The mental health foundation reports 74% of UK adults have experienced stress over the last year. Studies show this has gotten worse during the pandemic. A recent survey identified that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020.
(Source: Stress Management Society)
Firstly, stress is not always bad for us. From a purely evolutionary point of view, stress has kept us alive as a species. Stress activates a ‘fight or flight’ response, releasing a mix of hormones and chemicals that prepare the body for physical action by diverting blood away from other bodily functions. We gain an energy boost when stressed, which means we can focus our attention to respond quickly, saving us in situations where we are forced to act fast, like avoiding a speeding vehicle. Stress affects us negatively when activated in inappropriate situations, e.g. at work where it acts to divert blood flow towards our ‘fight or flight’ muscles, brain function is reduced, leading to an inability to ‘think straight’.
A long-term build-up of stress is dangerous for us. By taking on demands and challenges that our personal and social resources are unable to manage, the result of not being able to carry the weight of those demands can be a breakdown in our emotional and/or mental wellbeing. It also causes physical damage, incorporating high blood pressure, and heart disease.
The key to managing stress is being able to recognise when we are carrying too much weight, and combat further damage to ourselves.
How do we recognise stress?
Stress manifests itself uniquely to everyone, making it harder to recognise in yourself or other people. Stress targets the weakest parts of us, so if you have a physical or health condition, you will find being under stress makes it worse. The key is recognising long-term changes in emotional, physical or mental traits.
10 Step Stress Solution
Neil Shah is the founder and director of The Stress Management Society and an international authority on stress-management and wellbeing issues. He has outlined 10 changes we can all make to better manage our stress.
1. Adopt a Positive Mind-Set – Easy to say, difficult to do, adopting a positive mindset is all about eliminating the actions and behaviours that cause us to think negatively and replace them with positive ones. Simple things like giving yourself time to do the things you want to do, focusing on and sharing with others the parts of your day that you found positive, and practising good karma. Being kind to others is a sure-fire way of putting you on the path to positivity.
2. Don’t be a Slave to Tech – Many of us would argue that technology helps us manage our stress, especially in the workplace. Certainly, tech companies are constantly finding new ways of helping us stay organised and on top of things more easily. However, this constant connection to our jobs means we are not allowing ourselves to ‘switch off’. Constant connectivity causes us more stress than we may think. Try a digital detox, spend a few hours away from your technology. 62% of workers check business emails while at home or on holiday. In downtime, why not keep your phone switched off to avoid temptation. This will allow you to have a complete break rejuvenate.
3. Eat for Wellbeing – What you eat affects how you feel, and eating a balanced and healthy diet makes us feel better. Processed food works to produce a small hit of pleasure when we consume it, yet in the long-term, it harms our mood, on top of the physical harm on our body. A healthier diet boosts your stress response.
4. Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Good sleep will enhance your health and wellbeing. By getting enough, you will avoid feelings of lethargy that comes with sleep deprivation. Studies show those who get the right amount of sleep have better immune systems, are more relaxed, have better metabolisms, get physically stronger, and have improved memories. In short, sleeping gives you superpowers!
5. Get Moving to Combat Stress – Exercise helps your brain to counteract stress in three ways…
- Exercise releases endorphins that regulate your neurological system, helping repair the damage stress does to your brain and nervous system.
- You are forcing all your systems to work in harmony, training your body to operate as efficiently as possible.
- Exercise regulates your cortisol(colour) levels, which being under stress is released into your system, so even though getting out for that run can be difficult physically, you are at least giving your brain a helping hand.
6. Learn to Say No – If you are already under stress, why create more for yourself by saying yes to things you know you cannot manage? Taking on more responsibility at this time affect your ability to carry out the tasks you have already committed to. Why not look to your team to collaborate with you, collaboration leads to better teamwork. Using a shared work system is a great way to collaborate with your team.
7. Master Your Time – Effective time management is crucial to managing a heavy workload. It will enable you to feel in control of your work-life. You can do simple things to manage your time more effectively, planning, prioritising your workload, there are many software’s that help you achieve a more organised approach to deliver better outcomes
8. Practice Deep Breathing – Why is breathing deeply so important for stress management? Well put simply, more oxygen means more energy, and less energy leads to sluggishness.
So how can you practice breathing for stress relief? The Stress Management Society promotes a simple breathing method:
- Sit or stand in a comfortable, relaxed position with your spine erect.
- Inhale slowly through your nose to the count of 5.
- Hold the breath in the ball or balloon in your belly for 5-10 seconds.
- Count slowly to 8 as you exhale
- Try to repeat this routine several times.
9. Prioritise Your Health – Life is busy and most people juggle with work and home life. To prioritise your health, for immediate and future benefits, plan and hold yourself accountable. Manage expectations, make realistic changes that you know are achievable, change your environment by throwing out unhealthy foods, make lots of small changes, and commit to changes by making them a priority and creating a routine.
10. Stay Hydrated – The more tired you feel, the more prone you are to stress. When you haven’t drunk enough water, your energy levels lower and you feel more tired. Our brains are 85% water, so by starving it, we are causing ourselves damage. Water consumption is also another way of regulating your cortisol levels, as dehydration increases your cortisol production. There is no easier way of managing stress than drinking a glass of water, and it will genuinely help you cope with stressful situations.
Build positive changes into your routine to manage your stress