Date: 30 April 2024

Stress Management Techniques For A Calmer, Healthier You

Stress Management Techniques For A Calmer Healthier You

Stress is a constant companion in our fast-paced world, with chronic stress wreaking havoc on our physical and mental health. In fact studies reveal that up to 75% of all doctor visits are attributed to stress-related ailments.

While stress is inevitable, it doesn’t have to control us. In the book “The Upside of Stress”, Kerry McGonigal discusses the latest science which reveals “stress can make you smarter, stronger and more successful. It helps you learn and grow. It can even inspire courage and compassion”. In fact her whole book is about making people better at stress “not to reduce or avoid it but rather to rethink and even embrace it”.

Understanding how stress affects the body and how to harness it positively is the key, along with arming yourself with stress management techniques.

What is Stress?

Stress is a prehistoric response that is rooted in a gland in your brain called the hypothalamus. An external trigger, or stressor, such as a traffic jam or a tight deadline, stimulates the release of chemicals that tell your body to either stand and fight, or to run for your life.

 When this happens, blood is withdrawn from your brain and stomach and sent to your larger muscle groups. Adrenaline is released into your blood, your heart and lungs work harder, your eyes dilate, your skin sweats, the level of fats, cholesterol and sugar in your bloodstream increases, your stomach secretes more acid, your immune system slows down and your thinking shifts to a more black-and-white, survivalist mode. 

The stress response was designed to protect our hunter gatherer ancestors from immediate danger, such as predators. It was not designed for the more unrelenting stressors in modern life like job insecurity, an unforgiving boss or information overload. 

 

Stress Management

Stress at work

Annie Ross is a psychologist who runs the stress management consultancy Health Initiatives. She believes managing stress at work is a two-way street. “As individuals, we need to understand that stress is a valid condition. Recognise the symptoms and work to manage it before it gets out of control.”

“Physiologically, we haven’t evolved to live in the modern environment,” says Ross, “and that’s why there is a stress epidemic causing so much illness, particularly mental illness.”

A guide on dealing with workplace stress called ‘Stress: The Spice of Life or the Kiss of Death?’ explores the paradox that, when we feel in control, stress becomes the spice of life, a challenge instead of a threat. Yet when we lack this crucial sense of control, stress can spell crisis.

A healthy level of stress helps us be productive, motivated and stimulated. It induces ‘cortex thinking’, or high-level, critical thinking that allows us to make good decisions. 

According to Ross, the danger lies in not turning this stress response off. “When we experience stress, our body is releasing chemicals designed for fight or flight, but instead of punching the boss or running out of the room, we sit quietly at our computers.

 

The negative effects of stress

Ross explains how stress can negatively affect the body. “If our stress has no outlet over time, our stress response can become hyperactive. This creates ‘limbic thinking’, or low-level thinking that involves losing the ability to process information clearly and rationally. We start overreacting to small things and we make bad decisions. 

This is when stress starts to affect work performance, health and relationships. It becomes a vicious cycle as we become exhausted, feel de-motivated and are less likely to behave in a way that would help us release stress, like exercising, seeing friends or just indulging ourselves with a warm bath and some candles.”

Harnessing Stress For Positive Outcomes

Harnessing stress for positive outcomes

Your stress response is not normally activated by an actual event, so much as the way you choose to react to that event. 

“Over time, we fall into automatic stress reactions due to our attitudes,” says Ross. “Women are particularly guilty of this.” In fact, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety disorders. 

However, the good news is that you can train yourself to respond differently. Ross and other stress management practitioners specialise in teaching cognitive techniques to help people do just this. 

You need to step back from the event, notice your stress reaction and consciously choose a new response. “If your bus is running late, challenge the negative thought and tell yourself: ‘I’m late. There is nothing I can do about it.’ Choose to stop worrying and do something you enjoy: read a book, listen to music or do some breathing exercises instead.”

Arm yourself with some simple stress management techniques for these moments and to add into your daily routine.

Mindset shifts for stress management

Developing the right attitude and behaviour is an essential component of stress management. This can sometimes be hard work, particularly for people with severe cases of anxiety or depression, but it is reassuring to know that if things get too difficult, then professional help is available. And until evolution catches up to our modern world, proactively managing your stress is vital to living a healthy, satisfying life.

McGonigal notes “The mindset shift that matters is the one that allows you to hold a more balanced view of stress – to fear it less, to trust yourself to handle it, and to use it as a resource for engaging in life.”

The key is equipping ourselves with effective coping mechanisms to navigate the challenges life throws our way.

Try these Stress management techniques

  • NATURE AS YOUR ALLY: Research suggests that spending time in nature significantly reduces stress levels. Take a stroll in the park, go for a hike, or simply relax outdoors and soak up the sunshine.
  • MINDFULNESS ON DEMAND: Take advantage of readily available mindfulness practices with meditation apps and online guided sessions. Dedicate a few minutes each day to focus on your breath and quiet your mind.
  • PRACTICE GRATITUDE: Reflect on the positive aspects of your life. Keeping a gratitude journal or simply taking a moment each day to appreciate what you have can significantly reduce stress and boost overall well-being.
  • MOVE YOUR BODY, BOOST YOUR MOOD: Physical activity is a powerful stress reliever. Explore group fitness classes, hit the gym, or simply dance in your living room. Find activities you enjoy and make movement a source of joy.
  • PRIORITISE SLEEP FOR OPTIMAL HEALTH: Aim for seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night. Establish a calming bedtime routine and create a sleep-conducive environment.
  • SET BOUNDARIES FOR YOUR WELLBEING: Don’t hesitate to establish limitations and politely decline requests that contribute to stress. Remember, prioritizing your health is paramount.

 

Article by Lisa McLean

Read more health & wellness stories HERE

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