How to cope with stress
Stress is a fact of life. It’s generally associated with being a bad thing. But it’s a misunderstood process that serves an important purpose.
Stress is your nervous systems response to any danger or demand. The human body uses stress to react physically, mentally, or emotionally to changes in your environment. So, if stress is completely normal, then what’s all the stress about stress?
The issue is prolonged stress, where your stress hormones don’t get any reprieve from continual challenges. Prolonged stress can cause weight gain, sleep issues, heart problems, anxiety, and depression.
So, how can you learn to reduce or cope with stress better?
Use the superpowers of regular exercise
Exercise is a natural stress reliever with the superpower of both relaxing and energising you. That sweaty, breathless feeling can distract you from your stressors giving you immediate stress relief and it begins a cycle that improves your response to stress.
When you exercise you release endorphins that act to reduce pain and enhance pleasure. Apart from improving your heart health, increased blood flow to the brain means you’re more focused and able to make better decisions towards your overall health. Go for the bonus feel good factor and choose a fun exercise that you’re more likely to stick to – cue Strictly You!
Set up good sleeping habits
It seems like the biggest catch-22 to say get better quality sleep to ease your stress, when being stressed makes sleep harder! There are some easy things you can do that will help you get better sleep. Try following a bedtime routine, dim screens and bright lights before bedtime, avoid caffeine and diuretics (drinks that make you urinate) and do a vigorous workout early in the day.
Eat your way to a good mood
There is a good reason we reach for food when we feel stressed. Eating, just like exercise, releases endorphins that make us feel good. The problem is we generally reach for that processed sugary pick me up! Conversely, a nutritious diet can combat the impact of stress by strengthening the immune system and boosting mood. Plan for your ‘stress eating’ by having some good mood foods ready as snacks. Think bananas, berries, nuts and even dark chocolate!
Inhale relaxation, exhale stress
It’s not often in life you can find a quick fix that has long term benefits too. The ‘relaxation response’ is the opposite to your fight-flight stress response. It’s been found to relax your muscles, lower your heart rate, normalise your blood pressure and improve blood flow to your brain. There are many ways to activate the relaxation response but the easiest is the practice of deep breathing. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and focus on taking some deep rhythmic breaths (chant a positive word if that helps) for 10 minutes. It may take some practise, but you will find your stress starts to ease and your ability to cope with obstacles improves!
Choose your reaction
You can’t control how other people act or even some of the situations you find yourself in (peak hour traffic or witching hour with the kids comes to mind) but you can control how you react. Constantly being ‘reactive’ to situations is a recipe for stress. Reframe your situation to find the benefit – extra time to listen to your favourite podcast during peak hour or having empathy for your child’s emotional meltdown, remembering their behaviour is an expression of their stress!
Make time for you
Are you a perpetual people pleaser? That is, everyone else including the dog takes priority over yourself. Stress is a load that can be lightened if shared. Ensuring you make time for yourself and having a support network of ‘good listeners’ is proven to be effective at reducing your stress.
Do what works for you
Unfortunately, there is no magic stress-fix pill and managing stress is not one-size-fits-all. Experiment to work out what works best for you and let us know how you go. You never know who you may inspire in sharing your story!
Words by Kylie McCorquodale BSc (Biomed) Dip.Ed.
Kylie McCorquodale is a health writer who specializes in medical, fitness, wellbeing and educational content. Her passion for healthy living is balanced by a penchant for wine and chocolate. Kylie trains daily for triathlon and is willing to dive into the deep end of almost any adventure.