Nat Barnes looks at some ways to help reduce stress
NHS Inform (Scotland’s national health information service), defines stress as the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope.
Sometimes stress can take a physical form, such as having a constant cold or flu, feeling lethargic or tired both mentally and physically. You may see a change in your appetite – either constantly hungry or having none at all – or see your sleep patterns change. Insomnia is a common symptom of stress, feeling restless at night especially as your mind has more time to start turning things over.
Exercise has long been known to help with stress levels, but while one-off sessions are good, it’s habitual exercise that’s the best. A 2019 study by the National Library of Medicine in the USA found that regular exercise was the most beneficial at reducing peak cortisol levels and thus reducing stress.
It doesn’t mean you suddenly have to become a gym-bunny or take up weight-lifting, just regular walks around your local park or even group dance classes will help to keep you active. While it’s certainly not something to enter into lightly, owning a dog will help to get you out of your home regularly each day and also get some exercise. The double-benefit is that plenty of studies have shown that simply petting a dog (or cat) lowers people’s stress hormones.
Helping to reduce your stress still further will be if that exercise can be done in a social circle too.
If you want to join an exercise class or local group but don’t know where to find one, ask your local pharmacy for advice as they may be able to point you in the right direction.
Maintain a healthy diet
When you’re stressed, your body reacts in a number of ways. Stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol – are released from your adrenal glands. There is an increase in blood sugar, blood pressure rises and heart beat can become rapid. A healthy and balanced diet can help your body manage those physiological changes and keep your blood sugar levels stable to help adrenal function.
Eating well and eating regularly is important along with having a balanced breakfast, five portions of non-starchy vegetables per day and plenty of fruit. Vitamin C found in most fruit and vegetables is stored in the adrenal gland, while dark green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seed will help to boost your magnesium levels too which can be depleted in times of stress.
When you’re stressed, the body also has an increased demand for protein, so try and include some lean meat, chicken, fish, lentils nuts or seeds into each meal – that protein will help to slow the release of any sugar into your blood stream too.
Excess alcohol can also influence that blood sugar, as will highly refined foods such as white bread, pasta, biscuits or chocolate. Watch out for any hidden sugars in processed and packaged foods and try to replace them with unrefined foods such as brown bread, rice and oats.
Try not to over-do the caffeine, especially when you’re already tired, and swap it with herbal or fruit teas and drink plenty of water.
NHS Inform (Scotland’s national health information service), defines stress as the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure
Try to relax
Just being outside and going for a walk for some fresh air, perhaps around the local park, will help to reduce your stress levels. Connecting with nature, even in the smallest ways, has been shown to help considerably.
Practising meditation or yoga is not only free but can be done almost anywhere, while even basic things like reading, listening to music, having a bath or taking up a new hobby can all help to promote relaxation. There are a wealth of wellbeing apps that can help you to relax or learn meditation for the first time.
Many activities can help you to expand your social circle too with yoga classes or even reading groups if you’re suffering from loneliness or a lack of social contact.
Talk it out
If you’re stressed, then it can often help to talk about it, either with friends or family. If that’s not possible, then consider professional help, either a counsellor or someone in the particular area that you’re struggling with.
Most important is not to be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling. If your issues are financial, then speak to your bank or a financial adviser or ask around your friends for advice. The old phrase ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ might be over-used, but that’s because it’s so true. Sharing your worries with someone else might shed new light or solutions on a problem that you’ve never realised before.