I've been under quite a bit of stress lately and as someone who has had (and come back from) debilitating anxiety and panic, it is something I actively try to minimise. Stress can cause not only serious metal health problems long term, it also can have serious physical health problems, and that is why I want you to actively reduce the stress in your life ... before it's too late. I know we all live 'busy' lives with little time for fun and self care, but your wellbeing depends on it and that's why you should make time for both in your 168 hour week.
I have pretty much tested out most things that have been purported to reduce stress and anxiety, and as you would expect some things work and some things don't. From a science and psychology stand point, the main thing any stress-reducer MUST do is reduce the levels of cortisol in your system.
Here are my top 10 go-to stress-reducers, scientifically-proven to reduce cortisol levels that you can action at pretty much any point in any day.
1. Meditation and Visualisation. This has been an increasingly popular practice over the last 5 years and has moved from the hippy sidelines to the successful mainstream. You can either use your own mind to create a calming visualisation or you can listen to one of the many guided meditations online, (Youtube is a great place to start) depending on your preferences and/or mood. I love to finish a yoga practice with a 5 minute guided meditation mp3 in savasana but I am also quite partial to snatching a few quiet moments (because as a mum to a toddler that's sometimes all you can manage) to follow my own mind, vividly imagining waves coming in and out against the shore line. The important thing is find something that works for you and to practice it even when you are not stressed so that you can maximise the benefits of your practice.
2. Yoga. Another failsafe in your stress-busting armoury and again, something else moved into the mainstream over the last decade. Even a 10 minute daily practice can have massive benefits not just in terms of stress and anxiety relief but physically. It's the best way to start the day, and because only 10 minutes can make a difference there is no excuse not to make time for it!
3. Breathe deep and slow. For those of you who don't click with meditation, this is its closely-related friend. Simply shutting your eyes and taking long deep breaths takes the edge off when you are angry or upset, as well as works wonders when you are stressed or feeling agitated. You don't even have to close your eyes if you don't feel comfortable wherever yu are at the time. Inhale for 10 counts and exhale for 10 counts, and repeat 10 times. Stress reduction really can be that easy!
4. Drink black tea. I'm not going to lie to you, I'd recommend a cuppaT for anything and everything - and I think motorcyclist Guy Martin is one of the few who could match me cup for cup in a day - but science backs me on this. Black tea has been found to reduce cortisol levels; and therefore stress. Throw in a biscuit and you'll be too content to be stressed for a while.
5. Take a nap. This is a good one but I understand that it's not always possible, or easy to do. Firstly, if you're stressed you'll find it difficult to sleep anyway and secondly, our 'busy' lives don't make napping much of option. The best recommendation I can give you is to use your lunch break and take 20 minutes to just close your eyes and relax. If you sleep, you sleep. If you don't, at least you will feel more relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. For more information on how to get better quality sleep including tips and a guide to napping for optimum benefit, check out my book Great Sleep HERE.
6. Hug and kiss people. Probably best to start with loved ones, but if youre confident enough to hug a stranger then go for it! The natural hormones released during a comforting embrace or during a beautiful kiss with a partner can work better than any other method for stress-relief.
7. Go for a walk - add an extra boost of stress-busting power if you take an animal with you. Fresh air, sunshine and the freedom to think are all good reasons to get out there and have a mooch about. Science has also found that you'll get more of a benefit if you include your dog as they are natural stress-busters just being there.
8. Laugh. Watch a funny movie or slap on a Michael Macintyre DVD, whatever works for you. Like hugging, when you laugh your body surrenders and allows the feelings of joy and happiness to fill your body, pushing aside any stressful feelings you may have. The lighter side of life should carry you through the rest of your day, minimising those stressful feelings.
9. Create something. There is a whole therapy based upon this stress-buster: art therapy. Letting the creative juices flow through creation of art, textiles or writing reduces cortisol levels and at the end of it you have something pretty to behold.
10. Listen to music. Pop in your favourite CD or pump up the volume on your iPod and get lost in the music. Sing your heart out and/or dance like a crazy person to release the stress and tension and bring the joy and happiness back to the front.
Well, there are my top 10 stress-busters. I hope y'all find some value in them. They might not ALL work for you but even if one works for you, that's better than continuing the fight against stress.
It's important to remember though that these are short term solutions and not to be used for the long term. Seek a professional if you think you have been struggling with stress and anxiety for too long. It's scary at first I know but the consequences of leaving it are far worse. Trust me, as some one who has had a breakdown and learnt the hard way :-).