With stresses coming from all directions at the moment, work, financial, health, not leaving your home for six months because of a global pandemic…. It’s easy to let stress get on top of you. This in turn, impacts on all the interactions you have with other people. This post covers ten small steps to de-stress your life.
What happens when I’m stressed?
Any threat to your wellbeing can cause you to become stressed. It’s thought to be our body’s way of dealing with challenging situations. It’s therefore essential to our survival because it heightens our awareness and triggers our fight or flight response. This is where we either confront the danger/threat/stress head-on or run in the opposite direction.
Cortisol is our primary stress hormone and is released when we feel stressed. If we are stressed for long periods of time, it can start to affect our blood pressure, our sleep patterns and our memory function. It also lowers our immune systems, making us more susceptible to infections. When you feel like you have too many stresses happening at once (or one big stress playing on your mind), it’s time to find small ways to de-stress to reset your physical and mental wellbeing.
Steps to de-stress – Laugh
You’ve probably heard the saying: ‘laughter is the best medicine’, but it’s pretty spot on where stress is concerned. Research has shown that laughter actually lowers your blood pressure and decreases anxiety levels. Experts suggest that face to face laughter using eye contact works best, so if stress is getting the better of you, call that friend who makes you laugh and plan to meet up. For an even quicker de-stress, re-watch the comedy shows that make you laugh out loud every time. It’s hard not to laugh at Ross getting a spray time for the first time in Friends, or re-runs of Alan Partridge or Faulty Towers.
Just keep them saved on your TV planner for when your stress levels threaten to overwhelm you.
Steps to de-stress – Yoga
There are countless studies that show practising yoga, especially if you can manage it on a continual basis, lowers stress and anxiety levels.
Yoga teaches us to breathe properly, focus on one area of our body at a time and increases the blood flow around our bodies. It builds flexibility and strength which in turn drains our lymph nodes boosting immunity. Yoga also helps to regulate our cortisol levels and teaches us how to relax. Lilly, 27, agrees with the benefits of yoga: “My mum did loads of yoga in the eighties, so I’d always written it off as a mum-fad,” she laughs. “So much has changed! After my first yoga class I felt the same as if I’d run a long run, but somehow more peaceful and appreciative of what my body could do. And there were no seventies leotards in sight!”
Steps to de-stress – Be in nature
According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, spending just twenty minutes in nature every day lowers our cortisol levels dramatically. Another study showed spending just two hours or more in nature every week increased your sense of wellbeing. Spend lunch breaks outdoors at a nearby park if you can, rather than sitting in front of your computer. Walk to and from work if it’s close enough or wake up early and watch the sunrise before you start your day. Personally, it’s watching birds in my garden and identifying them that makes me really connect with nature. Try the RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds – for a simple guide with detailed illustrations about each bird.
Steps to de-stress – Swim
Science has lots to say about the benefits of swimming on both your physical and mental wellbeing. It’s not just an all-body workout, but being surrounded by water, whilst breathing rhythmically as well as concentrating on the technique of your swimming strokes can have a really therapeutic effect.
Regular swimming lowers anxiety levels, stress and can help with depression. It can also help to regulate your sleep patterns, as you’ll release endorphins post-swim. It doesn’t have to be swimming lengths, a quick dip in the sea or a safe open water spot will work wonders for your mental health. “I never really learnt to swim properly as a child,” admits Sara, 30. “So in my mid-twenties I enrolled on adult swimming classes and now I regularly swim with an open water swimming group who’ve become firm friends.”
Try Swimming nature and search for adult swim classes near you.
Steps to de-stress – Breathe properly
According to studies, none of us is breathing properly, so it’s good to remind yourself how it should be done. Diaphragmatic breathing reduces anxiety and helps detoxify our bodies. It can be really useful in stressful situations when we need to calm ourselves down quickly. Here are tips on how to do a daily breath-focused activity:
- Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest
- Take a deep breath in through your nose and let your diaphragm fill up (your diaphragm is located at the bottom of your lungs, so let this area fill up, not your chest).
- Exhale slowly through your mouth.
- Try these 10 times, for 10 minutes every day, especially to help you relax, focus or when you feel stressed.
Steps to de-stress – Listen to classical music
Listening to classical music can have a hugely calming effect on our busy minds by distracting us as we become absorbed in the music. Music tastes vary and everyone has songs that help them to tune out. However, the gentleness combined with the complexity of classical music can calm you just by listening to it. Classic FM’s list of the most relaxing pieces of classical music suggests anything by Einaudi or try Air on a G string by Bach. Just put your headphones on (try noise-cancelling headphones to block out the outside world) and tune out.
Steps to de-stress – Buy a house plant or plant some seeds
Who would have thought the humble house plant would go as far as to reduce stress, cough and colds, boost creativity and your mood and clean your air by absorbing the toxins in your environment. Plus, there’s all that oxygen they’re producing and pumping out! If you’re a houseplant novice, start with something simple like a spider plant which is very easy to grow and maintain. If you’re terrible with remembering to water plants, try cactuses which only need watering once a week. For a large but easy to manage house plant, try a Monstera Deliciosa which are really easy to grow. Try Patch Plants if you want them delivered!
Steps to de-stress – Eat….
Selenium is an important mineral that our bodies need for a healthy immune system, cognitive function and our fertility systems. It has also shown to help reduce your stress levels and the best way to increase selenium is through what we eat. Brazil nuts, eggs and sardines are all high in selenium as well as sunflower seeds to snack on.
Chia seeds have also been shown to lift your spirits as they contain magnesium. Magnesium helps regulate cortisol levels and can also help us get a good night’s sleep. Luckily, dark chocolate is rich in magnesium, just make sure the cocoa content is more than 80%.
Steps to de-stress – Do something creative – craft
There’s nothing like some calming crafts to de-stress you after a long day. Concentrating on crafts pushes your worries to one side as you focus on the activity in front of you. There are plenty of books, tutorials and blogs for learning how to sew or knit or even taking on bigger projects like crochet and quilting. Art therapy benefits are well researched and painting or colouring in, can have therapeutic effects on your wellbeing.
“I took a course in calligraphy,” says Gemma, 29. “I absolutely loved it and now I take great pleasure in writing beautiful thank-you cards and gifts for friends.”
Steps to de-stress – Watch your favourite childhood show
The great thing about channels like youtube, is that all the forgotten shows from your childhood (Rainbow, Playschool, Byker Grove, Swallows and Amazons) still exist online. Just as long as you can cope with a slightly grainer screen and sound quality, you can re-watch them all again. Search through old kids tv programmes, to be transported (and de-stressed) back to being eight years old.