5 ways to reduce stress
My friend Charlotte is a very capable businesswoman. She excels at life. When she is not managing her office of staff, she is practising yoga intensely, socialising with friends or on holiday.
Recently Charlotte was blue lighted to hospital with heart concerns. Charlotte is indomitable, so imagine her shock when the doctor informed her that the tests were clear and that she is probably experiencing stress and anxiety.
Charlotte has been searching for the reason for her stress but cannot find it. She does not love her job, but she does love her staff and certainly is not unhappy at work. She has a great relationship and is financially stable. She dreams of moving abroad or travelling long term when the opportunity arises. Charlotte would define herself as blessed in life and appreciates that there are others in less privileged situations. She is adamant that she should be able to focus on the positive and not feel the way she does.
I think we can safely say that this year has been a stressful one for many. In a society that previously disregarded mental health, it is now typical to express feelings of stress or anxiety. However, for the stoics amongst us, recognising why this year has had an effect is paramount.
If you are someone that has always coped with whatever life has thrown at you and view yourself as someone in a “good situation”, the battle between accepting the reasons for your feelings of stress as valid and believing you should feel positive is a tricky one to resolve.
To overcome stress the NHS recommends
- be active and exercise regularly
- take control
- connect with people
- take some me-time
- challenge yourself by learning a new language or a new sport
- avoid unhealthy habits
- help others
- try to be positive
Switching this around, we can consider the impact of a lack of the above on the likelihood of enhanced stress. As I was talking to Charlotte, I suddenly understood the problem. As a result of COVID-19, her lifestyle had become like that of many people who suffer from depression.
Depression is a clinical diagnosis sometimes managed with a lifestyle change rather than resolved, however, there is a vicious circle when depression prevents the person from participating in certain activities, yet the staying home and not doing anything enhances the depressed feelings.
A therapist encourages someone living with depression to find the motivation to exercise, take up hobbies, socialise and live a healthier lifestyle that initially takes work but leads to reduced feelings of negativity and a brighter future.
We are human animals with an innate desire to live in a social community, hunting and gathering food. Days revolving around the sunlight, protecting each other as a tribe, spending much of the day working to sustain our life and the remainder as a group. With the natural way of life there is less likely to be a struggle with mental health. The more distant your life is from this natural lifestyle the more you will require add ons to keep a stable state of mind. Holidays, experiences, time spent socialising with family or friends, hobbies and exercise are all ‘extracurricular’ activities that improve mental well-being.
When viewed from this perspective it is easy to see and take on board – even for the imperturbable – why there is a struggle to cope when a disaster (I hesitate to use the word natural) dictates the way you live and prevents you from doing the things that enable you to live your competent life.
How to reduce stress
Next week is National Stress Awareness Day so in support of this important cause, here are some tips to reduce stress in a world where everything takes a little more effort and planning.
If you are a regular gym-goer restricted by closures or regulations, diversify your practice. There are many free workout guides on YouTube and some personal trainers offer online instruction. Running and walking are accessible to everyone (without injuries) and cycling to those with a bike. Dancing is great for the soul and fitness.
Stopping exercise suddenly when you are used to doing something regularly is a big shock to your well-being, so keep up the activity in whatever way you can.
Take control of what you can
Feeling out of control is a huge participant to feelings of stress. The coronavirus has left all of us out of control of aspects of life we expect to fully control. Take note of the things you can control. Seek to control internally rather than externally. Whilst you cannot control the cancellation of your holiday you can control the choices you make. Start small; bath or shower, coffee or tea, walk or drive, phone a friend or listen to a podcast.
Check-in with yourself that your everyday activities are a choice rather than an obligation or completed to meet the needs of others. The more you are in control of yourself the less out of control you will feel with the unexpected changes made by authorities.
For some people, the lifestyle change has improved their choice of food and drink. For others, the added time and less need to drive has meant snacking on unhealthy foods, overeating and consuming more alcohol or caffeine than recommended. This can result in a dip in mood and enhanced stress.
If your diet has not changed but everything else around you has, the lack of fun activities highlights the stress brought about by a bad diet. A good nutritional therapist will be able to advise you on supplements and a personalised eating plan for you.
This is one of the most difficult needs to meet in the current climate. During the months of being forced to stay at home, my best friend and I maintained some social interaction by synchronising our daily exercise and speaking on the phone whilst we walked. My children wrote letters to their friends and walked them to their homes where they would drop the letter on the doorstep and move to the end of the driveway where they could chat at a safe distance while they opened the door to retrieve the post.
Another friend had a weekly games night via Zoom with her friendship group and I would struggle to score points during a weekly Zoom quiz with my family – including my cousin in Australia. Whilst the tactile aspect of socialising is missing now, when you think laterally there are ways to socially interact without being in the same place.
Listen to music
Ambient music is a great way to relax and reduce stress. Weightless by Marconi Union was found by Mindlab International to reduce anxiety by 65%. Keep in mind that fast, complex, surprising music will have the opposite effect!