April is Stress Awareness Month and with most of us home bound and staying safe while coping with the uncertainties that come with COVID 19, stress has been on the rise. Not only can stress have a profound effect on your psychological wellbeing but it can also compromise your physical health. The first step to managing stress is to recognise its effects on your thoughts, feelings and behavior, says Dragan Maksimovic, Assistant Fitness Manager at Fitness First.
Chronic stress, especially when left unaddressed can trigger mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. At the same time, stress can also alter the chemistry of your body. Always being in a fight-or-flight mode activates the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, which can increase your heart rate and tenses your muscles. The constant release of such hormones can lead to health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease and even diabetes.
Dragan Maksimovic, says, “There are two main ways how people can manage their stress levels. Some of us cope using a problem-focused or solution-focused technique, a strategy that aims to remove the source of the stress. Others seek an emotion-focused approach to manage feelings and control reactions to the stressors. That way, when you alter your perception of a given situation, you can change the way that it impacts you.”
To help you regulate your stress levels, Dragan shares some simple, yet effective tips to help deal with everyday challenges and minimize the effects on your mental and physical health.
Change your perception
Your thoughts are more powerful than you think. They can affect your feelings and behaviour. Instead of thinking of a certain situation as a challenge, start to consider that it might just be an opportunity to progress. Remember that growth always begins outside your comfort zone.
Know what you can control, accept what you can’t
Sometimes, life can put us in situations that are completely out of our control. Spending your time worrying and overthinking will not initiate the change that you hope for. A more effective approach that you can take is to invest your time and energy in the things that will make a difference. You may not have control over the circumstances, but you can definitely control how you react to them.
From yoga to conscious breathing and self-hypnosis, there are many ways to take your body and mind into a relaxed state. By making meditation a part of your daily routine, you will train yourself to press the reset button, wipe away the stress of the day and strengthen your inner peace. In addition, when you regularly meditate, you train your mind to focus on the present moment and manage stressful events more effectively.
TIP: Spend at least 10 minutes every night before going to sleep and start consciously taking deep breaths. Count your breaths while focusing on the air going through your nostrils until it reaches your lungs and diaphragm.
Physical activity has been proven to improve our quality of sleep and increase energy levels. The release of endorphins acts as a biological and psychological natural painkiller. In fact, a lot of research has confirmed that exercise can ease tension, improve self-esteem and reduce anxiety. Such effects are extremely important and will help you face any stressors calmly and in a much more effective way,
Eat healthy food
Maintaining a proper diet is very crucial when it comes to stress management. Food that is rich in vitamin C, magnesium, and omega-3 can reduce cortisol levels and promote the production of happiness neurotransmitters called serotonin and dopamine. Try to avoid processed meat, junk food and excessive caffeine consumption as they can increase anxiety, agitation and insomnia.
TIP: Meal prepping is an excellent way to avoid emotional eating. Preparing your meals and snacks in advance will stop you from making last minute, unhealthy food choices, especially when in distress.
The quality of your sleep at night has a direct effect on the way your body functions the following day. Having irregular sleep patterns can leave you feeling irritable, short-tempered and anxious. Similarly, when you are sleep deprived your body goes into survival mode and this can affect the way you manage stress and can also cause you to develop hypertension. To ensure that your body has time to recover and heal overnight, the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep should be an integral part of your overall wellbeing.
TIP: Try going to sleeping and waking up at the same time every day. This helps your body reset its biological clock and improve the quality of your sleep. You should also avoid exposure to blue light that is emitted from phones, computers and TV screens, at least one hour before bedtime.