When you’re leading a packed, busy lifestyle, it can sometimes feel difficult to find the time to relax. Whether it’s the pressure of work, the kids, or the commute that’s getting to you, stress is a feeling many of us know all too well.
Feeling some degree of stress every now and again is perfectly normal, and it would be unusual to breeze through life in a permanently relaxed state. However, when stress is felt over a long period with little amount of resolve, real problems can arise. Headaches, raised blood pressure, and irritable bowel syndrome are just a few of the symptoms that long term unresolved stress can cause.
As stress can often come so naturally during the course of the day, many of us may be tempted to simply grit our teeth and get on with it, rather than search for a resolution. However, relief doesn’t have to be a huge effort, with stress management even being suggested as a both a remedy and prevention for common problems like food intolerances and IBS.
If stress is getting on top of you, and you’re finding it hard to focus, just sit back, relax, and take a look at our 5 favourite stress management tips.
Identify the cause
Before you set sail for the calmer waters of relaxation, you’ll first need to navigate the stormy seas to find the cause of your stress. This way, you’ll know exactly what it is that makes your blood boil, meaning you can take steps to tackle any problems in your own way when they arise.
A great way to do this is to make a stress list, or stress diary. Starting from the moment you wake up, jot down anything and everything throughout the day that leaves you feeling aggravated. After about a week or so, take a look through your diary at what you’ve written down.
Many people find that when they take a look through their stress diary, they see a pattern forming. The things that make most people stressed-out tend to be reoccurring, happening regularly at similar times of the day. Knowing how and when your stress is caused means you can anticipate this, come to the problem with a new perspective, and say to yourself “today, I won’t let this get to me”.
If you’re looking for quick and effective stress relief, exercise could be a quick fix to release any pent up tension.
Stress is largely caused by a release of hormones like cortisol, which increase blood flow and blood pressure – these cause common stress symptoms like headaches and muscle tension. However, exercising can help to reduce and inhibit the release of stress hormones, instead causing the release of endorphins; the hormones responsible for raised mood and happiness.
As well as managing stress on a biological level, certain types of exercise can help with the mental symptoms of stress. Taking part in exercise, like running, tennis and swimming can help you to focus your mind on other areas, providing a physical outlet for stress relief.
In any case, whether you choose to do a strenuous gym workout, or just a few minutes of incidental exercise, you’re bound to be left feeling clearer and calmer than before.
Managing your breathing is another simple and highly effective way to feel more relaxed. When we’re feeling stressed out, we tend to breathe more quickly, shallowly, and irregularly, with the air not entering into our lungs for very long. However, when we feel both mentally and physically relaxed our breathing is deeper, slower, and more regular.
The easiest way to benefit from breathing is to make sure you’re sitting or standing up with a straight back. Then, just breathe in deeply for around 3-5 seconds through your nose, exhaling through the mouth. Repeat this for a few minutes, or simply until it feels natural.
Breathing this way will increase the level of oxygen in your blood, making you feel less stressed or anxious, and reduce muscle tension and blood pressure. Imitating relaxed breathing also puts the parasympathetic nervous system into action – the system responsible for the body when at rest – showing that just mimicking relaxation can lead to the real thing.
Substituting people for plants might sound strange, but it’s another proven way to calm down. Indeed, a 2008 study found that hospital patients who had plants in their rooms reported lower levels of stress than those who did not. This could be due in part to the air purifying effects of plants, with the added oxygen in the air around these working to reduce blood pressure.
It’s not just indoors where plants can help deal with stress. In fact, it’s perhaps in the great outdoors where the most benefits are experienced. A study conducted by Heriot-Watt University hooked volunteers up to emotion tracking devices, then asked them to walk through a number of urban and green spaces. It was found that feelings like frustration and anxiety were lowest in the green spaces, whereas feelings of wellbeing were higher.
If you experience stress most often at work, why not invest in a desk plant?
A symptom of our modern interconnected world, increased technology use has been related to increased levels of stress and anxiety. Research has linked high usage of mobile phones with an increased likelihood of sleep disorders, whereas frequently using a computer without a break has been associated with higher than normal stress levels.
With so many of us relying on computers and mobiles for both work and play, allowing a little disconnect time can seem difficult. If you’re in front of a screen all day at work, try give yourself a few minutes away from the screen every now and again to focus on other tasks. Again, rather than going home and turning on the television or logging on, try designating at least one “screen free” evening a week. If your phone is in your bedroom at night then turn it off or put it on “airplane mode”.
If you find yourself lost in the fog of stress, just take a step back, put things into perspective, and try out some of our stress management techniques. With a little breathing, some light exercise, and the helping hand of nature, you’ll be thinking clearly in no time.