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We can all feel stressed every now and then.
We might be feeling overwhelmed at college, Uni or work. We might be feeling stressed ahead of an exam, a driving test or a job interview.
For the most part, some stress is good because it forces us to knuckle down and prepare, to put the graft in to get the results we want.
It can help keep us motivated and excite us.
It may also help alert and protect us from dangers and challenges we face along the way - including friends trying to distract you with nights out!
What happens to our bodies when we experience stress?
When our body experiences stress, it releases several hormones including adrenaline that all work together to prepare our body.
They cause our blood pressure and heart rate to increase and help our lungs take in more oxygen. This means that more blood (and therefore more oxygen) is circulated to where it needs to go including our brain, muscles, arms and legs.
This then helps us either stay to face the threat (fight), i.e. to stay in that exam hall or to remain on stage, or to leg it and get the hell out of there (flight) which is great if you are competing in a 100m sprint!
When does stress become bad?
Now, while a little bit of stress is normal and can, as shown above, be helpful, there are times when the opposite is true.
If your body is constantly firing off stress signals, it can actually affect both your physical and mental wellbeing in the long term.
On a simpler level, think how exhausting it would be for your body if you were in ‘workout’ mode 24/7 and forever competing in that 100m sprint – tough huh?
Stress in the long term can cause uncomfortable physical symptoms such as headaches, heartburn, trembling and back pain.
It can affect our blood pressure and blood sugar levels; even increasing our risk of heart disease.
It can also cause problems with our mental health and lead to depression and anxiety; so it is a real problem and one that we could all do with addressing.
Here are our top 5 tips for living as stress-free a life as possible...
Some of us may already be used to tracking our workouts, our macros perhaps even our sleep but try keeping a stress log.
Fire up the notes section on your phone and keep track of when you feel stressed and how that stress affects what you do.
You might find that you are always stressed on a morning when you are getting ready for work, which might mean that you routinely skip breakfast. You might feel stressed scrolling through highlight reels on social media just before bed and then struggle to get off to sleep.
Understanding and recognising patterns to your stress is half the battle; then you can get yourself in the powerful position of doing something about it!
Hitting the gym or going for a run outdoors is a great way to relieve stress.
Not only does it provide a great endorphin hit that reduces pain and stress, but it can also help improve our concentration, boost our self-esteem, help us sleep better and even lift our mood.
Factor in ‘me time’ and book a date with a friend.
When we are stressed often taking some time out is the last thing on our minds, but this is crucial to avoid burning out.
Set aside time in your diary to do something that you enjoy, spend time with friends and family, talk to them and give both your head and body time out from the stress.
Having that break might be just the ticket in helping improve your focus and motivation to go back and readdress things.
Cut the caffeine.
Your daily cups of tea/coffee or your pre-workout might feel like all that’s keeping you going in times of stress, but they might actually be making things worse.
Caffeine is a stimulant drug that can cause our heart to race and make us feel anxious; taken too late in the day it can even affect our sleep.
Say no to caffeine after lunchtime. If you can’t manage without your mid-afternoon or evening cuppa, try and switch your Americano for decaf alternatives or opt for something like a herbal tea. Be sure to look out for hidden caffeine in the supplements you use.
Clean up your sleep.
We know that in times of stress getting to bed on time or having a decent kip can seem near on impossible but poor sleep and not feeling rested can actually land up making us more stressed.
Poor sleep can affect our concentration, our energy levels, motivation and even our mood.
So set yourself a regular bedtime and stick to it.
Turn off all screens an hour before bed, turn the lights down low and wind down with a book or magazine, a bath or some quiet music.
If your stress levels are really getting in the way of your day to day life or seriously affecting your physical or mental health, then book an appointment with your doctor and get some advice.
With thanks to Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Sarah Vohra.
You can find her on Instagram @themindmedic where she shares more helpful tips and strategies.