What is stress and why it's important to find healthy ways to cope with it? Stress is defined by the WHO ‘as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation’. Stress is a very natural response to different challenges that we might face at different times of our lives and everyone will experience stress at some point. Throughout our lives there are a number of different factors that can cause stress for example you may feel stressed at work, you may be struggling financially, or you may be having relationship issues.
When you’re feeling stressed, it affects both the mind and the body. If we are feeling stressed we may find it hard to relax, we might feel anxious or irritable, and we may even feel physical pains such as an upset stomach. The way we respond to stress can make a huge difference to our overall mental health and well-being. Putting in place an effective stress management system can help you feel healthier, happier and more productive.
The negative effects of stress on both physical and mental health
Stress has a psychological impact on your brain that can cause you to feel more agitated, aggressive, exhausted, sad and you might not be able to concentrate as much. Continued stress leads to problems such as anxiety, depression and burnouts. Stress not only affects your mental health, but it can also affect your physical health. Constant or chronic stress can cause our heart rate and blood pressure to increase which can lead to a higher rate of headaches and a higher risk of heart disease. Physical signs of stress can also include stress acne, hair loss and a fairly common stress rash.
Healthy ways to cope with stress
Stress will affect everyone differently, and mental health experts often like to use the stress bucket analogy to help measure people’s stress levels. You have to imagine that you are carrying a bucket on your shoulders, the bucket will fill up slowly with water when you experience different types of stresses in your life. Sometimes you will feel strong enough to carry the bucket or stress on your shoulders, whereas other times you will need help relieving it. Here are different ways you can help relieve the water from the bucket and relieve the stress in your life.
1. Connect with others (friends, family,etc.)
Have you ever heard of the saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’? People tend to bottle up their emotions when they are feeling stressed which can often make you feel worse about the situation in hand. Speaking to someone you trust, whether that’s your friends, family or even a therapist about the different stresses you are feeling can help you feel better about the situation.
The people you confide in can listen to you and offer you useful advice that can help relieve the feeling of stress. Connecting with others can also take your mind off the stressful situation you are dealing with. Even if you go on a 20-minute walk with a friend or a trip to the supermarket with your family to help distract you, it can be very beneficial to your overall well-being.
2. Take breaks throughout the day
If you are feeling overwhelmed with work-related stress and you feel like you have a million tasks to complete, the last thing you might want to do is take a break. However, when you feel stressed your levels of concentration are often down, taking a break can help maintain your mental and physical health as your brain can shut-off for a short amount of time.
Whether you take a break to make a cup of tea and toast, or practice mindful meditation, taking a break can actually help to relieve your stress. Taking a break and doing something you enjoy will help to lift your mood and will allow you to pause and reset so that you can resume your work or whatever you are doing with new energy.
3. Spend time in nature
Spring is now here and hopefully some nice weather should follow shortly which means we can explore the outdoor world again without freezing. Spending time outside in green spaces can positively benefit both your mental and physical well-being. There are a number of studies that have shown that people who spend more time outside experience improvement in their mood and they feel like their quality of life has been boosted. So to help relieve stress or to keep the stress at bay, you should look to incorporate some time in nature into your everyday routine.
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Spending time outside will also physically benefit your body as the fresh air will boost the amount of oxygen that goes to your brain. When you're cooped up inside all day your oxygen levels are much lower which can cause levels of tiredness and a lack of focus on the tasks that need to be done which can cause stress. So next time you feel a little overwhelmed with stress, it can be a good idea to open your front door and go on a walk. Spending time outside has been proven to help boost your mood which can help with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
4. Mindful eating: paying attention to the sensation of eating and the emotions that arise
This might seem like a strange one, but have you ever heard of mindful eating before?
The majority of the time when we eat food, whether we are on our lunch break or are eating to simply fuel our bodies before we have to jet off somewhere, we eat quickly and it seems like a rushed event. Mindful eating is an approach to eating food that focuses on your sensual awareness of the food and the experience you feel when you eat it, as well as the surroundings you're in.
When you eat mindfully, you will observe the different signals food sends to your body such as the taste of the food and whether you feel full and full of more energy once you have eaten. Some of the benefits of mindful eating can actually help with your stress levels. Since the practice of mindful eating makes you sit down and focus on the environment you’re in and the emotions you feel when you’re eating, it can bring around a feeling of calmness.
