Positive steps to reduce stress
If stress is already a constant feature in your life, you might feel that an awareness day is superfluous. However, being stress aware is about more than just recognising the symptoms, notes Judi.
She explains, “By taking a day out to look at potential changes of lifestyle and attitude, you can start to take steps and make changes that will help with your stress levels the whole year round.”
Here are some tips from Judi on how to face up to stress and implement positive actions to deal with it.
Understand your stress. Understanding is the key to controlling, coping and curing. Stress is part of a natural survival response, aimed at making your body stronger, faster and quicker-thinking during moments of threat and danger. Your stress symptoms are natural; it is what prompts them that is wrong.
Modern life is full of challenges that spark our 'fight/flight' response, even though they're not physically threatening. Once the stress response kicks in, the triggers can become more trivial while the responses get greater. This means your most valuable efforts at stress-busting should involve changing your perception of the circumstances of your life.
Create mantras. Stress affects us when we're placed under pressure, meaning you'll need some emergency thinking techniques to help move you back towards calm. Create two or three mantras that you can focus on when you feel things getting on top of you. Good examples are “Life's too short”, “Let it drop” and “Don't sweat the small stuff”.
Create a book of calm. This is a small notebook that travels everywhere with you, in which you write down all your feelings and thoughts when you're suffering from stress, anger, anxieties or worries. It's a ‘dump-bin’ for all your negative thinking and is one of the best ways to offload, rather than allowing your thoughts to fester and grow. Keep it by the bedside, as some of our worst worries pop into our heads at night time.
Stop moaning. Does this sound harsh? It should! Although talking a problem over can be therapeutic, constant and fruitless moaning will increase your overall stress levels by ensuring that the problem keeps hurting rather than healing. I describe it as picking a scab, making it continue to hurt and bleed rather than heal over.
Eat well. Stress can make us drink, eat and smoke more. Although it's often easier to maintain a healthy diet in the summer, the foods we eat in winter should sustain a positive approach to nutrition, as comfort eating in the cold weather can not only pile on the pounds, but also add to our stress levels.
While alcohol and fatty or sugary foods might seem to provide an instant feeling of relaxation and well-being, the effect is temporary and overall they can increase our stress and anxiety levels. (Compare that first mouthful of wine on a Friday evening to that Saturday morning hangover when you've drunk too much!) Make sure you have plenty of healthy, fresh food in the house, and keep your booze consumption within the recommended limits.
Take exercise. Exercise decreases stress levels as it gives a natural outlet for all that ‘fight/flight’ adrenalin. For ideas on fun ways to keep physically active during the colder months, see our feature on winter sports. Have fun keeping active this winter!
Create structure out of chaos. Factors like the recession can prompt life changes that are both unwelcome and out of our control. Stress is strongly linked to our feelings of control, so worries about (or the reality of) redundancy or cut-backs can easily escalate your stress levels.
Regain intellectual control over your life by creating and writing down strategies that will take you through any option in your life, from the best-case to the worst-case scenarios. You might think dwelling on your problems will increase your anxiety levels, but by facing them head-on and quietly planning alternative actions and fall-backs, you will be helping your mind to regain a sense of control.
Build relationships. When stress is prompted by factors that are out of our overall control, like the recession and related job and money worries, it's easy to take out our suppressed anger and resentment on the wrong targets, leading to conflict and rifts with families and friends.
Remember that stress exaggerates our negative emotions, making us more irritable, snappy and emotional than normal, and it's easy to pick the wrong targets for all that suppressed rage or distress.
If you find yourself getting into regular arguments, try to recognise the flashpoints and then take steps to avoid them by backing down or walking away to take stock. But do keep talking: the company of friends and family can provide vital support when you see it as a way of having fun and taking your mind off your worries.
International Stress Management Association - www.isma.org.uk
Stress Management Society - www.stress.org.uk
Health & Safety Executive - www.hse.gov.uk
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