Feeling stressed or overwhelmed?
Check out our bumper list of stress management techniques to learn more about how to deal with stress and its symptoms.
What is stress?
Stress is a collection of symptoms that can arise when we feel overwhelmed, traumatised or like we cannot cope.
Stress is a normal physical response that lots of animals experience; it developed to help us humans fight or else run from threats.
Stress puts our bodies on high alert, pumping them full of adrenaline and other hormones, which tenses up the muscles and gets us ready to fight or flee should we need to.
However, in the modern world, the things that trigger those same stress responses are rarely life threatening.
Yet rather than calm down after the trigger has passed, many people find the feelings of stress can sometimes remain, turning into chronic stress.
If the body is switched on fight-or-flight mode for a long time, it is easy to see why people with chronic stress might end up with high blood pressure, muscle tension and problems sleeping (among many other symptoms).1
Many people with stress turn straight to their GPs. And while reaching out for help is no bad thing, it is likely that doctors may tell you to try some of the following stress management techniques before they offer anything else.
Read on for tips and tricks for how to relieve stress, how to reduce stress and how to manage stress.
Many of our top tips involve relaxation. There is a physiological reason for this.
When you are in stressed mode, it is your sympathetic nervous system that is activated. Finding ways to put a damper on this response and tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system is key.
A great metaphor to understand how the two systems work is that the sympathetic nervous system is like the accelerator pedal, while the parasympathetic nervous system is like the brake, but it might just take some time to find which relaxation technique is your brake pedal.2
1. Improve your sleep hygiene
In our Health Hub article, Destressing for sleep, nutritionist Madeline Shaw recommends working out some good pre-bed habits.
Among her recommendations are chamomile tea, deep breathing, and making sure the temperature of your bedroom as well as the lighting is conducive to good rest.
2. Look at your diet
When getting ready to fight or flee, the body de-prioritises parts of the body to make sure the muscles, eyes, heart and lungs are getting the lion’s share of your energy.
If you are stressed a lot of the time, this could lead to longer term gut problems, such as a lack of key nutrients.
Check out the article 3 foods that help with feelings of stress to learn why avocado, dark chocolate and bananas could help de-stress.
3. Try aromatherapy
If you have ever taken a deep breath to smell a rose, the salty sea air, a pine forest or a wonderful perfume, it will not surprise you that certain smells can help with relaxation.
4. Spend time with a pet
Our furry friends have been proven again and again to have a positive effect on stress levels.
From stroking and cuddling together to going on dog walks, there are many benefits to having a pet, including stress reduction and lowering blood pressure!3
If you do not have a pet, you could try becoming a pet-sitter or “borrowing” someone’s pet via one of the many apps available for just that!
5. Practice gratitude
When it comes to ways to beat stress, the old saying “count your blessings” was spot on.
From old fashioned journaling to newfangled apps, finding ways to be conscious about what you do have can re-focus your mind from your worries and help calm your nervous system down.4
6. Turn off your phone (especially the news!)
Following the 24-hour news cycle is almost guaranteed to wind you up rather than relax you.
And now that many of us – especially young people – get our news from social media or our phones, it is important to take regular, conscious screen breaks and time away from the headlines.5,6
7. Walk outside
Especially somewhere green! If you know you are going to have a stressful day, try to plan in breaks to walk around the block and be sure to look up at the trees.7
8. Do nothing… on purpose
Open the fabulously minimalist website ‘Do Nothing For Two Minutes’ and see how well you do!8
You could also meditate or lie down and listen to some music. Just whatever you do, do not multitask or pick up that phone for a set amount of time!9
9. On the other hand… do some exercise!
Yes, doing nothing is great, but so is getting the heart pumping.
Exercise helps get rid of some of that adrenaline that builds up in the body if you are stressed.
On top of that, it releases those feel-good endorphins.10
For a specific exercise plan for stress, check out Your de-stress exercise routine.
Alternatively, if the thought of exercise fills you with dread, check out 8 alternatives to going to the gym!
Last updated: 29 October 2020