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Stress management: How to rest more and stress less

Stress is a common part of everyday life. From traffic jams to work deadlines to family conflicts, we all encounter situations that trigger feelings of pressure. While we can’t eliminate stress entirely, learning effective management techniques is crucial for our physical and mental health.

The body’s stress response: Fight-or-flight

When we face a perceived threat, our bodies enter a state known as the fight-or-flight response. This response, orchestrated by the hypothalamus and adrenal glands, releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which prime the body for action, increasing heart rate and blood pressure.

This can actually be helpful in short bursts, allowing us to react if we’re in danger or under pressure to perform.

However, chronic stress keeps these hormones elevated. Over time, this can lead to a cascade of health consequences, including:

Physical symptoms: Low energy, headaches, stomach pain, muscle tension, chest pain, difficulty sleeping and frequent infections.

Emotional symptoms: Anxiety, irritability, depression and difficulty concentrating.

Behavioural changes: Increased use of alcohol or caffeine, social withdrawal and unhealthy eating habits.

Identifying your stressors: What, when and how

The first step to managing stress is to become aware of your triggers. Pay attention to your body’s signals. When do you experience headaches, muscle tension or fatigue? Connect these physical symptoms to specific situations or events in your day.

Once you’ve identified when you feel stressed, move on to what is causing it, and start categorising your stressors as follows:

Solvable issues: These are situations where you can take action to find solutions. For example, if work deadlines are overwhelming, talk to your manager about workload distribution.

Temporary challenges: Sometimes, stress stems from temporary difficulties, like a sick family member. While you may not be able to solve the situation yourself, accept that things will improve with time.

Uncontrollable factors: Events outside our control, like traffic jams or bad weather, will always happen. Letting go of what you can’t change is crucial for reducing stress.

Finally, consider why you might be feeling overwhelmed by your stressors. Are you taking on too much responsibility? Do you have unrealistic expectations of yourself? Recognising these underlying factors can help you develop coping mechanisms.

Effective stress management techniques

There are numerous techniques you can incorporate into your daily routine to combat stress:

Healthy lifestyle habits: Taking care of yourself physically lays a strong foundation for managing stress. Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and other plants. Regular exercise is a powerful stress reliever, and getting enough sleep allows your body to recover and recharge.

Relaxation techniques: Yoga, meditation and breathwork can effectively calm your mind and body. These activities activate the body’s relaxation response, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, and counteracting the effects of stress hormones.

Prioritisation and delegation: Don’t overload yourself. Learn to say no and delegate tasks whenever possible. Prioritising your to-do list helps you focus on the most important responsibilities, and lessens the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Reduce stimulants and depressants: Limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and other substances that can worsen anxiety and hinder sleep. These substances may provide temporary relief, but ultimately exacerbate stress in the long run.

Create a positive environment: Surround yourself with supportive people who uplift and encourage you. This could include family, friends, or a therapist. Having a safe space to talk about your worries can be incredibly beneficial. In terms of your physical environment, take time to make your living and working spaces calming and clutter-free.

Prioritise rest and disconnection: Rest is much more than just sleep (although that’s crucial
too!). It can help restore balance, and replenish your physical and mental reserves.

Spotlight on rest for stress relief

Schedule regular breaks throughout the day to de-stress and recharge. Disconnect from technology during these breaks to truly unwind. Take time for hobbies and activities you enjoy, as these provide a sense of pleasure and can help take your mind off worries.

By prioritising rest in its various forms, you can build a strong foundation for managing stress. Remember, rest is not a luxury – it’s a necessity.

Final thoughts

You can significantly improve your overall wellbeing through understanding the root causes of your stress and implementing effective management strategies. Remember, stress management is a continuous process. Experiment with different techniques and find what works best for you. By taking care of your physical and mental health, you can cultivate resilience and live a more fulfilling life.

Words by Carlie Barlow

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