Stress is an unpleasant, but entirely natural part of life. When we encounter something we perceive to be a threat, or feel under pressure, our bodies release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol
as part of our fight-or-flight survival system. That worked well enough for our ancestors when they had to deal with periodic wild-animal attacks or lightning fires. But in today’s world when we’re connected digitally 24–7, constantly bombarded with work and social demands, and confronted with crises on newsfeeds and social media, our levels can remain high.
Don’t let stress build – take practical steps to manage it.
When you feel overwhelmed by a major work project or life crisis, get up and move away.
Research constantly reiterates its benefits in relieving stress and releasing feel-good endorphins that raise your mood.
Eat to beat stress
Opt for a healthy, balanced diet that’s high in whole grains, vegetables and fruit, with enough protein and omega 3 fatty acids, to keep your mood up and sustain it.
Leave your work at work, or allot a set period, such as an hour after supper, for checking emails and catching up.
Learn to say no
‘Remind yourself that when you say no, you are refusing or delaying a request, not the person asking for it,’ says Linde. Apply this to invitations too: Be ruthless in reserving your time for the things and people you truly want to spend it on.
When it comes to things you can’t say no to, prioritise them and manage them. Stephen Covey’s ‘Time Management Matrix’ can help: Categorise each task by urgency and importance. Do what is urgent and important; delegate what’s urgent but not important; date what is important but not urgent (so you can tackle it timeously); and if something is neither urgent nor important, just drop it!
Focus on what you can control
If you can’t do anything about a situation (that volcano erupting on the news, that awful boyfriend you wish your daughter/mom would stop seeing), forget it.
Let go of perfection
It’s not possible to achieve, and it is a path to stress, self-loathing, depression and paralysis, as you become afraid toput anything out there that may be less than perfect.
Studies have found that simply putting a smile on your face or making yourself laugh can relieve feelings of stress. It seems our brains are linked with our facial expressions and emotions, Linde says. And when we smile or laugh, those around us are likely to too, reinforcing the lighter mood, and giving better perspective on a problem. (Can it really be that bad?)
Give gratitude a go
Make an effort to look back at your day and remember three good things, however small, or to look for them as you go about: a tree in bloom, a cat basking on a wall, or even the foam of a fine cappuccino. Committing yourself to looking for the positive will help you find it, even on stressful days.
For more Heath hacks and tips, page through the November Balanced Life.