How to manage stress

Stress. Oh how you plague humanity! Nowadays, I don’t think a day goes by without me feeling a degree of stress, whether it be work-induced, pre-race anxiety or relationship difficulties with family/ friends. I say ‘nowadays’ because I think that, in an age where social media shapes so many people’s happiness and expectations, the prevalence of stress has risen significantly and it seems to me that it is inescapable. Certainly, some people are more prone to feeling stressed than others, and I know that I am definitely one of the former types of people, however it is a person’s ability to deal with it, through both avoidance and coping mechanisms, that decides how it affects you. Hopefully you will find this post useful and I will be able to help you manage your stress a little bit better than before by sharing tips which have helped me through the years.

First things first, I’m going to explore the science behind stress and explain why it can have such adverse effects on our bodies. The important thing to remember that a little bit of stress is essential for us to be able to function efficiently and effectively, but there is an incredibly fine line between having enough stress for optimal performance, and having too much.

When we come face to face with a stressful situation, such as an important race, a series of deadlines or a large workload, the pituitary gland in our brain stimulates the secretion of adrenaline (which increases heart rate, blood pressure and energy levels) and cortisol (which also increases energy levels and suppresses ‘unimportant’ bodily functions such as digestion). Originally, these would help us respond to the stressful situation through ‘fight or flight‘, and the episode would be resolved quickly. This is natural, and our bodies are adapted for this. What they are not adapted for, however, is prolonged stress. I don’t want to go into too much detail about the numerous bodily responses to chronic stress, but I will name a few. Physical responses can include either weight loss (due to appetite suppression) or weight gain (due to the desire for quick-release carbohydrates and sugar which is induced by cortisol), bowel inflammation (IBS) and indigestion, and exhaustion. Over-exposure to adrenaline and cortisol effectively wears your body out, like having an engine on full all day. Psychologically, anxiety, depression and irregular sleep patterns are the most common symptoms of chronic stress, which can develop into serious mental disorders if the stress isn’t managed accordingly.

Now, how to manage stress (which is what the post is actually entitled):

1. Doing a sport you love, regularly

For me, this has been the crucial step in both managing and reducing my stress levels. Running is my go-to activity, whilst going to the gym and doing ballet are close seconds. The common factor with all sports is that they a) increase the amount of endorphins and serotonin released in the blood, mood-elevators and stabilisers respectively and also b) bring down adrenaline levels and break cortisol down.

long run with dad

Running in my favourite place with one of my favourite person!

2. Good nutrition

Ensuring that you eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, along with a balance of health fats, protein and complex carbohydrates will mean that your blood sugar levels are stable and your body will be better equipped to battle stress. Furthermore, a healthy body will often equate to a healthy, happy mind and mean that you’re less likely to collapse under pressure.

sweet potato toast

Just an example of one of my favourite nutritious snacks!

3. Positivity

A simple but highly effective method of managing stress is having a positive mental attitude (or PMA as my old sports’ teacher used to call it). If when facing a stressful situation you can channel any negativity into positive energy, then you have already won half the battle. I have to be honest with you in saying that I am awful at this; when stressed, I seem to purely focus on the negative aspects of my life and I enter a vicious spiral downwards which I find very difficult to escape. I have my brother to thank for very often reminding me to stay positive and not let the stress trap me, and having this support makes managing stress that bit easier.

4. Support

Leading on from my last point, seeking help from others, whether they be friends, family or professionals, can really aid you in putting things into perspective. The trouble with stress is that it grabs all of your attention and blows everything out of proportion, so talking to someone can make all the difference in reducing your stress.

5. Mindfulness

Studies have shown that doing just 10 minutes a day of mindfulness can have a huge impact on diminishing stress levels. With apps like Headspace (https://www.headspace.com/), meditation has never been easier to access, although you don’t need to buy anything if you want to have a go. Simply set aside a small chunk of time (it can be as short as 5 minutes!), sit in a quiet space and tune into your body. Focus on every breath, inhaling and exhaling deeply, and don’t let your mind get distracted by any thoughts. Practising this regularly will help clear your mind and rejuvenate you, so I would definitely recommend trying it!

6. Having a plan of action

I find that often I am most stressed when my list of tasks appears insurmountable to me, and I feel so overwhelmed that I don’t know where to start. Organising your time effectively through a planner/ diary/ calendar can help break everything down into realistic chunks that won’t stress you out by just looking at them. If you have a busy schedule, being time-efficient is a key skill in reducing stress levels, and I know it has really helped me – especially during exam time (GCSEs you know I’m talking about you!)

plan

Writing out tasks and crossing them off once completed is such a satisfying thing 🙂

7. Sleep!

Finally, I can’t stress enough (pun-intended) the importance of getting enough sleep! The amount you need varies between 7-10 hours depending on age, health and activity levels, but a good night’s rest will leave you feeling fresh and enable your body to recover from stressful episodes, so don’t overlook it. Try switching social media off 30 minutes before you go to bed as this will improve the quality of your sleep and decrease the time taken for your brain to shut down.

I really hope that you’ve found this post useful, and let me know if you think I’ve missed anything off this list!

Emma xx

 

 

18 thoughts on “How to manage stress

  1. blueberrysmiles22 says:

    Great post! I’m, unfortunately, also one of those people who gets stressed easily and I fully agree with all the points you mention. Reading this has made me realize I haven’t been practicing mindfulness as much as I want to and I definitely want to get back on track with that – thanks for the reminder! 🙂 xoxo

  2. blueberrysmiles22 says:

    Great post! I’m, unfortunately, also one of those people who gets stressed easily and I fully agree with all the points you mention. Reading this has made me realize I haven’t been practicing mindfulness as much as I want to and I definitely want to get back on track with that – thanks for the reminder! 🙂 xoxo

  3. Izzy | pinchofdelight says:

    Great post, I love all these tips!
    As a psychology student I love learning about the body as a system, and have just studied the flight or fight system!
    I really find exercise helps, and mentality is also a key part!
    Have a fantastic day, speak soon. Izzy x

  4. Izzy | pinchofdelight says:

    Great post, I love all these tips!
    As a psychology student I love learning about the body as a system, and have just studied the flight or fight system!
    I really find exercise helps, and mentality is also a key part!
    Have a fantastic day, speak soon. Izzy x

  5. Laura Bell says:

    Really great post Emily! I agree that a positive mental attitude is so so important when managing stress. It can be hard at times but it works! xx

  6. Laura Bell says:

    Really great post Emily! I agree that a positive mental attitude is so so important when managing stress. It can be hard at times but it works! xx

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