“Chronic stress can lead to a whole host of health issues, such as hypertension, poor digestion, a weaker immune system amongst others”, says Dr Roger Henderson. Here are the experts’ top ten best ways to combat stress and improve your overall health…
“Sleep deprivation is often linked to stress, as well as depression and obesity”, says Dr Roger, so ensuring you’re getting the optimum amount is key to reducing your tension levels. On average, we need seven hours of sleep per day, though you may find you do better with less, or a little more. “You’ll know you’re getting the right amount when you wake up feeling rested, ready to go and don’t feel sleepy during the day.”
Eat more… bananas
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is key to reducing stress as too much sugar, fatty and processed foods affects our weight, skin, heart and hormones, which in turn can lead to low mood and stress. While all fruits and vegetables will have a positive effect on your general health, bananas have been found to contain “11% RDA of magnesium and 15% RDA of vitamin B6, which are key to helping the body deal with stress, as well as conditions such as PMS”, says nutritionist Angela Dowden.
Just 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming or riding a bike, five times a week can reduce stress levels and risk of depression by 30%, according to the NHS. “Research has shown that frequent exercise can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality, and energy; all of which will affect stress levels, and reduce your risk of developing depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and improve your overall health.”
Connect with people
Surrounding yourself with family and friends is a sure-fire way to alleviate the symptoms of stress. According to Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster, isolating yourself – either in general, or when you first start to feel stressed – means “you won’t have support to turn to when you need help… the activities we do with friends help us relax and have fun which is an excellent stress reliever.”
Have some ‘me’ time
While the idea of taking some time away from everything else and focusing on yourself may initially feel like you’re neglecting your responsibilities, allocating time to collect yourself when you feel overwhelmed is widely thought to improve focus and boost concentration levels. Aerobic exercises such as Yoga and Pilates, which focus on boosting mindfulness and improving your breathing have been proven to reduce stress levels in those that take part for at least an hour once a week.
If you’re a constant worrier, thinking more positively can be easier said than done. Traditional herbal remedies, such as St John’s Wort, “have been found to lift mood in those suffering with mild to moderate depression”, says Healthspan’s Head of Nutrition, Robert Hobson. Alternatively, you may find you benefit from a 5-HTP supplement, which helps your body’s production of serotonin, otherwise known as the ‘happy hormone’.
If you find yourself worrying about being late or forgetting something important, take the time to prepare things in advance, or leave extra time to keep stress levels at bay. Simple things, such as preparing your lunch for the next day the night before, allowing an extra 10 minutes to walk to work, and planning your evening meals in advance will all help to keep you calm and allow you to feel more in control.
Do something for others
Helping others is a great way to reduce stress levels. Consider volunteering at a local charity branch, such as Help the Homeless, which will allow you to meet new people, make a difference to your local community and subconsciously encourage you to be more positive all at once. Alternatively, offer to spend free time walking dogs at a local animal shelter; “recent studies have found that those who spend time with dogs have lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress levels than those who don’t”, says psychotherapist Sally Brown.
There’s an app for that…
According to the Mental Health Organisation, “mindfulness meditation has been shown to affect how the brain works and even its structure. People undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.” Besides taking part in a yoga, mindfulness apps that focus on mediation have become hugely popular and are a great, quick way to help relieve stress. Headspace, available for free on the app store, provides 10, 10 minute/ free meditation sessions that can be done whenever you feel necessary.
Ask for help
Isolating yourself will inevitably lead to higher stress levels; if you’re struggling at work but suffer in silence, your boss will likely assume you are coping, and may even up your workload! If self-help methods don’t seem to be working, speak to your GP who may recommend visiting a councillor or joining a support group. Never feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help; according to the NHS, “Mental health issues, including stress, anxiety and depression, are the reason for one-in-five visits to a GP”, so you are not alone.
Last modified: June 10, 2021