Statistics from The American Psychological Association has found that 44 percent of Americans report that stress levels have increased over the past five years. Stress is an epidemic that is sweeping the nation, so if you don’t suffer from stress, you will know someone who is.
There is no agreed definition of stress. If you ask different people and professionals about how they define stress, you will get various responses, but many share characteristics of stress being a physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension. Stress manifests in different ways:
Physical symptoms of stress:
- Low energy
- Regular headaches
- Stomach issues
- Aches, pains, and muscle tension
- Unable to achieve quality sleep
- Frequent illnesses and infections
- Lack of libido
Psychological symptoms of stress:
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Feelings of being overwhelmed and unmotivated
- Racing thoughts and unable to focus
- Unable to concentrate
- Making bad decisions
If you have just read these symptoms and they resonate with you, you must act. You should see a medical practitioner if you feel that your stress is overwhelming you and making you feel unwell. You are not alone, and there is real help for you.
What can you do in the meantime?
The first step to learning how to manage your stress is to identify what is causing it. The most common sources of stress have been found to be:
- Personal finances
- Work and job stability
- The economy
- Family responsibilities
- Personal health
- Personal safety and crime
You can see from the list above, that every major aspect of your life is a trigger for stress. Devote some time to reflect on what is the root cause of your stress. Often it is the cumulative effect of several things that cause feelings of stress, so be open to this being the case with you.
For example, you may have ill health, not be able to work and so your finances are stretched. In this situation, your health will be your priority, but you can make decisions to alleviate some of the causes of additional stress. Here’s a helpful article about how to help your personal finances. Examine your outgoings and income to create a realistic budget to help you live within your means and speak to your employers to see if they help you get back to work in a way that you can manage.
In day-to-day life, you need to know how best to deal with stress, here are 5 simple tips to helping you manage your stress levels:
1. Watch what you eat and drink
The temptation is to comfort eat and drink, but you need to think carefully about what you are consuming. You need to fuel your body with the nutrients and vitamins that it needs to work at peak performance. That means healthy eating to beat stress – green vegetables, fruits and non-processed foods.
Try and avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol. They are known stimulants and will heighten and escalate your feelings of stress. You should also note that alcohol is a depressant which will not be helpful to your sense of wellbeing. Swap out caffeine drinks and alcohol for herbal teas, water and diluted juices. Being hydrated will help your body cope with stress.
2. Do some exercise
When you are feeling stressed your body produces adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are responsible for the fight or flight sensations that you feel when you are stressed. They protect us in times of danger, but when you are stressed, you perceive danger more than average, and so your body works overtime to produce them.
Exercise helps your body breakdown the hormones and enables you to return to a calmer state. You don’t have to exercise like an Olympian, a good walk, swim or yoga can help shift the feelings of stress. Try to make time for exercise each day; this way you will feel calmer but also be able to sleep more soundly.
3. Plan your sleep
When you are stressed, your sleep patterns can become disrupted. Lack of sleep is detrimental to your health and wellbeing, so it’s important that you try to plan your sleep. This means being aware of your bedtime routine.
Aim to go to bed at the same time each night so that your body learns the routine and will be more likely to sleep. In the evenings, avoid caffeine and alcohol as they are sleep disruptors, don’t do anything that is mentally demanding, and avoid screens for a good two hours before bed. Screens disturb your body’s natural ability to gauge whether it is day or night. Instead, have a bath and read a book to relax you before bed.
4. Manage your time
When you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, one of the first things to go is your ability to complete tasks. Everything seems impossible, and you can find it hard to prioritize what you need to do.
Get into the habit of having a to-do list. You can color code the entries so that you can easily see which are most important. A to-do list can add to your feelings of being overwhelmed, but once you have listed your tasks, you’ll be able to diarize them and even delegate them to others. Your once large to-do list will now be more manageable and be a source of achievement as you cross them off.
5. Learn to say no
People often find that even when they are feeling stressed, they still keep saying yes to extra responsibilities and demands on their time. Learn to say no. From childhood, people are taught to be people pleasers; however, sometimes this is detrimental to their wellbeing. You may say yes to things to avoid conflict or rejection, but very rarely does a no provoke these reactions. Practice different ways of saying no. For example, ‘I’d love to, but I’m busy that night’; ‘I can’t commit to that right now’; or, ‘what a shame, that date doesn’t work for me.’ These examples are perfectly acceptable ways to say no!
When you are feeling stressed, the impact on your life can be far-reaching. Try to identify the root causes and the steps that you can take to resolve them. There is no quick fix, but by recognizing the symptoms and your triggers, you’ll be able to manage it, rather than it manage you. Good luck!