April is Stress Awareness Month, and with the past year's COVID-19 pandemic being a huge cause of stress for many of us in different ways, we think its important that we discuss stress and how to manage it in order to help us better look after our mental health and wellbeing. In our blog, we offer some simple ways to relieve stress by leading a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
We live in a time where our lives are incredibly busy. From work to home life, the balance is quite often one sided and we strive to find a happy medium where the balance is central and we live the best way possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also greatly affected people's stress levels and overall mental health. A study conducted by The Stress Management Society has found that since the pandemic started in March 2020, 65% of people have felt more stressed; 53% of people felt more anxious and 43% of people felt more depressed.
Looking after our mental health and managing feelings of stress has never been so important.
By making small and simple changes to your lifestyle, you can combat stress and ultimately lead a more well-balanced and happy life.
What is stress?
As defined by the NHS:
Stress is the body's reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It's very common, can be motivating to help us achieve things in our daily life, and can help us meet the demands of home, work and family life.
But too much stress can affect our mood, our body and our relationships – especially when it feels out of our control. It can make us feel anxious and irritable, and affect our self-esteem.
Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period of time can also lead to a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called burnout.
What causes stress?
The effect of stress on us is incredible and we often find that there are many things in life that cause stress such as:
Being under immense pressure
Not having enough work, change or activities in your life
Failure to have ‘me time’ and to relax
Conflicts at home or in the workplace
Whilst there are a few areas listed above that we can not control, for example, traumatic events,
There are causes of stress that we can change, and who doesn't want a life with reduced stress and more happiness?!
The effects of stress can be huge from suffering from headaches and migraines, to developing heart or stomach issues, lack of overall drive, obesity and skin disorders.
Woman can also experience particular issues as a result of stress, including difficulties in getting pregnant and problems with the menstrual cycle.
By adopting some changes these issues can be slowly but surely changed and you can lead a healthier life that copes with stress on a much better level.
Below are some simple ways in which you can prevent or reduce feelings of stress:
Adopting a nutritious and well balanced diet will feed your body and mind with everything it needs to keep you going. It provides the body with the tools it needs to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and ultimately counter the impact of stress.
We spoke with local Registered Associate Nutritionist, Karen Philips-Craig, for some expert advice. Karen told us:
"Foods can help reduce stress in various ways. Complex carbs which take longer to digest prompt the brain to make more serotonin which is a calming brain chemical. For a steady supply of this feel-good chemical, its best to eat foods which include whole-grain breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals like oatmeal."
"Complex carbs can also help stabilise blood sugar levels. Other foods can cut levels of cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones which over time take a toll on the body. A healthy diet can help counter the impact of stress through increasing the immune system and lowering blood pressure."
Other nutrients you should consider are:
Vitamin C (found in oranges)
Magnesium (found in spinach)
Omega 3 (found in fatty fish, which also helps protect against heart disease)
Potassium (half an avocado has more potassium than a medium-sized banana. A little bit of guacamole, made from avocado, might be a good choice when stress has you craving a high-fat treat)
Vitamin E (almonds are chock-full of helpful vitamins including Vitamin E to bolster the immune system, plus B vitamins, which may make you more resilient during bouts of stress or depression)
"These are just a few of the foods which can help both your body and your mind be healthy. Include a variety of nutritious foods daily in your diet, and adding a bit of exercise, will help keep stress levels down and the body functioning better."
Mindfulness works throughout the body as it influences two different stress pathways to the brain, changing it’s activity and structures allowing you to to become more aware of your thoughts; to pause and think before reacting to situations; to refocus and think differently.
We spoke to local Mindfulness and Meditation Coach, Roo Bannister, to explain:
"Finding time in your day to calm your mind, settle your breathing and be present in the here and now, focusing on what is only of the moment, can be just the circuit breaker we need to bring the stress level down, refocus and even make the day more manageable."
"Even something as easy as brushing your teeth can be a mindful moment in your day...the feel, the taste, the smell, the sound….2 minutes of absolute focus at the start and/or end of the day to just ‘be.’"
Exercise stimulates the body’s production of mood enhancing neuro-transmitters endorphins and the body’s natural painkillers. It reduces stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, and generally increases the overall health of your body. Walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, you name it - it all helps!
Getting a good night's sleep is very important, yet a good night's sleep is often one of the hardest things to get when your stress levels are high. Ensure you have ‘switched off’ your brain before getting into bed, take a bath with essential oils, light a candle (remember to blow it out before you go to bed!) and take a moment to reflect on your day and get a sense of calm.
Reduce your alcohol intake
The habit of having a drink after a stressful day is something often seen. A stressful day at work, for example, would often see people reach for that glass of wine when they get home. Instead, try to adopt a healthier approach to a stressful day. Go for a walk or write all your thoughts down, take an exercise class (even at home there are many classes for free on YouTube), or even meditate. Cutting down on alcohol can easily lower your blood sugar, aid weight loss and alleviate headaches and heart issues.
Get into a good routine of wellbeing
Make changes that become habits and normality. Add daily exercise into your routine- walk to work, plan your healthy meals weekly, set aside time daily to mediate and practise mindfulness. Once you integrate well-being into your life as a ‘normal’ part of life, your stress levels will decrease.
Stress and the effects on the skin
Stress can pay havoc with the skin. If you are stressed, the skin can respond to this by causing breakouts of acne, psoriasis, rosacea and eczema to name a few.
If you are stressed, you may often find that you miss out part, or all, of your daily skincare routine because you lack the drive to care - which in itself can manifest in dry, dehydrated skin where suddenly you notice more fine lines and wrinkles and sometimes acne breakouts. This is caused by an inflammatory response - remember, the skin is the body’s largest organ so if you are stressed out the stress will manifest somewhere! The response weakens the skin’s barrier function which allows irritants an easier route into the skin and the damage starts!
It is key to ensure you keep some kind of routine, even using this as part of your ‘me time’.
Start with a nice cleanser with a spritz of toner afterwards to rebalance the skin’s pH levels, then an eye cream, serum and moisturiser. If your skin has become dry through stress, add a hydrating spritzer after each point of the routine as it will boost your hydration levels hugely and your skin will feel amazingly soft and supple.
Where it is almost impossible to fully reverse the signs of premature ageing on the skin due to stress, we can always ensure we take that time to treat the skin, to sleep well, and to rest our minds accordingly. Some great facial exercises are a good way to work the muscles of the face during some of that well needed ‘me time’ and also a good way to have a little giggle with yourself in the mirror.
My Grandfather always exercised his face. He didn’t have a specific place or time, he just did it wherever he liked, often to make us giggle if we were in the car and he stopped at traffic lights! It is something I take from him and do daily. Not only does it keep the face toned, but for me, it is a constant reminder of him and to always smile!
Here is a great picture taken from theaestheticguide.com which depict some facial exercises that are a great daily must:
So, in conclusion, it is easy to see that there are many areas in which we can make these small changes to lead a more balanced, less stressful and all round better life.