Find some head space
Identify and write down the specific stressors that cause you distress, says Dr Harry Barry, and identify how you feel emotionally about them. If you're suffering from toxic stress, you will usually feel anxious, frustrated, angry or depressed.
Once you've written your stress list, number each item in order of importance. This will help to isolate and seek out practical solutions to each one individually.
If, for example, financial difficulties are top of your list, it might involve seeking out specific financial advice from Mabs or the Citizens Advice Bureau or other support group.
You might need to seek advice or support if your stress comes from personal relationships or family conflicts. Or perhaps it's a case of discussing work difficulties with HR or management.
Tap into your network of support, whether that is family, friends, colleagues or even professionals such as a doctor or financial expert, to deal with any of the stressors uncovered. If you go through the list one by one and deal with your stressors, you may find your levels of toxic stress rapidly falling.
There will, of course, be situations where there is nothing you can do at this moment in time. And hard as it sounds, this is where changing your thinking about such a stressor can be invaluable. You may need to accept a situation you cannot change and be adaptable and pragmatic in finding solutions to those that you can. If you are still struggling, despite doing all the above, it can be helpful to seek assistance from a good CBT therapist or counsellor who is expert at helping to change unhealthy thinking patterns and behaviours.
Changing your negative behaviours and dealing with stressors in this manner can significantly reduce the symptoms and consequences of toxic stress, with significant benefits for your physical and mental health.
Harness the power of your mind
Mindfulness has become popular over the last decade because it works to significantly reduce the impact of toxic stress, reducing stress hormone levels, making us calmer, more peaceful and more effective at managing our emotional responses. Try this three-minute breathing space exercise twice daily. Find a quiet space for three minutes, sit comfortably and close your eyes. Then do the following:
Minute 1: Focus your mind on inner experiences, your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. Do not try to change or challenge them, just become aware of them.
Minute 2: Focus on the physical sensation of breathing, on the rise and fall of your chest with each breath. Again, do not try to control your breathing.
Minute 3: Become increasingly aware of your whole body, your posture, your facial expression and your bodily sensations. Accept how you are feeling without judgment.
Take a long hard look at your use of technology and social media. Many of us are suffering from chronic information overload (TMI) and need to seriously reduce our smartphone dependency. Put your phone away (and shut down your computer or iPad) from 9pm onwards and remove them from the bedroom completely. Ask yourself if deleting from some social media sites might enrich your life and significantly reduce your stress levels. Will the world change overnight if you also refuse to answer emails — especially work-related ones — while trying to relax after a busy day?
If you’re one of the many who deleted their Facebook account after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, congratulations, you may also have lowered your stress levels. A study from the University of Brisbane measured levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone involved in obesity, memory decline and immune function, before and during a five-day break from Facebook and found that they were lower during the social media break than those of a control group. However, the study also showed that those who abstained from Facebook perceived themselves as sadder and with lower feelings of wellbeing than they had before. While this loss of wellbeing might taper off over time, it may reflect the participants sense of loss of social connection.