Understanding stress and 12 things you can do about it

Stress is the body’s physical response to any change that requires an adjustment or reaction. Stress can be a result of your environment, body or thoughts. Everyone experiences stress to varying degrees and while it is perfectly normal, it doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. Although we are designed to experience stress, prolonged stress can have a negative impact on the brain and body and lead to ongoing distress. This can happen when a person finds themselves continuously exposed to stressors without adequate relief or relaxation. 

Distress can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, elevated blood pressure, chest pain or difficulty sleeping. It can also have an impact on our mental health, causing things like depression, panic attacks and anxiety. 

While stress can not be avoided entirely, there are many steps you can take to alleviate it and minimise its negative consequences:

1. Exercise

Although it may sound contradictory, sometimes the best way to combat psychological stress is by putting your body under physical stress.  Exercise lowers your body’s stress hormones such as cortisol. It also helps to release endorphins, chemicals that improve mood and serve as natural painkillers. Exercising regularly can also improve your sleep quality. Exercise has the greatest impact on stress reduction when it is done regularly. Try to find an exercise routine or activity you enjoy such as walking, jogging or yoga. 

2. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is best described as a practice that helps bring you to the present moment. Practising mindfulness can combat the anxiety by making you more aware of negative thoughts and bringing your mind away from the past and future by grounding you in the present. There are many ways to add mindfulness to your daily routine, such as meditation, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction. 

3. Breathe

Even taking just a 5-minute break to focus on your breathing can be enough to help you relax. Try sitting up straight, closing your eyes and breathe in through your nose slowly and exhale through the mouth slowly. Use your breath to let go of any tension you may be holding in your muscles and bring your mind back to the present. 

4. Create a Relaxing Atmosphere

Try lighting a candle or dimming the lights. You may also want to open a window and enjoy the sounds of nature and fresh air.  Many people find aromatherapy relaxing with scents like lavender and lemon. Whatever environment you find relaxing, try to create it within your home or workspace. 

5. Listen to Relaxing Music

Soothing music can lower your blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety levels. Whether it’s ocean sounds, meditative melodies or a positive upbeat playlist, find music that makes you feel happy and relaxed and listen to it when you feel stressed out. 

6. Reduce Your Flat Whites

While coffee consumption in moderation can be healthy, each person has a different threshold for how much caffeine they can tolerate. Many people find that caffeine makes them jittery and anxious. If this happens, you may want to consider cutting back or eliminating it entirely. 

7. Journal 

Writing things down is a great way to get stress out of your head. Keeping a journal can help you track your anxiety and relieve it, especially if you begin to focus on all the positives in your life. 

8. Surround Yourself with People You Love

We all need social support, particularly during stressful periods of our lives. Studies show that spending time with friends and children helps to release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. People who feel isolated are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

9. Laugh

There is a reason they say ‘laughter is the best medicine’. When it comes to anxiety, laughter is a great stress reliever. Laughter minimises your body’s stress response, relieves muscle tension and can stop us from taking ourselves too seriously. Make yourself laugh by hanging out with friends with a good sense of humour or watching a comedy show.

10. Stop Adding, Start Subtracting

When you feel overwhelmed and have too much on your plate you need to say no to adding more and evaluate what things in your schedule are truly necessary. Not all stressors are within our control, but some certainly are. Try to be selective with what you take on and become comfortable with saying no to things that will unnecessarily elevate your stress levels.

11. Avoid Procrastination

Staying on top of your task list will leave you feeling more in control of your life and less rushed. If you constantly feel like you’re getting caught up you will likely feel more stressed and act in a more reactive than proactive manner. Avoid procrastination by priortising your to-do list and setting realistic timelines.

12. Practice Gratitude - it really works

It’s easy to get lost in the negative and miss all the positives. Make a list of all the good things going on in your life - your gratitude list. Savour good experiences, practice gratitude and celebrate your blessings. Notice the simple joys of life such as a sunny day, a smile from a stranger or the taste of a good meal. 

If you are concerned about your stress levels, please get in touch with us at the Sydney Anxiety Clinic.