Wednesday the 24th of July is Stress Down Day. Here are our tips for reducing stress!
#1 Identify symptoms and causes of stress
In order to reduce stress, we first must be aware of the symptoms of stress and also identify the causes. Signs of stress vary from person to person, but may include tensing your jaw, grinding your teeth, difficulty sleeping, muscle tension, headaches, feeling irritable or short tempered, lack of concentration or motivation, feeling overwhelmed, depressed or anxious, and overuse of alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. Sometimes it can be difficult to identify the cause of stress and there are often multiple factors involved, so keeping a journal to track your stressors may be useful. Clearly identifying what is causing the stress is the first step in doing something about it. Sometimes the cause of stress can be eliminated, and at other times it is about developing more effective coping mechanisms.
#2 Use problem-solving to eliminate the cause of stress
Once you have determined the cause of stress, some stressful situations can be eliminated, reduced or changed by problem solving. It is often helpful to write down a list of possible solutions, work through the pros and cons of each, select the best one, try it out and evaluate its success. Focus on the things that are within your control. If you have multiple stressors it is generally best to focus on one at a time.
#3 Organise and manage your time effectively
Research suggests that good time management can decrease stress, increase satisfaction with work and life and generally improve health. Some strategies to improve your time management include setting goals, prioritising tasks, using a diary or to-do lists to track tasks and progress and delegating work to others. It is important to accept that not everything can be done at once and list tasks according to genuine priority. Being organised can also be as simple as sorting out your morning routine to avoid rushing or tidying up your work area for a calmer and more productive work day.
#4 Practise relaxation techniques
Practising relaxation techniques regularly has been found to reduce stress. This can include a range of activities such as: meditation, breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness. These techniques can help reduce stress levels by allowing the body and nervous system to settle into a calm state. They don’t need to take long, just one minute of focus on breathing or mindful noticing of the tangible things you can experience with your 5 senses can help if practised regularly. Different methods will be effective for different people – you might have to try a few approaches before you find something that works for you. There are lots of apps available that can help you add some relaxation techniques to your busy lifestyle. Structured activities such as Yoga, Pilates can be beneficial too!
#5 Look after your health
Stress can affect your immune system and make you more vulnerable to a range of health conditions. Keeping yourself fit and healthy can improve your resilience and enable you to cope more effectively with stressful situations.
🥗 Eat a healthy and well balanced diet
🥛 Drink plenty of water
🚫 Avoid or reduce consumption of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and other drugs, especially if you are overusing these to cope
❌ Avoid or reduce intake of refined sugars as they can cause energy crashes and lead you to feel tired and irritable
🏌️♀️Ensure you get some physical activity each day and exercise regularly
#6 Increase Daily Physical Activity
Stressful situations increase the level of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in your body. These are the “fight or flight” hormones designed to protect us from bodily harm when we are under threat. However it is unlikely that your stressful situation will require a physical fight or flight response and so physical exercise can be used to metabolize the excess stress hormones and restore your body to a calm and relaxed state. 🧘🏾♀️
Additionally, regular physical exercise is good for your general health and well-being and can keep you feeling positive and more able to cope with stressful situations when they arise. Simple changes to your daily routine such as going for a 30 minute walk during your lunch break or kicking the footy with your kids after work can make a BIG difference!!
#7 Ensure you are getting enough sleep
A lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress, however it can also be a symptom of stress as thoughts whirling around your head can make it difficult to fall asleep. If sleep is an issue for you, it can help to create a relaxing evening routine that gets you prepared and ready for sleep and aim to go to bed at the same time each night so your mind and body can get into a good sleep pattern. Avoid caffeine and excessive alcohol in the evenings as these can lead to disturbed sleep patterns. Don’t engage in mentally engaging activities for a few hours before bedtime to allow your brain time to calm down. Turning off screens (TV, smartphones, laptops) at least one hour before bed can also help. Some helpful activities to do before bedtime include some light reading, talking quietly with the lights dimmed, or taking a warm shower or bath.
