Don't let stress take over your life

Don't let stress take over your life

Stress is defined by the way you feel when you’re under abnormal pressure, as it's World Mental Health Day today, we've enlisted the help of a range of experts to share their advice on ways to combat stress.  

Dr Sarah Brewer, GP, author of the book ‘Cut Your Stress in 12 weeks’ believes a certain amount of pressure is beneficial - it gets you out of bed in the mornings, and primes you to meet life's challenges. Stress only develops when pressure rises above the level with which you feel able to cope. This level varies from person to person, and also from time to time, as it depends on many factors. When you are fit, well fed, had a refreshing night’s sleep, are in a rewarding relationship and have money in the bank, you can cope with more pressure than when you are unfit, skip meals, lack sleep and are overdrawn - especially if you’ve just had a row with your partner. 

Feeling stressed simply means you are under more pressure (which may be real or perceived) than you feel comfortable with at a particular point in time. You start to feel uneasy, your mouth goes dry, your hands feel clammy and your legs turn to jelly. You may develop a lump in your throat and a characteristic sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.

The subjective nature of stress means that it’s possible to change the way you respond to stress, so you deal with things more calmly. And once you identify the stressors in your life, you can make plans to successfully overcome them. The approaches outlined in this book will help you raise the bar on your comfort zone, so your perception of how much stress you can deal with is increased.

Some people are so used to feeling stressed that a highly-strung state seems normal and they find it hard to relax. They are addicted to the buzz-like adrenaline high associated with stress. These people, who like to live in the fast lane and who need a lot of sensation and stimulation, score high on the extraversion scale. You may be addicted to stress if you:

•  Feel high after successfully finishing a demanding, stressful task

•  Deliberately pile on the pressure, scheduling more and more into less and less time

•  Always play to win  

•  Choose to work long hours at the expense of social and family life

•  Find it difficult to sit down, relax and do nothing

•  Become angry, aggressive and impatient with delays, queues or lack of punctuality

People who are addicted to stress will experience burn-out sooner or later, experiencing stress-related symptoms such as insomnia, headache, poor concentration, irritability and reduced performance. If they don’t slow down, they are heading for high blood pressure and a heart attack or stroke.

Stress can affect us all in different ways. If you can answer yes to 5 or more of these symptoms then you may be suffering with stress.

•  Nail biting is a way of showing stress

•  Smoking – stressed you tend to smoke more

•  Obesity and Over-eating

•  Increased or excessive drinking of alcohol

•  Loss of appetite

•  Increased coffee consumption/ too much caffeine

•  Excessive and continuing irritability with other people

•  Substance Abuse

•  Unable to make decisions big or small

•  Unable to concentrate – (common symptom of stress)

•  Increased and suppressed anger

•  Not be able to cope with life, feeling out of control

•  Jump from one job to another without finishing things

•  Excessive emotion & crying at small irritations

•  Lack of interest in anything other than work

•  Permanently tired even after sleep – (another very common symptom of stress)

Below are some of the UK’s experts who share their tips on how to help manage stress. 

Eat to boost your mood

One of the most under-recognised but vital factors in maintaining good mental health is the body of evidence now linked to mental health and the key role food plays. Eating a balanced diet with adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats and amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water is key to maintaining mental health.

Robert Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition says: "Eat regularly throughout the day in order to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, choose wholegrain foods such as brown rice and wholemeal bread, and avoid sugary snacks and drinks.  Try including foods rich in tryptophan such as poultry and avocados, and team with high GI carbohydrates such as bread and potatoes to increase serotonin levels in the brain.  You can also boost your diet with foods rich in folic acid, B vitamins, omega 3 and selenium, a lack of which has been associated with depression.  "

Limit caffeine and alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant on the mind and can lead to a rapid worsening of the mood.  Also detoxing uses vital nutrients the body needs such as thiamin, zinc and these vitamin deficiencies can cause low mood.  It may be worth considering taking a Vitamin B complex which helps boost mood.  If you do want to drink alcohol, try not to exceed the recommended safe limits – two units a day for women and three units for men.   Caffeine is also a stimulant that increases adrenaline in the body which is the very hormone one is trying to reduce when stressed so scale down and try to limit your caffeine intake to 3 – 4 cups a day and introduce caffeine free drinks. Visit to download recipes.

