This week is National Stress Awareness Week, with Wednesday being National Stress Awareness Day. So here we take a look at what stress is really doing to our bodies and how we can both recognise it and combat it.
What is stress?
Stress is anything which exerts pressure on us beyond our individual ability to cope. It has traditionally been thought of as a flight or fight response; increasing our alertness, muscle tone and heart rate to respond to a perceived threat. However modern-day stress can come in many forms such as workplace pressures, relationship issues, juggling family commitments or looking after a sick relative, which can all take their toll.
What happens when we are stressed?
When we are stressed our body releases chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are imperative for our survival, however if their levels are sustained for a prolonged period they will start to impact on our physical health and affect many different organs in our body.
Symptoms of stress
Symptoms of stress can include:
- Chronic muscle pain
- Over or under eating
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased risk of diabetes, heart conditions and stroke
- Increased susceptibility to colds and viruses
Can exercise help with stress?
Yes! Exercise helps lower our blood pressure, reduce the levels of stress hormones in our body, improve our mood, our muscle flexibility and tone, as well as distracting us from other stressors and helping us to get a good night’s sleep.
Great forms of stress-busting exercise include classes such as clinical-pilates, tai chi and yoga, which focus on breathing and flexibility of the body. They also give us the opportunity to ‘check in’ with ourselves and become more aware of how we are feeling physically and mentally. Whilst this gives us some much needed me-time, classes can also be a great social opportunity which is perfect for boosting our mood!
The ISMA (international stress management association) has come up with 7 positive ways to influence stress.
1. Change the thought – Change the outcome
This is the starting point, reprogramming your brain by replacing an unhelpful negative thought or belief with a new positive one. Use your imagination to visualise or ‘show’ your brain what you want. The power of the mind cannot be over-estimated!
2. Self-belief starts with you
This is an empowering way of taking more control in your life rather than relying on others to make you feel good. Do something fun or caring for yourself today!
3. Don’t just do what you did last year
Repeating what you always do will bring you the same outcome unless others change & this is not in your control. So if you didn’t like all that happened last year make plans & set new goals, do something different!
4. Deal with difficult decisions now, not later
“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today” We all know this but positive action is required to make it happen. Prioritize & do the difficult tasks first in the day so you have a clear focus for the rest of the day making you less stressed & more productive!
5. Find reasons to say “yes”
“I would love to but….” here comes the negative reason why you can’t! It can be a really positive experience to just say yes, if it is possible & what you want, then try to find ways that will allow you the opportunity, maybe you need others to persuade you, take control & decide for yourself!
Stuck with what you have always had & now want a change? Look at learning to develop & use your assertive skills, ask for what you want, discuss your changing needs, expectations with yourself & others to reach the deal that works for you!
7. Flip it!
There are always two sides to every situation, sometimes more. Take time to look at all your options, don’t just assume, maybe ask others & make informed choices based on facts!