The stress factor

Stress is often seen as on overused word these days. All too frequently, you will hear someone say they are “stressed out”. But just because it’s used more frequently, does that mean we should ignore it?

There’s no denying that life seems to be more stressful now. In an unsure financial climate, more people than ever are having to travel further for work, or maybe can’t find work. Salaries seems to be dropping whilst other costs, such as food and fuel, are on the increase. The strain on family life and on our own health is on the rise. So, how do we combat stress?

Experts often say that some stress is good for us.

It can help us optimise performance and focus the mind. But this should only be for short periods of time. What do we do when that short burst of stress continues with no definite end? During major events such as divorce, redundancy or ill health, there may not be a specific date when we can say it will be over. What do we do to get through these periods?

Prolonged amounts of stress can have a huge impact on our lives and our health. At a basic level, it can lead to exhaustion and an inability to function properly. Decision making, even simple decisions, can become almost impossible as the brain and body become overloaded. Our ability to care for others can be impacted; some people may become withdrawn and introverted, others may become hyperactive and overbearing. Our health can start to suffer in a variety of ways – over or under-eating, fatigue, muscular tension and aches, headaches, sleeplessness. The list is endless and that’s without looking at the more serious problems prolonged or high levels of stress can cause.

Over the years, I’ve seen numerous clients who are suffering from stress, all with varying underlying causes and symptoms. Much as it would be lovely to take away the cause of the problem, it’s not something I can offer. But, for those who want it, there are many forms of support out there to help you through a stressful time and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

Identify the cause:Try to identify the cause of your stress. There may be several things but try to identify each one and ask yourself whether it’s possible to change any of those factors. Is there any way to alter the situation? Even if the answer is no, there are still things you can do to manage your own stress levels.

Exercise: Studies have proved that regular exercise can help reduce stress levels. But it needs to be the right thing for you. Rushing to fit exercise into an already hectic schedule for example, may not provide the benefits you really need if you then feel you are rushing from one thing to the next and are constantly late. Where you do have time for exercise, pick what is right for you. You may be happy to go for a run on your own or walk your dog. If you need some company, consider asking a friend to do a dance class with you. Combining a bit of dance and some fun can make those troubles disappear, even if just for an hour or two.

Food: Try and maintain a balanced diet as much as possible. Much as it is tempting to reach for comfort foods or to eat on the go, in the long term, this won’t do you any favours. Sugary foods may give you a temporary high and provide you with a burst of energy but will inevitably lead to a drop in blood sugar levels, leaving you feeling more tired and lacking in energy than before.

Expert nutritionist Jill Barber recommends the following stress relieving foods:

Magnesium Rich foods: leafy green veg, soya beans, almonds, cod, mackerel Vitamin C: Black and red berries, citrus fruits, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, watercress, spinach. Vitamin B5: Wholegrains, kidney, liver, green vegetables, chicken and molasses

Take some timeout: Everyone can make time for themselves, even those with the busiest schedules. I’m not suggesting you suddenly start spending 2 hours a day pampering yourself but try to find just a little bit of time each week that is reserved exclusively for you and something you want to do. It doesn’t have to be something that costs a fortune. Take a nap, have a warm bath, sit down with a coffee. Anything that means you are focusing just on you, even if its only for 15 minutes. Ideally I would recommend you try and find an hour each week but if that really isn’t possible, try and work shorter periods of time into your diary where you just stop for a while. If it’s an activity that means you aren’t going somewhere else, try to do it at the same time each week so tht you don’t skip it.

Tell someone: Never underestimate the power of a hug! Too many times, I’ve heard people say “she’s so calm, nothing seems to get to her” when in actual fact the “her” being referred to is putting on a show for everyone whilst struggling silently. Sometimes just telling someone how you are really feeling can lift a weight off your shoulders. They may not be able to solve your problems but perhaps they can provide the emotional support that is so often needed. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to close friends or family, think about going to a councillor.

Life Coach Rhiannon Ford also offers the following advice:

Choose carefully who you spend time with – Its important to spend time with people who love you and make you feel good. Allowing yourself time out from your worries with people you enjoy being with, will help you feel calmer and relaxed. This is turn will help increase energy levels and motivation. Likewise, avoid people who are “energy drains” for you.

Little things can make a big difference: It’s surprising how often a small adjustment can have a huge impact. It sounds odd but at our most stressed, we often forget to breathe. How often have you gone through something physically or mentally painful and found yourself holding your breath? We even do it at crucial points in a tv programme yet we neglect such a vital part of our wellbeing when it comes to our own health. When you feel things getting on top of you, take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly. It can reduce your stress levels quickly and if you’re being put on the spot, it can also give you a little extra time to formulate what you want or need to say. If you are able to, close your eyes and imagine yourself in a place where you feel safe, imaginary or real doesn’t matter. Often, things seems more manageable when you reopen your eyes.

Don’t forget the essentials: Our sense of smell can evoke all sort of memories. Estate agents recommend the smell of roasted coffee beans or freshly baked bread is used to help make a house more inviting because it triggers our senses. The same is true when managing your stress levels. Frankincense is an amazing oil to help you feel calm and grounded. A drop on a tissue or on your solar plexus can make all the difference. If frankincense isn’t the oil for you, pick one that is- fruity, herby, citrusy smells. Each oil has different therapeutic values but it’s also about what you associate with that smell that counts. Equally, be aware that there may be smells which can trigger unhelpful associations for you.

Want to know more?

If you’d like to talk to Jill, Rhiannon or myself about how we can help, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Jill Barber (nutritionist):

Rhiannon Ford (Life Coach/Divorce Coach):

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