#8 Rest if you are unwell
Often we can be guilty of putting too much pressure on ourselves, and contributing to our own stress. A good example of this is feeling like we have to carry on, even when we are unwell. A short rest can often help the body to recharge and recover from illness. Whether this means taking a day off work when you are sick, or simply letting some of your other responsibilities (such as housework) go for a short time while you recover. Looking after yourself is very important!!
#9 Learn to say no
A common cause of stress is having too much to do and too little time to complete it. And yet, in this predicament so many of us still agree to take on additional responsibility when asked. Learning to say “no” to additional or unimportant requests can assist in reducing stress and may even lead to an increase in confidence and self-esteem.
To learn to say “no” requires an understanding of why you find it difficult. Many people find it hard to say “no” because they want to help and are trying to be nice and be liked. For others it can be a fear of rejection or missed opportunities. Understanding what drives you can assist you in taking control and ensuring that you are placing as much importance on your own time and health as you do for others.
#10 Make time for things you enjoy
Take your mind off your worries by ensuring you allow plenty of time for enjoyable activities. This may feel impossible if you are overwhelmed with too much to do, however taking a bit of time out for yourself to do something positive or fun may ultimately lead to better coping skills and increased productivity. Ideas may include gardening, listening to music, socialising, going to the gym, getting into nature, reading, taking a bubble bath… the list is endless! What is your favourite enjoyable activity that you find helps to alleviate stress?
#11 Create a healthy work-life balance
Work plays a very big role in our lives, but it’s important to balance this with other life activities. If work is increasing your stress levels, think about other areas of your life that you would like to focus on (eg. Relationships, exercise, recreation, social activities) and how you can also prioritise these aspects in your daily life.
Taking time to wind down and enjoy relaxing activities is an important part of balanced life and helps to reduce stress. Include relaxing as well as uplifting activities into your daily or weekly routine.
#12 Stay away from conflict. Resolve issues when they arise.
Interpersonal conflict takes a toll on our physical and emotional health. Its a good idea to avoid conflict at work and in your personal life as much as possible. Surround yourself with positive people that make you feel good about yourself as much as you can. Avoid gossip or discussing volatile topics (such as religion or politics) at work. If conflict finds you anyway, learn positive ways to deal with it and ask for support if you need to.
#13 Resist perfectionism
Mistakes shouldn’t be feared – they are an opportunity to learn and improve! The desire to be perfect can make your stress spike and your self-worth plummet. Recognise that you are not defined by your failures, instead see them as an opportunity for improvement and self-discovery. Remember no one is perfect – and people who may appear that way on the outside may be struggling with their own unrealistic perfectionistic standards.
#14 Practise positive self-talk
When we are stressed we often say negative or self-defeating things to ourselves over and over. Unhelpful self-talk may include things like “I can’t cope”, “I’m too busy to deal with all of this”, “I’ll never get this done” or even “I’m completely useless”. Notice this self talk and think about more constructive ways to talk to yourself. Practise saying positive statements to yourself, ensuring they are realistic and that you believe them. Suggestions could be “I am coping well given what I have on my plate at the moment”, or “This is tough at the moment but I know I’ll get through it and things will be easier on the other side”.
Try and keep things in perspective – when we are stressed it is easy to catastrophise and see things as far worse than they really are. Ask yourself “how likely is it that that negative event will happen?” or “am I overestimating how bad the consequences will be?”
#15 Talk to someone
Its okay to need support sometimes. Don’t be afraid to admit when you need help to enable you to cope. There are a range of people you can talk to when you are feeling stressed, for example, family members, co-workers, supervisors, bosses, doctors or psychologists. Your employer may have stress management resources available or your doctor may be able to refer you to a psychologist or mental health professional. If you are feeling overwhelmed it is a good idea to ask for support, especially if it is prolonged over a period of time.