Stress can leave you exhausted, drained, and struggling to get motivated. Whilst the best solution will always be to tackle the source of stress, there are lots of methods you can use to manage the impact of stress. Here are four of the best.
How stressed are you?
Lots of us normalise the amount of stress we’re under. Work stress, home life, relationships, parenting, noise, illness, and a never-ending to-do list can all add to the chronic stress of modern life. If you feel ready to tackle your ongoing stress levels, take some time to sit down and brainstorm all the things in life that cause you stress.
Acute vs chronic stress
Acute stress is the short-term stress that leaves as quickly as it arrived, leaving no lingering after effects. This is the kind of stress you’d feel from being cut up in traffic or narrowly missing a train.
Chronic stress is the stuff that’s more significant to your mental and physical health. This is the ongoing stress than can be pretty low level, like an argumentative colleague, a noisy neighbour, or relationship stress at home. Chronic stress builds up and hangs around, becoming a real problem to your happiness, sleep, and physical wellness.
How does stress impact health and fitness?
Your body responds to any kind of stress by releasing stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, which increase your heart rate and blood pressure. When the stress is chronic, this means you’re living in a permanent state of “flight or fight” which can lead to cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, headaches, tension, anxiety, and trouble sleeping.
Anything that can help you manage the impact of stress will help you live a happier, healthier life with better long-term wellness outcomes.
4 science-backed stress management techniques
There are many ways to tap into the stress-busting benefits of meditation. You certainly don’t have to sit on the floor in silence for an hour a day. Even a few minutes of sitting quietly, focusing on your breathing, or listening to a meditation app will have amazing benefits.
Meditation can immediately reduce your feelings of stress, help reduce anxiety (1), enhance your self-awareness and help you react in a more balanced way to the external stress
Try one of the popular meditation apps Calm or Headspace, or simply sit or lie with your eyes closed and slow your breathing down, counting 4 breaths in and 4 breaths out.
Walking is one of the most basic skills, but it can have a powerful impact on stress. Not only does going for a walk give you time and space away from the source of stress, but the meditation act of walking can encourage your mind to slow down and think things through. Plus walking gives you fresh air, sunlight, and access to nature which is known to bring down stress levels (2).
When you feel your stress levels rising, calmly take yourself outside and walk for at least 15 minutes. Make an effort to breathe deeply and look up, taking in details of the scenery and sky.
Scientists have discovered that people who have a regular, intentional gratitude practice experience less chronic stress and better mood than those who don’t. How can simply writing down what you’re grateful for get rid of stress? Experts think it’s because other moral emotions are a response to other people, gratitude can only be felt by assessing your own life and recognising the benefits of external factors. (3) The very act of practicing gratitude requires you to pause, think, and either verbalise or write down things that make your life better.
Once a day, say (or ideally write down) three things that you are grateful for. These can be as big, small or mundane as you like. Nobody else needs to see or hear your gratitude lists.
Writing down how you feel is an effective way of unravelling the contents of your head so you can see what’s stressing you out. It might not always lead to a solution, but writing can bring clarity and a sense of control – something stress can take away from us. The habit of regular journaling can introduce breathing space into your day which itself may act as a buffer to stress. (4)
There’s no need to journal every day. Choose a method and frequency that works for you. This could be daily, weekly, or ad hoc, using a journal, a notepad, or an online platform like Penzu. There are no rules, just write about how you feel.