10 tips on managing stress
Stress has a major impact on our lives, however, it doesn’t have too. There are many different techniques for managing stress that you can use to help you lead a happier, healthier life. Try experimenting with these different techniques, until you find the one that works best for you.
As I’ve talked about previously stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The aim of stress reduction techniques is to switch off this activation and allow the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), our ‘rest and digest’ system, to dominate. You can read more about stress and the symptoms of stress in my previous blogs.
These are my top 10 tips for managing stress.
- Identify your stress symptoms and the causes of your stress
One of the first steps in managing stress is learning to identify your own personal stress symptoms and triggers. Once you can identify when you are stressed and what your triggers are, it becomes much easier to reduce and remove the factors contributing to your stress.
For some people categorising their stressors into a) those easily solved b) those that will require a change to solve and c) those that are beyond your direct control, helps them understand more about their stressors and how to cope with them. Talking with someone you trust may help to categorise and manage your stress, and help you work out the steps you need to take to improve things. For some people changing their mindset and deciding to let go of their worry is a big help, especially for stressors that are beyond their control.
2. Relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises/diaphragmatic breathing are safe and effective for managing stress. They calm the nervous system, switching it from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’, release tight muscles and help oxygenate the body. Relaxation techniques can be performed just about anywhere, making them a great exercise to do whenever you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious. They are also great to do to help you fall asleep.
There are so many options available to learn these techniques.
- Apps like smiling mind (https://www.smilingmind.com.au/) or headspace (https://www.headspace.com/) teach mindfulness and meditation.
- There are heaps of guided meditation YouTube videos – I like Jason Stephenson (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqPYhcdFgrlUXiGmPRAej1w).
- Monash Mindfulness (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR19sWAiaXuJtNx7mp6gcxg/featured) is great for lessons on mindfulness
- Diaphragmatic Breathing (https://www.psychology.uga.edu/sites/default/files/CVs/Clinic_Diaphragmatic_Breathing.pdf) is another great relaxation technique.
3. Review your diet
Poor dietary choices do not provide the body with the nutrients it requires during times of stress. To fuel the stress response the body uses large quantities of protein, B vitamins and magnesium. It is essential to eat nutritious foods to supply the demand your body has for these nutrients. Meal prepping and freezing meals are great ways to ensure you are eating healthily during times of stress.
It’s important to reduce caffeine and refined carbs – alcohol, sugar, white flour, white rice, cakes, biscuits. They provide little nutrition and increase the stress response, making things worse. Start by swapping one of your daily coffees to green tea, herbal tea or filter water and build up from there. Instead of grabbing a sweet sugary refined snack try some fruit and yoghurt topped with nuts and seeds – still sweet, but full of nutrients. Sugar might initially make you feel better, however, when your blood sugar levels drop you can feel worse and your stress levels can spike.
It is essential to eat protein with each meal to help manage stress. During times of stress, the body wants to provide itself with plenty of glucose to fuel the ‘fight or flight’ response. It gets this glucose by breaking down the protein stored in our muscles. As we no longer required to fight or run this glucose ends up getting stored as fat around our abdomen. However, this doesn’t mean going crazy eating all the meat you can find. Try, for example, 2 eggs with breakfast, a handful of nuts for morning tea, a bowl of lentil soup for lunch, yoghurt and fruit for arvo tea and 150g salmon, brown rice and veggies for dinner.
Exercise is great for managing stress, as it helps lowers stress hormone levels, and increases the production of endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Additionally, it helps reduce depression and anxiety and improves sleep. Physical activity can be meditative, as it requires you to focus on your body’s movements and not on what’s been worrying you. Regular exercise may also improve your self-confidence and give you a sense of control over your body and life. If you don’t regularly exercise, walking 30 minutes five times a week is a great place to start. However, any form of exercise will help reduce stress, as long as it’s done in moderation and not too hardcore.
5. Work-life balance and stress
Workplace pressures and demands are a major source of stress. People are working longer hours and spending less time doing the things they enjoy. This is taking a massive toll on our health. If not addressed this can lead to burn-out and mental illness.
However, balancing work and life is not an easy thing to do. Some things to try include:
- Determine what you value and set goals to make them a priority
- Learn some time management skills. If I’m short of time and stressed I set a timer for how long I want to spend on a task, when the timer goes off it’s time to move on to something else, I find this helps me focus.
- Leave work at work and make home time your time
- When appropriate delegate tasks to others and ask for help and support when needed – we all need help some times.
- Make sure you have a job you enjoy. If not, consider changing jobs, or even a change of career. As scary as that sounds the longterm benefits makes it worth it.
6. Spend time alone
Spend time alone each day doing something you enjoy. For example, reading, gardening, sipping a cup of tea in peace, walking, listening to music. Spending time on your own allows you to get to know yourself, it’s linked to reduced stress levels as it allows you to build mental strength, and it gives you time to plan life goals. If you find yourself craving alone time, then it’s a sign that you need to make time for yourself, even 10mins a day is beneficial.
Sleeping problems are common during times of stress. If you are having trouble sleeping
- Avoid caffeine after midday
- Avoid refined sugary foods, they are low in the nutrients that promote sleep
- Limit screen time before bed – turn off at least 1hr before bed
- Write down a list of things you need to do the next day, instead of worrying about them in bed
- Have a source of protein with every meal – seafood, poultry, meat, dairy products, nuts
- Regular exercise improves sleep
- Consuming 2 kiwi fruit 1hr before bed may help
- Regularly eating food sources of tryptophan (dairy products, poultry, seafood, pumpkin and sunflower seeds), melatonin (salmon, poultry, cherries, oats, corn, nuts, seeds), B vitamins (fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, whole grains, nuts, seeds) and magnesium (whole grains, nuts, seeds, leafy green veg, berries, meat, ) aid the production and release of sleep-inducing hormones and neurotransmitters and the nervous system
- Having a relaxing herbal tea before bed can improve your sleep – look for teas containing chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, passionflower.
8. Supportive relationships
Having people you trust to talk to can help reduce stress. they can provide help and practical advice. Expanding your social network by joining a club, doing a course, a group activity or volunteering provides you with a larger support network and the opportunity to do something new, exciting and enjoyable. Volunteering and helping others has been shown to have a positive effect on mood and opens one up to new perspectives and experiences.
9. Learn to say no and ask for help
Are you taking on too much? Are there jobs that you could delegate? Come up with a plan to address the things that you can. Try setting realistic expectations and prioritising essential commitments. If you feel overwhelmed, ask people for help and say no to things that add extra stress to your life. Saying no can be hard and may require some practice to help you feel more comfortable doing so.
10. Keep a positive attitude
Try to keep things in perspective and don’t be too hard on yourself. Look for things in your life that are positive and write down things that make you feel grateful. Having a positive outlook enables you to better cope with stressful situations. Start putting positive thinking into practice. Instead of being worried about trying something new, think ‘This is a chance to learn something new’. Turn ‘this won’t work’ into ‘I can try to make it work’. Whatever the situation is, you can always find a positive spin.
If you’ve given all sorts of stress-relieving techniques ago, but you continue to feel overwhelmed, seeking professional help may be the way to go. Many people can feel reluctant to seek help, however, never be afraid to ask for professional help when things become too much. I offer personalised naturopathic consultations in my clinic and online, that can help you manage stress and feel more energised and calm. To find out more about naturopathic consultations and treatments head to my What is Naturopathy? page, or book your free 15-minute discovery call to talk about naturopathy and how it can help you.