How can we manage stress in our daily lives

This modern life generates stress reactions through the fight or flight responses which were designed to keep us safe when the going gets tough¹. But, the go, go, go culture of today with its non-stop approach to being sees us accessing these stress hormones to get through every-day existence. And of course, if you have life events or issues outside of the every-day, whether that be trauma or one-off experiences we can easily be tipped over the edge.

Stress is a natural response to our modern lives, but unmanaged stress can take a real toll on your physical and mental health. This week is Mental Health Awareness week in the U.K. and the focus this year is on stress because stress is causing real problems in our society.

You’ve probably had someone say to you at some point, ‘You look stressed’ and this comment might have made you want to react with, ‘Of course I am!’ and then to list the hundreds of reasons why that is. The job, the money, the household chores, the kids, the caring for a relative, the business demands, the need to maintain a perfect body, and so it goes. Modern life has myriad demands and of course issues, and the stress response is activated because we find ourselves constantly pushing through.

And if you’re a woman and it seems like you are more stressed than the men in your life, you’re probably right. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has found that women consistently report higher levels of stress than men in workplace settings. In fact, there are almost double the number of women aged between 25-54 years reporting stress and anxiety. Now despite this being focussed on the workplace and the causes being identified within those settings I’m going to take a punt on saying that this is probably coincidental with all of the other things that an employee has on their plates outside of the workplace too. It is no coincidence that the age range where this is most prevalent coincides with women during periods of life when they are most likely to be caring for others.

[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response

Prioritising self-care is a great way to get ahead of stress, addressing it before it begins to have a negative impact on our sense of well-being. Since stress is constantly coming into our lives, it’s important to understand the real benefits of investing in caring for ourselves. You should make self-care the same as brushing your teeth, and although some practices might be more of a time demand there are daily things you can do that will only take a few minutes and those minutes are heavily outweighed by the long-term benefits. Here are a few:

1. Learn how to breathe mindfully. I am breathing in, I am breathing out. Stopping between tasks and allowing the breath to come to a settled place has incredible benefits to the nervous system. Do it when you stop to change task, have a cup of tea, or wash your hands.
2. Unplug yourself. When you stop for a few minutes resist the urge to pull your phone out of your bag or pocket and start checking social media. Just stop. Up to ten minutes each day of just sitting, no stimulation, let your brain rest just like the times you put your feet up to rest them.
3. Move your body. Find the exercise that works for you, whether that be cycling, running, walking or a class at the gym. Exercise has a powerful effect on the body-mind system. If you find yourself overwhelmed then dance it out, play a fun song and dance like you’ve never danced before!
4. Eat well. Tiredness and stress will make us reach for comfort foods which are possibly high fat, high sugar. Keep healthy snacks about you so that you can nibble on these and keep your blood sugar balanced.
5. Give yourself a break. Caught on the ‘must do’ loop? Then get off. Give yourself permission to have a whole day off where you only do that which you feel like doing, and none of that you feel that you must, and smile about it (because you’re worth it)!
6. Try different things. Explore what is going on in your area and do something different. Go to a class, have a massage, do a workshop. Find something that works for you, maybe something new each week. Take an hour, just one hour and make it all your own.

If you find it hard to build these things into your life find a friend who you can do it with, or maybe get a coach, but do start even with one little daily practice and I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Deb Cartwright is a co-founder of Livewell Directory and a leader in the charity sector, yoga teacher and personal coach. You can follow her on Twitter for more goodness @soul-full-life

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