5. Try Yoga
Yoga is a type of exercise that focuses on the mind and the body, there are a number of different types of yoga but the majority will focus on meditation, movement and breathing techniques to help boost your mental well-being. Throughout the years, yoga has continued to grow in popularity as people experience positive mental benefits such as a reduction in stress which is a very common goal in today’s busy lifestyle. So how does yoga help to relieve stress?
When you are taking part in a yoga class, the practice encourages you to relax by focusing your attention and awareness to your body and breath which helps boost your concentration.The different postures you do throughout the class will also relieve tension that has built up and also promotes the release of endorphins, your mood-boosting chemicals. There are a number of different positions in yoga that can help bring around a feeling of relaxation, here are a few you can try at home:
- Child’s pose: This is one of the most common positions in yoga and is known as the resting posture which can help to bring around the feeling of comfort and relaxation.
- Cobra pose: This position brings about an immediate feeling of relaxation as you open your chest and focus on your breath.
- Happy baby pose: This pose is used to help with tiredness and brings around a feeling of relaxation because your mind takes you back to when you were a child (hence the name of the position).
6. Find a hobby you like
Research has shown that people who partake in hobbies are less likely to suffer from low mood, depression and stress. This is ultimately because when you are partaking in the activity of your choice it can make you feel happier and more relaxed.
A hobby can be anything that you do regularly that makes you happy – whether that’s something creative like painting, an active sport like tennis or running, find something that you find enjoyable or meaningful. Not only will taking part in an activity of your choice help you reduce stress, your mind will also be focused on the activity, it will also help with your overall well-being and it should positively benefit your mood. If you would like to try a new hobby or you're stuck for ideas on what to start, here are a few fun activities you could try this week:
- Reading a book
- Cooking or baking
- Joining a sports club
- Writing a story
- Learning a new skill like photography or a musical instrument
7. Take deep breaths
Meditation is a practice that allows you to focus on clearing the thoughts in your mind by using different mental and physical techniques during a meditation session. Morphée is our meditation and relaxation device that contains 210 guided meditation sessions to help you relax during the day if you are feeling stressed or to help you unwind before you fall asleep. When you practice meditation, it should bring around a feeling of calm, balance and peace to help with your overall mental health. Meditation is a great natural solution to stress because you can use it at any point of your day.
Similarly, your Morphée can come in very handy when you’re finding it hard to get to sleep. When we are feeling stressed because we are worrying about something, you may notice that you find it hard to get to sleep or stay asleep. A lack of sleep can cause your body to react as if it’s distressed and releases more cortisol which is your stress hormone. To try and help you unwind before bed, try adding meditation into your night-time routine before you sleep to help promote a higher quality night’s sleep.
8. Fidget toys
A fairly new phenomenon that is helping people during times of stress are fidget toys. There are a number of different stress toys on the market but their main aim is to relieve stress by acting as a distraction to a stressful environment. The devices are often fairly cheap and small, so they can be used at any part of your day and could be used as a temporary form of relief. Here are a few types of fidget toys that you can use:
- Stress balls
- Fidget spinners
- Chewable pendants
- Fidget ring
Identify what trigger your stress
One way to help cope with the stress in your life is to try and identify what is causing you to feel that way in the first place. Finding the trigger can help you become more self-aware of what’s causing it so you can hopefully find a solution. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are three different triggers that can cause stress.
- Routine stress: This includes things like heavy workload, responsibilities, relationship problems etc
- Disruptive changes: This includes things like starting a new job or moving home.
- Traumatic events: This includes anything that has caused you trauma such as an accident or a death in your life.
Once you have identified what is triggering your stress so you can act accordingly. Unfortunately not all stresses have a quick and easy fix and sometimes you will have to put different stress-relieving mechanisms in place to help you get through a stressful time in your life.
Explore other methods and seek professional help if none of the above helps
Everyone will cope with the stresses in their lives in very different ways, it is important to try out different stress-relieving techniques so you can find one that works the best for you. If you feel like none of the natural solutions are working and your stress is getting work, please seek medical advice. Your local GP will be able to help by talking through the problems you are facing and provide different services and advice to help you with your stress.