Stress is common and can be debilitating. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce your stress response and a lot of them are to do with attitude and bringing enjoyment into every day. Consider what Dr Libby says: “Have you made what you have to do each day full of pressure and urgency? Or is it a busy life, full of opportunity, that is so ridiculously privileged because all of your basic needs are met?”.
You have probably heard of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest, repair and reproduce). These two systems should work in balance. Think of them like a see-saw, if one is all the way up then the other must be all the way down and so neither of them are working as they should be. You want your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to kick in during an emergency, like when you need to run or slam the car brakes on, however the way most of us live most of the time the SNS is constantly activated and this can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, hypertension and weight gain. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to bring some chill back into your life:
(FYI – mentioned below are some feel-good hormones and neuro-transmitters like dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin. You want decent levels of these guys to cope calmly and positively with your day. Some foods also help produce these, but that's another post...).
Positive self-talk and optimism help boost your self-esteem and maintain motivation. A healthy mindset is key. Trying to always look on the bright side of life may sound trite but it works!
Figure out what your stress triggers are and try to remove them. Consider if you are working excessive hours or maintaining toxic relationships, for example.
Relaxation – what do you like to do to relax? For some it’s meditation, for others it’s reading or a hobby. Find space in your life to do things that allow you to unwind (note - while flicking through Facebook etc at 10pm might feel relaxing for some, technically it doesn’t count here… ☹).
Surround yourself with family and friends who bring you joy, make you laugh and are there for you when you need support. If someone only brings you pain perhaps its time to rethink the relationship!
Exercise – simple things like adding a half hour walk into your daily routine can help boost both your mental and physical health. Exercising out in the fresh air and sunlight will help even more.
Stretch – whether it’s yoga, Pilates, or just a simple stretching routine, a good stretch will release tense muscles and help you relax. Try it before bed for a better night’s sleep.
Sleep – have a relaxation routine before bed, set yourself a consistent bedtime and wake-up time and minimise your screen use two hours before you go to sleep. Lavender on your pillow and a lemon balm or chamomile tea can also help.
Breathe – simple belly breaths, or those included in activities like yoga or tai chi, can calm your nervous system very quickly and effectively. Try six in and seven out, or whatever works for you. Slow and steady is the key.
Sing! Especially in a group if you’re up for it, singing has been shown to increase endorphin and oxytocin production and reduce cortisol. Whether you can actually sing well or not is irrelevant; release your inner diva and go for it.
Dance! With your friends or around the kitchen, dancing is not just good exercise, it can also reduce cortisol and increase serotonin production.
Laugh! There’s nothing like the feeling of having a good belly laugh, and there’s a reason they call laughter the best medicine. Watch a comedy, a funny cat video, or have a giggle with a friend, whatever it takes get a minimum of one laugh a day.
Stress is part of daily life, whether it’s the school run, work, study or family (etc etc, I could go on). A large part of the stress response is our perception of pressure and urgency so re-framing how we feel about the challenges in our life can be very beneficial. I’m working on it!
(However, if you are really struggling and stress has become anxiety or depression please consider further options such as support groups or counselling or call a service such as Lifeline on 13 11 14).