Stress seems to be a normal part of our everyday lives these days. Having a successful career, bringing up children, trying to be all things to all people can send our stress levels soaring and this, scientists now recognise, can make you ill.
Everyone needs a certain amount of stress to live well. It's what gets you out of bed in the morning and gives you the vitality and zest to do all sorts of things, from sport to presentations. Stress becomes a problem - 'distress' - when there's too much or too little. A lack of stress means your body is under-stimulated, leaving you feeling bored and isolated. Too much stress, on the other hand, can result in a range of health problems including headaches, stomach upsets, high blood pressure and even stroke or heart disease.
Here are some of the things that I try when I'm feeling stressed:
Breathe Sounds silly as we breathe all the time, but when you’re stressed you tend to take shallow breaths that don’t supply enough oxygen to your brain or body. Take a few moments, and breath in deeply through your nose for a count of 5, then out through your mouth for a count of 7. Repeat this at least 3 times.
Exercise Exercise not only burns of the excess adrenaline cause by stress, but it will help release serotonin which will make you feel happier and calmer.
Eat well Your body needs more B vitamins in times of stress, so make sure you are eating enough. You can get more by eating whole grains, fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables, milk and yogurt. Oily fish also provides omega-3 fatty acids, which help your nervous system function properly.
Don’t skip meals. This is easily done, particularly when your stress is down to not having enough time to do everything. But skipping meals causes big drops in energy and this in turn increases the likelihood that you will reach for some coffee or sugary snack for a quick boost – both of which are likely to increase your bodies stress response!
Ensure you have enough protein in your diet, as your body needs some of the components of protein in order to make serotonin - your body's own prozac.
Me time Take some time for yourself. This could be going out for a walk, reading a book, taking a bath, or having a massage. Massage doesn't just feel good. Research shows it reduces the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, relaxes muscles, and increases endorphins, your body's natural painkillers.
Smile The brain cannot easily hold contrary emotional states simultaneously - so if you want to feel more smiley, then smile more :-)