Stress. We all experience it. We all dislike it. But what is it? And what can we do to have less of it? National Stress Awareness Day is approaching this November 4th, and it’s a day to really embrace the harsh realities of experiencing stress. We also think it’s important to understand thy enemy. Learn about what stress is to our bodies. Also learn about some really convenient ways to feel more relaxed and at ease in no time!
The origins of National Stress Awareness Day
We can thank a lady called Carole Spiers for National Stress Awareness Day. She dedicated her career to finding solutions to work-related stress. Back in 1998 Carole felt an effective way to shed light on the effects of stress, especially in the workplace, was to organise its own awareness day. Hence, National Stress Awareness Day is born on November 4th, 1988. Now, every 1st Wednesday in November is dedicated to raising awareness of this invisible health enemy.
What actually is stress?
Stress is a psychological and physical response to pressure. According to the Mental Health Foundation, it’s the degree to which we “feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable”. Essentially, it’s the body’s reaction to harmful situations.
When we feel threatened, the body experiences a chemical reaction to help us act in a way to avoid injury. This is the “fight or flight” reaction. It’s also called the stress response. When stress response kicks in, the heart rate rises, breathing quickens, and blood pressure increases. The body primes itself to react and protect itself. You can see what was once a basic survival mechanism has evolved into what we call stress in the modern day.
Today, our stress response triggers because we feel under pressure. We may feel we have too few resources to cope with too many demands. That pressure can arise from uncontrollable factors including adverse life events, illness, unemployment, or difficult living conditions. For example, working from home due to COVID-19 and having to juggle work and kids!
The ability to cope varies from person to person and what one person finds stressful may not be a problem for someone else.
A little stress is not always a bad thing, either. It is, after all, a protective mechanism. However, our bodies struggle to deal with long term, chronic stress. It is this that has health consequences.
How does stress affect the body?
Long term, persistent stress can wear the body down over time. It can make you sick, both mentally and physically. Now, it’s important to know it is a hormone called cortisol causing the stress response in the body. Essentially, cortisol is the body’s key stress hormone. It plays a number of key roles in the body, and so constantly high stress levels – i.e. high cortisol levels – can throw the body out of balance.
This is because cortisol plays a role in many bodily functions:
- Controls your sleep cycle
- Keeps inflammation down
- Regulates blood pressure
- Manages how the body uses carbs, fats and proteins
- Raises blood sugar levels
- Boosts energy levels to handle pressured situations
If the body is under constant stress, it’s now easy to see why it can have such sweeping impacts on the mind and body. Too much stress can have common reactions, such as:
- Trouble sleeping
- Raised levels of inflammation in the body
- Weight gain
- Concentration and memory issues
- Digestion issues
- Heart disease
10 easy things we can do to reduce stress
Not all of these will work for everyone. However, most who handle stress well tend to be adopting a number of these handy stress-busters. Find your combo and blend it into your daily routine:
Heading to the gym doesn’t just provide a burst of feel-good endorphins. It also lowers cortisol levels in the body, which is directly responsible for the feeling of stress! In times like these, just adding a daily walk into the routine can really boost the mood.
#2 Try some plant based aids
Plant based supplements really can help the body deal with stress. Some civilisations have been using natural plant anti-stressors called adaptogens, like ashwagandha, for many hundreds of years. More recently, hemp-derived CBD has come on the scene too. You can also look into lemon balm, omega-3 fatty acids, green tea and others. Many are available on the GreenBox site, too.
#3 ease up on the caffeine
This will only apply to a few, and they know who they are. If you go through more than five cups of coffee a day, and you’re always stressed, caffeine could be the cause. Try reducing to one a day over a few weeks, and see how you feel.
#4 have a mindful 5 minute timeout
Sometimes it can feel like the day is rushing past and you hardly have time to breath. These are the days when we need a five minute circuit breaker the most. Find a quiet space (even if it’s the toilet!) and give yourself five. Do nothing. Just five minutes to be alone with your thoughts. It will help you feel more in control.
#5 have a good laugh
At the end of a busy and stressful day, try flicking on a feel-good romcom, or an old favourite, like Friends. The News at Ten can wait another day! This will release endorphins and help calm the mind.
#6 learn to love the word “no”
Stress can build up from taking on too much. It’s not giving up if you opt not to take on another responsibility at work or in the family. Reasonable people will understand when you say you’ve hit the threshold. So, when it’s getting a bit much, learn to be comfortable saying “no” to another request on your time. It feels good, promise!
#7 make time for a cuddle
Yes, you read that right. Intimacy relieves stress, and not just cuddles. Imagine what sex could do. Try it! It’s a brilliant excuse for some private time with a loved one.
#8 switch to Classic FM
Classical music, but also the sounds of nature, can serve to quickly calm the mind. Slow-paced music can encourage the body to relax, lower heart rates and reduce cortisol levels.
#9 find a furry friend
Interacting with a cuddly cat or dog can help to release oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone. Many of us don’t have a pet at home, but fear not, because the 21st century has your back. Try signing up for Borrow My Doggy to do exactly that.
#10 write it down
If you find the brain keeps whirring and thinking about all the things you need to remember to do tomorrow, get a notepad. Write down all those things. It will let the brain relax and let go of trying to remember it all. It’s simple, but it works wonders. You can even keep a notepad by the bedside in case you have a bout of brain-whirr when trying to sleep.
So, try a few of these ideas out this week and see if you begin to feel more at ease, and less stressed. Tell us how you get on!