Stress Awareness Month: Evidence based strategies to support you
April is Stress Awareness month, highlighting the importance of self-care and our mental wellbeing. The restrictions on our day-to-day lives over the past 18 months, not to mention the tragedy and hardship many have experienced over this past year have understandably taken their toll on the nation’s mental health.
Whilst we don’t profess to be experts in stress and anxiety, we thought we’d share our quick tips.
1. Green exercise
Walking outside in nature has many benefits. Research from the University of Essex found that as little as five minutes “green exercise” had a positive impact on mood and self esteem. If you’re struggling to get outside on a regular basis, bring nature inside. Adding plants to your space can specifically improve the oxygen levels in your home or office. Even pictures of nature and the colour green can help you relax.
2. Coping Techniques
Watch out for which ones you’re turning to in times of stress. Whilst it can be tempting to binge on chocolate (or Netflix) in times of stress, these emotion-focused coping techniques are known to be less effective as they ignore the root cause of the problem. That being said, in some circumstances (especially when the stressor is outside of our control, as with COVID), they might be your only choice. Try then to minimise the amount or frequency with which you rely on them.
3. Watch out for the biscuits.
Let’s talk about our nervous system under stress. When we’re constantly in fight or flight mode, our digestion slows down (amongst other physiological changes). This is due to the central nervous system pumping out adrenaline and cortisol. Acute stress might mean your appetite is reduced for a short while, but chronic stress, and the associated high cortisol levels, can cause fat and sugar cravings. This in turn can lead to weight gain in the form of visceral fat which over time can put us at risk of various health conditions. A choccy biccy here or there is not the issue, but if you find yourself craving sweets and fatty foods on a regular basis, you might need to take steps to manage your cortisol levels. Incorporate lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, and of course a good intake of water instead.
One of our favourite apps is Headspace. You can download this for free and spend a few minutes each day with a guided meditation and breathing exercise.
5. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This technique is known to reduce anxiety and improve mental health. Tight, stressed muscles contribute to pain and fatigue, so try PMR. We like to focus on the facial muscles as these are often overlooked. (You can do a whole body PMR, or even just a specific muscle group like your arms or bum- it’s recommended to start with your feet and work your way up!) Inhale, and as you do, tightly contract the muscles for 5 to 10 seconds. Then exhale and relax the muscles, before moving on to the next muscle group. Try it now- scrunch your forehead muscles together, breathe, and relaaaaaax. Bet you didn’t realise how tight they were, did you?!
6. Listen to music
Rhiannon has been known to put on “Eye of the Tiger” in the morning if she needs to motivate herself quickly. Whatever your karaoke song of choice, putting on some music can be an instant mood booster. You could try more calming music and incorporate passive progressive muscle relaxation. Instead of tensing the target muscle group as above, simply focus on which muscles you want to relax and allow them to soften.
7. Eliminate the stressor.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If you’ve scoffed reading that and thought “yeah, I wish I could” you might find taking a step back and reconsidering the situation helpful. Do you have to take sole responsibility for that work project? Is there someone to whom you could outsource that administrative task you’ve been putting off? Could you simply say “no”, and take a step back, even if only for a short while? Considering new ways in which you could eliminate, or at least reduce the stressor could have a real impact.
8. Positive thinking
Keeping a notebook to write down the things that went well that day or what you are grateful for has proven to boost your mood. This isn’t a taxing task but has significant benefits and yields high results for your mental health. Although there hasn’t been much research into the benefits of gratitude journals for people with mental health concerns, there was a short study on university students that reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended. If you want to learn more about how to thoughtfully apply insights and tools from neuroscience to your work please read more about Dr Sarah McKay.
9. Be selfish about your sleep.
We know that stress negatively impacts sleep, so make sure you protect your shuteye at all costs. Have a consistent night time routine- avoiding alcohol, caffeine, blue lights (which supress melatonin, the hormone that helps us snooze).
10. And finally- avoid social media!
It’s not only the great distractor but can also cause an influx of sometimes-not-very-nice emotions. This is not helpful when trying to reduce stress or catch some sleep. It’s tricky to avoid socials totally these days- consider limiting how much time is spent scrolling through Facebook or Tiktok.
Want to know how we can help your stress levels?
Working with a coach can not only help you identify your stressors by understanding the root cause of the issue. Raising your awareness of how you tend to think and feel in stressful situations helps identify where change can happen. You can develop techniques and tools to help cope in stressful situations, be that through setting better boundaries, managing your time effectively, changing or reframing your thinking around a situation. Not only that, but coaching can help you plan and prioritise your time better, helping reduce overwhelm. By developing your emotional resilience through coaching, you may find yourself better able to respond more effectively and cope more successfully during times of anxiety or stress.
If you want to work with us, book a complimentary 15 minute chat by emailing us here.