Natural ways to beat stress

Dr Sarah Brewer says: "There are a number of herbs that calm such as Rhodiola which is a Registered Herbal Medicine that could help to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety as well as helping to combat fatigue and improve mental alertness by regulating serotonin, dopamine and beta-endorphins in the brain. Try Rhodiola priced at £19.95 plus a Vitamin B Complex and Vitamin C are all beneficial to combating stress. 

Beware of work

Sally Brown, psychodynamic counselor says: “At work, beware of secondhand stress. A recent University of Hawaii study found that stress can be as contagious as a cold, and one stressed person can ‘infect’ a whole office.  So-called stress carriers trigger stress in others around them, even if they are unaware of the impact they are having. And the more empathic your personality, the more secondhand stress you will absorb. If you’re in a situation where you’re regularly exposed to secondhand stress, it’s more important than ever that you create several ‘stress valves’ in your week. If you can, limit the time you spend with people under stress, or make sure it’s offset by time spent with uplifting friends, regular exercise and time to yourself.”

Exercise  - Humans were designed to move

Any form of exercise leads to the release of endorphins which are known as the ‘happy hormone’. Try Yogic ‘Ujjayi’ breathing says Anna Magee, yoga teacher and editor of “When I trained as a yoga teacher we learned how to do this properly and it wasn’t until then that I realised the almost instant effect yogic breathing or ‘pranayama’ can have on the nervous system.  In most high street yoga classes, no one ever really teaches you how to breathe in this way.  But done well, Ujjayi breathing can be calming, detoxifying and reviving at once. It’s the way yogis breathe when they do postures but can also be done as a breathing sequence alone.  Here’s how:

  • Sit cross-legged or lie down with support such as a bolster or rolled blanket under your back.  Broaden the chest and draw the chin slightly inwards.
  • Exhale fully.  Inhale through both nostrils and exhale through the mouth silently making the sound ‘Ha’.  Continue in this way for about three breaths.
  • Now close the mouth and continue silently making the sound of ‘Ha’ as you inhale and exhale.  Feel the gentle constriction in the throat this produces and listen to the slight ‘hissing’ sound the breath takes on - this is correct. 
  • Continue breathing in this way with the throat constricted but directing the breath deep into the lungs and feel the chest open and diaphragm expand sideways as you do so.
  • Beginners only do around 3-5 minutes of this practice and slowly build up to 10-15 minutes over time.

Get enough sleep

Sleep really is a great potion and affects well-being.  Between six to eight hours sleep is ideal and sometimes stress can cause insomnia.  Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, says sleep is vital as it gives the body a chance to undergo essential repairs. “When we sleep the body spends a lot of time repairing and renewing. Levels of growth hormones rise which promote cell repair, while growth and stress hormone levels drop off,” she says.  Maintaining a good wind down session and making sure all phones, ipads are turned off and our bedroom is calm well ventilated will help plus important not to check the time through the night.

Be kind to yourself

Marisa Peer, therapist, relationship expert says: “The most stressful thing you can do is to criticise yourself because your mind believes everything you tell it. If others criticise you you're able to deal with that by saying "oh they had a bad day" but when you criticise yourself you can't help but let that in.  SO,  block negative criticism and whenever you catch yourself doing it, block it with a positive thought. 

Build scent into your life

Marisa also advises: “Finally smells are incredibly relaxing, and smell is linked to regression more than anything else. So rubbing coconut oil in your hands will remind you of being on a beach, burning lavender is really very relaxing, putting lavender on your pillow helps you sleep.”

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