Are you suffering from stress and struggling to cope? Try these 5 great stress busters.
From moving house to marathon training, most of you will have suffered from stress at one time or another in your life. Fortunately, as you’re reading this you will also know that running is the best antidote. But if you can’t run or simply need a break from high-impact exercise, how do you cope with stress?
Stress is the body’s natural response to dealing with life’s pressures. When you feel you can’t cope, pressure triggers a physiological response that can leave you feeling anxious, irritable or overwhelmed. Fortunately there are lots of ways to combat stress and remain calm and collected under pressure.
1. Get active
After a tough day at work the most obvious stress relief is exercise. A workout will get your blood pumping, clear your thoughts and enable you to deal with your problems more calmly. ‘In a way, exercise is a form of stress – subjecting your body to the stresses of movement,’ says life coach Pete Cohen. ‘This is why keeping active is so important. It allows us to flex our stress muscles, so our ability to deal with challenging situations in everyday life increases. Exercise also causes our brain to secrete hormones such as serotonin and dopamine, which can lift our mood and make us feel better.’
If running is your crutch and for whatever reason you can’t pull your trainers on, there are plenty of alternate ways to get your heart beating and keep stress at bay. ‘When injured it can be hard to do without that stress release,’ added Cohen. ‘The most important thing to recognise is that your immune system is affected by what you think. If you’re stressed about the fact that you are injured, this isn’t going to help with your recovery. Focus on what you can do and find some form of activity that you can take part in that doesn’t exacerbate your injury. Employ visualisation techniques to create a picture of yourself running again, and aim towards that positive image.’
2. Go outside
If running is not an option or you need some stress relief in conjunction with your favourite sport, consider an alternative low-impact exercise such as swimming or cycling and don’t rule out going for a walk. While walking won’t provide the same intensity that running does, you will still benefit from the fresh air and spending time outside has been linked to stress reduction.
‘It’s been proven that without strong psychological health even athletes in peak physical condition find their performance severely blunted, plus also their levels of commitment, happiness and focus strongly diminish. It is no different for non-professional athletes, and we find proven links to poor emotional health and a lack of sunlight and outdoors living,’ says Dr Becky Spelman.
‘We must never forget that the human psyche responds well to being outdoors in our natural habitat, and it is essential for good psychological health to be exposed to regular fresh air, and ideally natural settings. Indeed, it is the lack of exposure to the great outdoors that so many of us get so used to that is partially responsible for the increase in mental health issues across the population.’
Yoga is another excellent low-impact exercise with physical and psychological benefits for stress management. ‘Practising yoga regularly calms the body and the mind. Lengthening and deepening your breath helps you to slow down and calm the nervous system as well as clearing the mind,’ says yoga teacherAnnie May Rice. ‘Many yoga postures such as Child’s Pose also relieve the adrenal glands which adds to de-stressing benefits. Moving the body through different Asana postures also helps relieve physical stresses in the body like tight and over worked muscles.’
3. Social network
If you’re suffering from anxiety and feeling overwhelmed you may be tempted to isolate yourself to get through it on your own. But employing the support of friends and family is not only a useful tool; being around loved ones can actually help reduce your stress levels.
‘We are social animals and it’s proven that too much time alone can cause us to ruminate to the point of stress and anxiety,’ says lifestyle coach and author Jo Emerson. ‘Other people help us to become more objective about our problems and a good laugh with another person is the perfect antidote to stress. So, it’s vital that you get out, meet people and share your life with others in order to stay healthy and happy.’
If you find social situations tricky, combine it with something else says Emerson. ‘Socialise over an activity – playing sport, learning a language, watching a movie, going shopping – any activity you can do with another will help you to socialise as you have a pre-existing commonality.’
4. Switch off
Much like the computers and smart hones that keep us occupied every waking moment of the day, humans also benefit from being switched off every once in a while. ‘Focusing on the present, and mindfulness in general, is the key way to reduce anxiety and stress,’ says senior life coach Jacqui Cleaver. ‘Anxiety is often caused by worrying about the future, so focusing on the present is key to depleting anxiety.’
If you’re feeling stressed out and struggling to cope, consider a digital detox and switch off all the appliances in your life. ‘Turning everything off including phones, Internet, TV and such like, prevents communication and gives you a time for solace to concentrate on you,’ explains Cleaver. That includes GPS watches and fitness apps – try going for a run tech-free and see how liberating it is.
‘In today’s world we have so many stimulants and calls to action in our daily life that it can be stressful. Turn off all communication points and don’t let anyone contact you for half an hour a day – your world will not implode by doing this. In fact, the complete opposite will happen; you will become calm, your cortisol levels will deplete and suddenly everything will become more manageable. Doing this once a day is the best therapy you can offer yourself.’
5. Just eat it
‘Stress is unfortunately now a big part of our busy modern lifestyles,’ says nutritional therapist Natalie Lamb. ‘It is widely accepted that stress can disturb our gut flora balance. A healthy gut flora balance is necessary to support effective digestive and immune systems, protect the gut lining and avoid unwanted symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, constipation or loose stools. There is a link between the gut and the brain and it is now believed that a more balanced gut flora helps provide greater resilience to stress.’
Alongside a healthy balanced diet, probiotics can aid stress reduction, as they can help bring the gut flora back to a state of balance. ‘The health of the gut flora can impact on how we are able to cope with levels of stress during training and competitions,’ adds Lamb. ‘Bio-Kult is a 14 multi-strain probiotic providing a wide range of benefits and doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge. You should also reduce the intake of stimulating simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, caffeine and alcohol that could destabilise blood sugar levels. Instead opt for a natural wholefood diet high in a variety of colourful vegetables, pasture-fed meat, fish and eggs.’