbing the wrong kind of food when you are under stress. Too many of you are turning to junk food or quick, prepacked meals which are not doing you any favours.
Just because you are craving it doesn’t mean it’s good for you. High-calorie foods trick you into feeling better. But all they do is spiking your blood sugar with a crash shortly after.
The first step is to stabilise your blood sugar by removing as much sugar and refined carbohydrates as possible. Instead, eat complex carbohydrates like whole-grain bread and oats as they take longer to digest. This means carbohydrates enter your bloodstream at a slower pace and provide your body with energy for longer.
The second step is to increase your intake of vitamin C (citrus fruits, peppers) and B5 (meat, mushrooms). Both of them are needed to make adrenal hormones and cortisol. The more stressed you are, the more vitamin C and B5 your body needs. Meaning you can end up in deficiency when you are experiencing chronic stress. This also means your immune system becomes weak.
Another aspect is the timing of your meals. Having a healthy breakfast is important and helps to keep a steady blood sugar level. Eat regularly but in smaller sizes. It helps keep a constant flow of energy and low blood pressure. And don’t skip meals. It’s better to have a healthy snack than skipping a meal.
6.) Avoid and/or reduce alcohol, nicotine and caffeine
Even though caffeine is a stimulant, it’s also anxiety-inducing. Caffeine’s effect on your body can lead it to produce more of the stress hormone cortisol. That’s not what you need when you are already stressed out. You need something to calm you down rather than make your heart beat faster.
Alcohol and nicotine are deceiving at first. Alcohol with its sedative and calming effect. Nicotine with its initial feeling of stress relief. When you consume both of them for a prolonged period they contribute to the maintenance and worsening of anxiety. Especially when you want to stop and those effects get worse. An that’s aside from their obvious health risks.
7.) Learn to say “No”
I get it. You don’t want to upset anyone and don’t want any conflict because you are already stressed out. Saying “Yes” to a task that will add even more workload to your huge to-do list is counterproductive though. Saying “Yes” puts you in a dangerous spiralling cycle.
Your to-do list is getting bigger which in turn increases your stress. The most important thing is for your to-do list to become smaller. You will achieve this by saying “No” to unimportant requests. Start focusing on tasks that matter.
You don’t need to say “No” straight away. You could start with something like “I’m sorry but I have other priorities at the moment.” or “I’m in the middle of something, can you ask me again in an hour?”.
More often than not the person asking you for something will go somewhere else with his or her request. Not only will you reduce stress by saying “No”, but you will also improve your time management and set clear boundaries.
8.) Clean up your to-do list
Do your least liked tasks first thing in the morning according to priority. If you do those in the morning, the rest of the day seems a bit more pleasant as the worst is behind you.
Prioritise hard and rank tasks according to their priority on your to-do list. There is no point in doing something if it’s not important. When putting something on your list, also note down a few other things like notes, due dates or even sub-tasks.
Sometimes it is better to cut down a bigger task into sub-tasks so you are more likely to complete them. Remember, the aim for your to-do list is to shrink as the day progresses.
9.) Enjoy some time with your pet
There have been a few studies (here and here) showing that pets reduce blood pressure and make you feel calm and relaxed. Pets have a beneficial effect on your mental health. They are attuned to your behaviour and emotions.
Pets provide unconditional love and always seem to know what you are feeling. There’s nothing more relaxing than petting or cuddling with a dog or a cat. Additionally, dog owners get more exercise and take longer walks which further reduces stress.
10.) Accept things you cannot change
Some things in your life you can’t control. So why waste time and think or worry about them? Thinking about the weather or spreading diseases does not make them change or go away. Thinking about those things is the wrong place for your energy.
Similarly, you can’t change how people feel or behave. You have no control. Instead, focus on things you can control, like your reaction to those feelings or behaviour. Accepting things that you have no control over is one of the best ways to cope with stress.
It is not necessary to put in place all the above ways to reduce stress. Start with one or two and see how they work out for you. If they reduce your stress to an acceptable level, amazing!
If not, keep working through that list until you reach a manageable level of stress. For me, the quick wins are in getting enough sleep, making sure I exercise and stay active. I maintain a healthy diet and I don’t worry about things I can’t control. Stress and pressure are all around us, don’t let them get to you!
What’s your favourite way of managing and reducing stress? Let me know in the comment section below and don’t forget to sign up to my blog.