Are you becoming a permanent stress head? Modern living is taking its toll and it’s time to make a change, says Esmee Brunton
I’m the first to admit my sleeping habits are shattered every time stress calls. Deadline week at university was a crazed period of coffee-fuelled nights and trying to survive on 30-minute naps. Deadlines at work, as I’m discovering during my internship with Y, can be just as demanding.
Little wonder that the American Institute of Stress estimates 75 to 90 per cent of visits to primary care physicians are for illnesses caused, or made worse, by stress. Anxiety can led to increased heart rate and blood pressure, poor digestion, weight fluctuations and skin upsets. It’s clear, then, that stress and anxiety are huge factors in many people’s lives.
So, how to combat a very modern condition? The best advice is to try to schedule a full seven to nine hours of sleep. By allowing your head to unwind, you’ll lower your stress levels for the following day – and be a lot less narky for it.
You also need to make sure you’re fuelling your body correctly. Try eating more Omega 3s, which reduce anxiety symptoms. Wholegrain carbohydrates can regulate serotonin levels, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy. Avoid alcohol, sugar and dairy during stressful times as they will inflame the gut, which is where serotonin is made. A few minutes of chewing gum, eating dark chocolate or drinking black tea can lower the level of the stress hormone cortisol.
Stressed at work? According to a study by the American Psychological Association, more than a third of American workers experience chronic work stress. To increase your serotonin flow, go for a short walk. Even better, get out while the sun is shining to boost your mood and get some vitamin D.
If you find it difficult to focus at work, try creating an efficient, tidy desk and add a personal item. Include plants to reduce stress and increase positive feelings, although be advised: a cactus will stab you at least twice per day.
Although not that luxurious, try giving yourself a quick massage. Hands are known to carry a lot of tension, apply some cream and knead the base of the muscle under the thumb to relieve stress in the shoulders and neck. Drip cold water on your wrists, where there are major arteries, to cool your body. Taking a bath with some calming oils – basil and chamomile are good choices – can reduce tension and increase mental clarity.
Laughter can also reduce the physical effects of stress; try watching a comedy sketch clip on YouTube, or a short episode of your favourite comedy. Music has been found to trigger biochemical stress reducers and aid performance in high pressure situations. Listen to some upbeat music to motivate you for your next stress-filled task.
Don’t overbook! Time management is key. We often feel like we have to say yes to everything for fear of missing out, but keep in mind what you can reasonably fit in.
Split work into biteable chunks, so it’s not a massive looming cloud. Set 10-minute social media slots if you know you’re going to get distracted and stick to them. If you need some help, try StayFocusd. A Google Chrome extension, it will block any website you want for any amount of time to ensure you finish what your are doing.
Instead of focusing on the stress-inducing chaos you’ve been dealt, imagine yourself at the end of it and how much more evolved and capable you will be for any further challenges. Take happiness from the things you’re grateful for, focus on appreciation rather than feeling overwhelmed. Stress is something everyone has to deal with – and that isn’t going to change. The way you handle it is the only variable you have to play with. Stay focused on what’s important, take time out to relax and remember that your body is producing the anxiety, so your body can control it.