For many of us, stress is part of everyday life. So learning ways to manage or reduce it is important. But it isn't just about finding ways to relax more. According to clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Edelman, and author of Change Your Thinking, it's about managing your time more effectively, problem solving, and learning to say 'no' sometimes. It can also be about knowing what you can control and what you can't.
Ensure you have enough time to relax each day - activities that are absorbing and engaging may also help you connect with other people.
Besides helping you relax physically by easing muscle tension, regular exercise also boosts energy levels and improves stamina. This can act as a buffer against stress.
"When your energy levels are low, your threshold for coping with stress may be lower too, but when you feel strong and energised, it may help you cope better with problems," Dr Edelman explains.
Eating a healthy diet and getting sufficient sleep may make it easier to deal with stress. Watch your alcohol intake too. Alcohol may help you feel more relaxed at first, but long-term drinking to cope with stress can lead to a range of health and social problems. It’s also likely that overdoing alcohol may actually make you feel more stressed and has also been linked with depression.
Problems are an unavoidable part of life and a cause of stress. But taking steps to look for solutions can make you feel better by giving you a sense of control. Talking problems over with other people can often give you a fresh perspective and help you to solve them.
While we need to look for solutions to problems that cause us stress, we also need to recognise that there are some things in our lives that we can’t control. Try to focus on the things you can control. Remember that being able to accept situations that are beyond your control is, paradoxically, a way of exercising control because you choose to let it go.
Try not to over-commit yourself, especially at times when you’re more likely to feel stressed.
If you know there’s a stressful event or period coming up, try to find ways to take the pressure off.
Sometimes the only way to reduce stress in your life is to change something or give something up, for example, changing your job or taking some time out from a toxic friendship.
Everyone has different ways of relaxing - reading a book, listening to music or watching TV. But it’s also useful to have something extra - a technique that can put you into a deeper state of relaxation and reduce feelings of anxiety, especially if you’re anxiety prone. Deep relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation and meditation, can cause physical changes including slowing down breathing and heart rate and relaxing muscle tension - the opposite of the fight or flight response.
This involves consciously relaxing each muscle group from the feet to the face, one by one. This can also be done by first tensing each muscle for a few seconds and then relaxing it. It’s important not to rush this process and to allow each muscle group to relax a little before moving on to the next one. This muscle relaxation generally takes about 10 minutes.
Meditation is a way of stilling the mind to give it a break from its usual thinking pattern. There are different ways of doing this, including:
Meditation may work best for a calming effect if it’s done for 20 minutes daily. Learning to meditate can be harder than progressive muscle relaxation because it’s normal for the mind to wander, but it gets easier with practice. Once you become aware that your mind has strayed, let go of your thoughts and return to the meditation.
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Last published: 30 July 2011
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