What Is Stress?
When we sense danger, our nervous systems switch into “fight or flight” mode: our heart rates increase, we become more alert, blood is diverted to our muscles, preparing them for action and our body releases a mix of hormones to help deal with the situation and provide a rush of energy. Stress is a natural and crucial reaction by our bodies that our ancestors relied on when dealing with threats.
In our modern world, we rarely face stress-inducing danger or threats, but our bodies continue to react to the daily pressures of work, hectic lifestyles and that back-of-mind feeling we have too much to do. Whether at home, work or with friends and family, sometimes it feels like we are in a constant state of “fight or flight.”
Stress doesn't make us weak, it is a useful response to our external environment. However, if we stay stressed for long periods, this can lead to chronic stress, anxiety and other symptoms.
The symptoms of stress can be physical, mental or emotional. It can sometimes be hard to diagnose stress as the main cause of these symptoms, do the below seem familiar?
- Often feeling a sense of worry or unease
- Being easy to irritate
- Being unable to relax, switch off and unwind
- Lack of energy
- Sleep problems (including difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night, feeling unrefreshed in morning)
- Difficulty concentrating, mental fatigue
Sounds familiar? If you are suffering from stress or anxiety, what can you do?
How To Manage Stress
The simplest approach is to try to prevent becoming stressed in the first place. Change your lifestyle if you are prone to stress, ensure you give yourself enough time in the day, and some time for yourself at the end of a busy day.
However, sometimes avoiding life’s pressures just isn’t possible.
- If you are feeling stressed, try to identify the reason why. Perhaps you are under pressure at work or home, do you have looming deadlines? Maybe it’s planning that big move, adding to the family. Maybe it’s the in-laws! Try writing down the reason for your stress or discussing it with someone you trust. Getting it out of your head is often the first step towards feeling better. Many of us are struggling with the hectic pace of modern life, expressing how you feel — however you do it — can help lighten the load.
- Once you know the cause of your stress, you can seek ways to reduce its impact on your life. Turn time wasted into productive time, for instance our commuting tips can help you make the most of your morning travel. Simply remembering to breathe deeply at moments of pressure can have a positive impact on how you react and feel.
Sometimes you might not be able to lock down the specific cause of your stress, or see an obvious way to counteract. You can still make changes in your life that can improve the way you’re feeling:
- Improve your diet by eating more fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and protein, and reducing processed foods, refined sugars, caffeine and alcohol. Here's a list of snacks to avoid before bed.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Keep to a regular bedtime and do something relaxing before bed. (See our 7 ways to get better natural sleep.)
- Regular exercise will keep you fit and healthy as well as reduce stress. Here's a 10-minute workout for busy parents (or anyone really).
- Experiment with breathing exercises to help you stay calm throughout the day. Check out our breathing exercises here
- Give yourself 5 minutes to try relaxation techniques such as meditation, a great way to change your perspective.
- Communicate. Talk to friends and family. If you need additional support, speak to your physician or find a counselor you can talk to about your problems and work towards finding a solution.