6 tips to manage stress
Stress is a normal part of everyday life and nobody is immune to stressful situations. So how do we make sure we are equipped to manage our stress levels effectively so that they don’t have a negative effect on our quality of life?
It’s true that certain amounts of stress energise and motivate us to take action so you wouldn’t want to get rid of it all. We’re talking about the kind of stress that has become overwhelming or chronic, often it’s our bodies that alert us of our stress levels first through illness or even tension headaches and tight muscles in the shoulders, neck & back.
We literally hold onto stress in our bodies so what practical things can we do to let it all go?
what causes stress?
It’s actually a very natural and innate part of our physiology. For survival, humans have evolved down through the ages so that they can recognise and react to an external threat. This reaction however does not happen consciously a lot of the time, it is a subconscious and automatic response that can happen so fast you aren’t even fully aware of it.
Our body & mind perceive stress as a threat of potential or imminent danger which tells our nervous system to get ready to engage in it’s fight/flight or freeze response.
If we are living in this response of ‘imminent danger’ or perceived threat to survival for long periods of time it starts to have a very negative impact on our health and wellbeing. In the modern world this can happen when we feel overwhelmed, unable to cope, are financially worried, not looking after ourselves or even an angry or negative conflict or disagreement, and the list goes on!
So, how can we manage our stress so that this doesn’t happen?
Here are a few tips to let go of tensions:
Taking regular breaks and staying mindful can be a great way to manage stress levels. You can start practising this by closing your eyes and bringing your awareness to your body and your breath. Ask yourself some simple questions like, ‘am I breathing properly?’, ‘is my jaw clenched?’ , ‘is my forehead tense?’ etc. Relax your shoulders, jaw, forehead, buttocks, etc. Go through each body part one by one and consciously relax and release it.
Do not forget to breathe. This only takes a few moments and can have a positive impact quickly.
Stress influences breathing and in turn breathing can influence stress. Focusing on our breath and consciously slowing it down or lengthening our breaths can have a direct effect on our physiology.
Deep and conscious breathing is a great way to rebalance the activation of your sympathetic nervous system (this is part of the stress response). Taking some deep breaths in to a count of five seconds, held for a few seconds and released to a count of five seconds, can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system( this helps reduce and rebalance the stress response).
If for any reason this feels uncomfortable or increases your stress just change the breathing pattern to suit you so that it feels comfortable and then increase slowly when you are ready.
3. stop comparing
Whilst comparing yourselves to people around is a natural thing to do it’s actually incredibly unhelpful and stressful. Social media has only amplified this as the tendency can be to pile on the pressure on more and more with everything you are ‘supposed’ to be achieving, doing, being, watching, reading and eating! I’m stressed just thinking about it and yes that even includes the long list of meditation, yoga, breathing techniques and mindfulness you’re ‘supposed’ to be fitting into your already overloaded day.
Changing your approach to just focusing on yourself and doing what feels right for you in each day can hugely help your stress levels.
4. move your body
It’s easy to forget especially when there is a lot going on but making sure you move your body (and not just to the fridge and back) every day is so simple and so effective. Physical exercise is an important component to how you respond to stress. When your body is healthy, your mind automatically follows and physical movement is a proven stress reliever. That doesn’t mean you have to do something you hate…that will probably stress you! Find something that feels good and gives you that happy hit of chemicals and endorphins and stress relief.
5. change your approach
This one takes practice but it can be a game changer. You’re probably aware that there are certain situations or things you do on a regular basis that trigger your stress levels more than others. If they can’t be avoided, start to practice changing your approach to them. A really simple way of doing this is to reframe your thoughts and feelings towards it, literally change any negative or stressful thinking to a positive one – ‘I have to the housework’ switches into ‘I get to do housework, appreciate everything I have and dance around to favourite music while i do it’ etc.
6. slow it down
Literally make yourself slow down when you can feel your stress levels rising to start to calm your nervous system down again. Physically move your body slower, talk slower and respond slower. A bit like a focused jedi monk get veeeeeeery focused, calm, slow and intentional. If it’s hard to do ‘fake it till you make it!’
All of these things can take a little practice & re training our patterns of behaviour. Have a happy stress free day!