Blog: How can I stop feeling so stressed?

Being in a state of stress in inappropriate situations or over a period of time can be detrimental to our long term health, wellbeing and relationships. But what can you do about it? We investigate...

From time to time, most of us find ourselves in a situation where our ‘to do’ list seems endless and we start feeling stressed. Stress is not necessarily a bad thing as our distant ancestors used it to alert them to a potential danger, such as a bear or tiger, and then used the rush of energy to fight or run away. However, what can you do about it when it has a negative effect?

What is stress?
When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a mix of hormones and chemicals including adrenaline and cortisol to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions including blood being diverted to muscles, and the shutting down of unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion. The release of adrenaline makes the heart pound and boosts our energy, enabling us to focus our attention so we can quickly respond to the situation.

The ‘fight or flight’ mode helps us survive dangerous situations, such as reacting swiftly by slamming on the brakes if someone runs out in front of your car when driving. The challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress as a disproportionate response to a situation leading to an inability to 'think straight’. If we are kept in a state of stress for long periods it can be detrimental to our health, causing an increase in blood pressure and difficulties at work, in our family life and socially.

Identifying stress
Common causes of stress are money problems, bereavement, issues at work and relationship problems. People experience stress in different ways so it is wrong to over generalise when trying to identify stress in others. However, because stress has negative effects, it will usually manifest itself one way or another. For example, if you are prone to headaches or eczema, these will flare up. If you have low levels of tolerance for others, this will be the first thing to increase in times of stress.

Prolonged stress makes people ill and is known to contribute to conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure. It affects the immune system and is linked to strokes, diabetes and allergies.

There will be changes in a stressed person which may be emotional, physical or behavioural, or a combination of all three. So, the key things to look out for are negative changes of any kind. Of course, we all experience ‘bad days’, so look out for these changes over a period of time such as five days in a row.

Steps to stress reduction

1. Get moving
Any physical activity increases endorphins, which improves happiness levels and contributes to wellbeing. Exercise relieves stress, clears your head, increases self-esteem and reduces anxiety. The Government target is 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise weekly. Exercises that are good for improving mental health include walking, yoga, swimming, cycling and dance.



2. Practice deep breathing
Breathing exercises can help us unwind and remain calm during the day and when preparing for sleep. ‘Relaxing Breathing’ is based on an ancient Indian practice and uses five simple steps to ease the body into a state of relaxation.

Step 1) exhale completely through your mouth
Step 2) shut your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose, counting to four
Step 3) hold your breath for seven seconds
Step 4) exhale by making a whoosh sound, for a count of eight
Step 5) repeat this cycle another three times.

3. Stay hydrated
Water is our most important nutrient and is required for vital bodily functions, including regulating temperature and transporting nutrients. Common causes of dehydration include inadequate fluid intake, not replacing fluid lost during and after exercise and drinking only when thirsty. The Food Standards Agency recommends a daily intake of six to eight glasses of water or other fluids.

4. Adopt a positive mind-set
It can sometimes be very hard to stay positive in difficult situations, and often a negative half hour can turn into a ruined day, which can easily become a bad week. Here are some tips to help you refocus:
• Tell your friends and family about more enjoyable moments of your day
• Listen to music that you love
• Be kind and thoughtful to others, as well as to yourself
• Think ‘will this matter in five years’? If not, just let it go.

Useful links:
Age UK, call 0800 055 6112 or visit ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/mind-body/
NHS Choices, visit nhs.uk/conditions/stressanxiety-depression/understanding-stress/
Stress Management Society, call 0203 142 8650 or visit stress.org.uk/

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