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  • Rikki Aherne

How to Manage Stress

Updated: Apr 27

Not taking action to manage your stress can have a serious impact on you and the people around you.

When we talk about stress we generally talk about it in a negative way but some stress can be good. Too much stress can be negative and cause multiple physical and mental health issues. Too little can do the same as we become bored and uninterested in life. The perfect amount of stress keeps us excited and feeling alive.



Types of Stress


Acute stress happens in reaction to a specific event or situation which presents a physical or psychological threat. It is the most common type of stress and we may experience it multiple times a day which is good because this is the healthy type of stress.


Examples of acutely stressful situations include slamming on the breaks suddenly to avoid a crash, having to speak in public or getting an assignment at work.

During acute stress, the body releases adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones. These hormones produce the fight or flight response.

The amygdala (the part of the brain associated with strong emotion) takes over, often at the expense of the more rational parts of the brain. This is why people often make poor decisions when they are stressed. This fight or flight response from the amygdala is not always negative. It can improve our performance in these situations.


During acute stress, our breathing rate, heart rate and blood pressure all increase and blood is diverted from the extremities to the big central muscles in preparation for fighting or fleeing. Once the threat is gone, we relax and the levels of stress hormones in our body return to normal. This is a natural response. However, the problems begin when we don’t relax and the level of stress hormones don’t return to normal. This often leads to chronic stress, the stress that is bad for us.

The best way to stop acute stress becoming chronic stress is to manage those acutely stressful moments effectively, to have a plan of action.

Chronic stress comes about when we have repeated acute stressors (multiple stressful situations) or prolonged acute stressors (stressful situations that go on for longer than usual). This can lead to physical health problems such as immune system depression, digestive system issues, increased risk of heart attacks and strokes and it can speed up the ageing process. It also impacts on our mental health causing anxiety, depression and loss of sleep.

The best way to stop acute stress becoming chronic stress is to manage those acutely stressful moments effectively, to have a plan of action.



What Can We Do To Manage Stress?


The first step in managing stress is recognising when you are stressed. Common symptoms include the inability to relax, constant worrying or anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, difficulty concentrating, mood swings and a short temper.

Different situations affect different people so it is important to identify what your stress triggers are. By identifying them you can recognise when and where you may experience stress. This recognition can help you manage those situations better, or, if possible, avoid them all together.

Group those triggers into three categories:


  1. Those with a practical solution.

  2. Those that will get better given time.

  3. Those you can’t do anything about.

In order to manage the group 2 & 3 stressors, you have to learn to let them go.

Ways to Let Go

Letting go is often easier said than done. With determination and a positive and progressive mind-set, anyone can learn to let things go.


Exercise

Being active releases feel-good endorphins in the body and can distract you from worrying.

Physical activity enables you to concentrate and focus on one thing. It clears the mind resulting in more energy and optimism.

Exercise doesn’t have to be anything hugely strenuous. A walk in the woods or to the shop can benefit you.

This mindset enables you to be calm, clear and focused. As you begin to regularly release tension and worry through physical activity, these calm, clear and focused moments can spread to other situations too.



Mindfulness/Hypnotherapy

Mindfulness and Hypnotherapy are mind-body approaches to your overall health and well-being that help us to focus more inwardly.

It enables us to focus on our thoughts and feelings on a deeper level which helps us to manage difficult situations and make better choices.

Listen to recordings for mindfulness and self-hypnosis regularly to get the most benefit. These help you to relax and take time out for yourself. It’s important to take time for yourself, striking a balance between your needs and the needs of others you care for.

You may have responsibility to them but you also have a responsibility to yourself.

Mindfulness and Hypnotherapy almost always incorporate breathing techniques. Some very easy and simple ones include 7-11 breathing and square breathing.

7-11 breathing consists of breathing in through your nose for 7 seconds and out through your mouth for 11 seconds. This activates the autonomic nervous system so when we breathe in we get a burst of adrenaline but as we breathe out we start to relax. By breathing out for longer we are sending signals to our brain that we are calming down.

People with high stress jobs, such as soldiers and police officers, often use box breathing when their bodies are in fight-or-flight mode.

To begin, breathe in for four seconds, hold it in for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, hold it for four seconds. You can continue this breathing until you feel more relaxed. It can help to clear the mind, relax the body and improve concentration and focus.


Sleep

It can be difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep when you’re stressed as your mind is always switched on.

Some great tips for getting a better nights’ sleep include practising mindfulness and self-hypnosis before bed, switching off your screens early, taking a hot shower or bath to relax.

The best way to improve your sleep is to relieve some of the stress using all the above techniques mentioned.


Healthy Diet

There is growing evidence that food can affect our mood. Eating a healthy balanced diet rich in brain fuelling, essential vitamins and minerals and drinking plenty of water will help reduce the impact of stress on your body.

Avoid reaching for food when you are in a stressed state. Blood is diverted to the large muscles during stress, it diverts away from the digestive system making it harder to digest food. This can cause bloating, gas and discomfort.

Stress which goes unchecked can lead to many physical and mental health problems but the wonderful thing about life is that you are in control and have a choice.

With so many tools to recognise and manage stress, it doesn’t need to control you anymore.

There are a lot of resources out there to help anyone who may be struggling:

NHS

Mind Charity

Your GP


It often helps to simply talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling. You don’t have to do it alone.


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