How to manage and relieve stress
The most suitable stress management techniques will vary from person to person depending on factors like the type and severity of stress, as well as your own individual interests. Whilst some people may benefit from simply organising their day a little more efficiently, others may need to seek professional advice from a doctor in order to resolve their stress and anxieties.
This list of suggestions is designed to help you manage stress going forward. It's possible that not all of these will work for you, but it's worth trying them out to discover which do.
My stress-relieving suggestions include:
- Do some sport
- Find routine
- Stay organised
- Know your limits
1. Do some sport
I can't emphasise this one enough for anyone going through a period of stress or anxiety.
Sport can boost self-esteem and provides a distraction from other life events herby helping to reduce stress.1 It also leaves us feeling energised – I liken it to hitting the re-set button after a busy day at work or at home.
On top of this, it is widely known that exercise encourages the relief of hormones called endorphins, which have the ability to boost happiness and calm.
When it comes to exercising, it may be a good idea to focus on activities that you enjoy rather than getting caught up in the fitness gains you want to make.
Social sports have been found to be particularly beneficial for mental health so you could consider using a video app like Zoom to workout with other people.2 Apps like Strava are also a good way to compare runs, workouts, walks and cycles with friends, plus you may just find some inspiration for your own work out here too!
There are also a number of ways you can exercise from the comfort of your own home. Take a look at our blog 'Easy ways to exercise at home' for various strength and cardio routines.
2. Find routine
There are several ways that a steady routine can reduce stress.
First off, try to set aside an afternoon or evening once a week to do things you enjoy, be it sport or another activity altogether – even just a short walk. This will give you some time to yourself to recharge, plus it's likely to improve your overall mood if you're making time for things you enjoy.
I would also recommend creating some sense of routine in the evening. Poor sleep can often go hand-in-hand with stress, but doing relaxing activities in the couple of hours before you go to bed may make it easier to nod off. Try to avoid watching television, though, as the bright light from the screen can actually impair sleep quality.
Some alternatives include: small DIY projects, learning a language, playing chess, connecting with friends or family by phone, listening to podcasts or overhauling your record collection!
Also, try not to turn to alcohol to help you cope with stress. Keep your consumption of alcohol to just a couple of days a week as this way you won't over-do it.
Finally, it's a good idea to plan some meals ahead of time. We're are unlikely to make healthy food choices when stressed but, by planning what you will eat you reduce the risk of stocking up on the bad stuff. Plus, planning meals ahead of times means you can incorporate a few stress-relieving nutrients like magnesium (found in spinach and wholegrains and other fresh foods).
3. Stay organised
Stress can be exacerbated if you are unorganised and, in some instances, it can actually be at the root of the problem.
If you can, keep a diary or make notes on your phone with your day-to-day schedule to help you stay on top of things.
It is a good idea to make notes about any specific instances of stress, starting with:
Try practicing this over a couple of days in order to identify any patterns in terms of what's causing you to stress - so, is it work-related? Is it linked to family life? Is it simply to do with your commute to work? Once you know exactly what the source of stress is, you'll be more able to put in practical steps to reduce it.
Stress is exacerbated by feeling out of control; so, by writing things down and imposing some kind of order on the day, you restore a feeling of competence that brings reassurance.
4. Know your limits
By identifying what's causing your stress, you'll be more aware of what your limits are.
Taking on too much is another common contributing factor in stress, meaning it is important to be aware of when you need to say no to things, both in a professional capacity and at home.
Here are some tips on how to say no:
✔ Be direct – explain why you have to say no rather than trying to make up excuses that will come across as false
✔ Take time to think – instead of saying yes on the spot, take a moment to think about the implications of your decision
✔ Come up with an alternative - if you are unable to say yes to something, there may be other ways you can help out.
Signs of stress
So, we've looked at how to deal with stress but how do you know if you are stressed in the first place?
- Low mood
- Fast heartbeat
- Difficulty concentrating
In any of these instances, you could try some breathing techniques to get the initial symptoms under control.
Wherever you are, breathe in as deeply as you can through your nose. Try to count up to five as you do this and then gently release the breath through your mouth. If it's helpful, count to five as you do this as well. Repeat these breaths for 3-5 minutes.
Next, it can be helpful to have a drink of water as this calms the nervous system. Try following this with a couple of minutes running on the spot to burn off the adrenalin spike.
For more stress management techniques going forward, take a look at my blog '6 natural ways to calm nerves'.