Over the last couple of weeks we have looked at the positive (acute) and negative (chronic) aspects of stress. We have learned that the complete removal of stress from our lives is neither possible nor desirable. However, we also seen how chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on our physical and mental health.So, what we really need are ways to protect and enhance our resilience to chronic stress. In this post, we will look at five practical actions that have been consistently shown to do just that:
Sleep, nutrition and exercise are the big ones here. Do you keep a regular sleep routine? Eat a healthy and balanced diet (most of the time)? Exercise regularly without over or under doing it? These actions directly affect the health of our brains and are particularly important if you are prone to stress.
Do you make time each day to connect with family and friends? We are hard-wired to be social, to give and to look after each other, doing so is beneficial for all of us. Research indicates that people who feel more connected to others experience lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
3.RELAXATION & FUN
Do you set aside time to rest and relax? Do you engage in something that you consider enjoyable on a daily basis? Do you maintain a sense of humour as you go about your day? Our ability to relax and have fun impacts our health and enjoyment of life profoundly. It also influences how we relate to others.
4.BE PRESENT & AWARE
The more our minds wander to the past or future the less happy we are. Conversely, being present and aware has been shown to increase our resilience to stress and alleviate its negative effects. Luckily, present-moment awareness is a skill that can be learned. This is something we will look at in more detail in the coming weeks using mindfulness practice.
5.TAKE A BREATH
How we breathe can significantly affect how we feel. Breathing slowly and deeply calms the mind and body at a physiological level. Try the following breathing exercise for 3 minutes a couple of times each day and/or whenever you feel stressed:
- Sit in a comfortable and supportive chair in a quite spot
- Close your eyes or lower your gaze and allow your body and mind to rest as best you can
- Bring your full attention to your breathing
- Breathe in to and out from the lower stomach (below your belly button)
- As you breathe in, be aware of and feel the breath coming in
- As you breathe out, be aware of and feel the breath going out
(Exhale slowly – Twice as long as it takes for you to breath in)
- Sooner or later your mind will wander (this is perfectly normal and to be expected)
- When you notice that your mind has wandered off, gently let go of any thoughts or judgments and return your focus to the breath
- Repeat steps 5 – 8
In summary, there is much we can do to reduce and manage the effects of chronic stress. The key is to create a regular routine that keeps us balanced. Equally important however, is our approach to this process. So, as you find ways to maintain and increase your wellbeing keep the following in mind:
Stress management and good mental health is an ongoing process that takes regular and consistent care – It’s not just for weekends or days off.
The little things really do matter. A routine that includes small steps or actions such as the above can drastically improve how we feel.
The actions you choose are not extra tasks for you’re to do list. They are something that you deserve, something to be enjoyed and to benefit from.
Let go of preconceptions and be open-minded. Why not give new experiences a chance and then decide what has been helpful. You have nothing to lose with this mind-set.
And finally, if stress has become a significant problem in your life reach out for support. There is no point suffering needlessly for something that is both treatable and manageable!
This concludes our three part series on stress. I hope you have found these posts to be helpful in some way.
Until next time have a great week!