From a hectic home life to busy work deadlines, it’s only a matter of time before stress starts to take hold.
This can really take its toll on you, both mentally and physically, and it can be damaging to your health and wellbeing in the long term.
It’s important, then, to listen to your body and know when it is struggling to cope with the pressures you are facing so you can do something about it. Here’s what to look out for – and what action to take.
The signs of stress
Our bodies are designed to cope with stress, to a certain extent. For example adrenalin is a chemical our body releases to help counter any immediate pressures we face – hence why we get a bit of a buzz from dangerous situations, like skydiving for example.
But if we are under a sustained period of stress, perhaps because of work or a troubled home life, our body can’t help. In fact, if the pressure goes unresolved and so the anti-stress chemicals aren’t put to use, they can do us more harm than good. They can cause an increased heart rate, and cortisol can even damage the immune system so you become more prone to illness.
Other physical effects of stress include an inability to sleep well, getting more angry or tearful than usual at small flashpoints during the day, losing interest in sex, and getting regular headaches.
If you are suffering with any of these physical signs, it’s time to do something about it. Read on to find out what steps you should take.
Your five-step action plan
1. Assess your situation
Try to be self-aware and figure out what the source of your stress is. Sift through what’s going on in your life, potentially putting aside the surface problems to get to the heart of what is really wrong.
2. Make a plan of action
If the source of stress is something you can act on, try to remedy the situation as soon as you can. Sometimes it isn’t so simple – relationship stress (at home or work) can be caused by a complex set of issues. However, sharing your feelings really will help if you can find the right person to talk the issues through with. It will offer you a path to understanding your situation, while objective feedback might give you the chance to at least address part of the root of the problem.
3. Plan mini-escape routes
Letting the pressure build until you explode is not an effective way of dealing with stress. Instead, simple ‘mini escapes’ – like taking a walk around the block, a long, soothing bath or just digging out a CD and having a blast of your favourite songs – can really help.
We’re all different, so it’s important to learn from our experiences and find a few reliable shortcuts to feeling good that really work for you.
4. Focus on the positive
Not all of us are good at serious meditation. But chilling out and focusing on something good is a popular method of de-stressing, championed in many countries from America to China.
Try just taking five or 10 minutes to yourself and either try internal or vocal chanting, or if that’s not really your cup of tea, try concentrating on a pleasing visual image, whether this is an imagined place like a warm beach, or a scene from a fondly remembered holiday.
Try to think around the experience to really get the most out of your quiet time. If you are visualising, think about the restful sounds and scents that go with your scene, too. If you are chanting try to even out your voice as much as possible by adding a ‘sing song’ tone.
To help you get into relaxation mode, nothing quite beats a good pampering session. For tips, read our article to find out How to turn your bathroom into a home spa.
5. Find a healthy rescue
Having a drink or indulging in a box of chocolates are all-too-easy ways to treat ourselves when we feel low. However too many of these kinds of treats can bring about their own problems.
Instead, try taking up a new calming exercise, such as yoga or Pilates. Read more in our article Instant calmer: exercises and relaxation techniques to beat stress.
You could also start a new hobby, which you could channel your energies into. Physical activities can have genuine feel-good value mentally and physically, but hobbies – so long as they do not require too much emotional investment – can also help by arming you with new skills, which is a great morale booster.
How do you cope with stress? Let us know your tips in the comments section below.