Stress is as an aspect of life, and we are biologically designed with a stress response and a nervous system mode to deal with stressful events. Historically, this would have saved our lives, enabling us to flee or fight when in danger. However, in our modern age, stress now approaches us constantly from a plethora of angles. We stimulate ourselves with caffeine and alcohol, and are hooked up to forms of technology all day, both of which can activate our sympathetic nervous system mode, we have insufficient sleep, we worry about our finances and the economy, and relationships and family life add another level of stress to the mixture.
The effects of this on our health are widespread, not to mention on our relationships and general enjoyment of life. Stress can cause conditions such as IBS, eczema and hives, fatigue and even weight gain and a faster aging process.
Fortunately, there are things that can be done to unravel the layers of stress in our lives, and manage the unavoidable stresses when they arise.
1. Breathe properly
When we feel stressed, our breathing tends to become shallower and sharper, which alone actives the sympathetic nervous system and makes us feel more stressed, creating a vicious cycle. It can even cause hyperventilation in people prone to anxiety and panic attacks. However, when we feel stressed, if we can take a moment to breathe deeply into the belly, with a longer exhale than inhale, we can calmly centre ourselves and respond rather than react, which is what the stress response initiates. There are many different breathing techniques to try, such as alternate nostril breathing, but simply taking some deep belly breathes with a hand placed over the belly so you can feel the movement of your breath is likely to be very helpful.
2. Spend time in the natural world
We all know the feeling of wellbeing that comes from going on a good walk or playing in the park, but there is a scientific basis for why we feel good from this. When we are in touch with the earth (particularly with our shoes off), we receive negatively charged electrons which balance the positively charged electrons in our body. This can positively affect our oxidative stress levels and reduce inflammation, which are forms of stress in the body. Fresh air and movement also fill us with endorphins that make us feel positive and reduce stress-related depression so we are better able to manage daily life. Regular exercise is widely known to have both physical and psychological benefits, but choosing the right exercise for you is also important, as forcing yourself to do the wrong type of exercise for you is another way of creating stress that we want to avoid.
3. Use appropriate nutritional supplements
Our nerve cells need adequate nutrition to function correctly, and we need a healthy nervous system in order to properly manage stress. Magnesium is crucially important for a state of calm as it is vital for nerve impulses and a deficiency in magnesium alone can create irritation and nervousness. vitamin D is neuroprotective, regulating the absorption of certain minerals, and poor vitamin D status has been associated with multiple sclerosis (MS), alzheimers and dementia, all neurological based diseases. It is important to use the right form of vitamin D, though, and in this case vitamin D3 is the more effective than vitamin D2. The 11 B-vitamins are also important for nervous system function, and you can find Vitamins B6 and B12 in our product Saffrosun which promotes emotional balance and reduces fatigue.
4. Get adequate sleep
When we are sleep deprived we are far less able to manage life, and several studies have shown that we are far more likely to react than respond when we are functioning on low amounts of sleep. It is during the night that vital bodily processes occur such as growth hormones being released, our muscle tissue is repaired, and energy is created, so that we literally feel refreshed when we wake up. 'Sleep hygiene' such as avoiding bright lights from phone and camera screens for a few hours before bedtime, drinking caffeine in the morning if at all reduce stimulation of the brain and nerve cells before bedtime, and having a blacked out bedroom as much as possible can induce melatonin production. These are just some of the things you can do to sleep better for optimising stress management, but if the problem persists, contact your GP or pharmacist.
Meditation has powerful effects on the nervous system and the brain. There are different brain waves states, Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta, and meditation can move us from Gamma or Beta states through to Alpha, Theta, or Delta states where we can feel deeply peaceful, and most meditators report feeling relaxed and reenergised afterwards amongst other positive changes. Practically, meditation creates a space in the day where you can regroup yourself and let your thoughts and worries pass by as you focus on being in the present moment. It is an excellent thing to add to a morning routine, as it means you have put yourself in a calm state before your day has started.
6. Eat well
Food can be a form of stress in the body. Eating too much puts strain on the digestive system and everyone can relate to the lethargy and brain fog that can result from this, but what we eat is also very significant. Sugar, reined carbohydrates, alcohol and caffeine all affect the nervous system and can cause blood sugar crashes and hypoglycaemia which can create anxiety, angry outbursts and mood changes. Highly processed foods and trans fats put strain on our bodies, which need to detoxify them. Eating an abundance of vegetables, good quality protein, healthy fats such as avocados and nuts, and drinking lots of water will support the body's ability to deal with stress on a physiological level. Some foods such as avocados can even boost the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin which can promote emotional balance in the daytime and better sleep during the night.
7. Ask for help
Sometimes we believe that we have to do everything for ourselves in order for it to be done properly, or we become used to juggling several things at once. But this approach can create stress if we overstretch ourselves and have too little time for rest and relaxation. Learning to delegate tasks to others in a business sense, and ask for help from family and friends can go a long way to reducing stress levels.
8. Work at having healthy relationships
Relationships can be a huge cause of stress in our lives, whether it is an unhappy romantic relationship, an issue with a coworker or challenges with children. Being as stress-free in ourselves as possible puts us in a far better position to manage external relationships, but if the problem is still affecting you, communicating with the person involved in a genuine and open yet assertive manner can be helpful. If you feel that the issues are over and above what such a conversation can achieve, seeking support from a counsellor, psychologist or therapist could be very beneficial and is not a sign of weakness. These practices can really promote your wellbeing especially if they can unlock deeper issues that are prolonging stress symptoms.
That's our 8 tips to manage and reduce stress. We would love to hear from you if you have anything to add; what has worked for you and if you try our tips, how have you got on?