The stresses of modern day living can be counteracted by making some straightforward lifestyle changes.
We are living through a stress epidemic. Surveys suggest as many as 15pc of people suffer serious stress - the result of financial pressures, grinding commutes, job insecurity, the demands of parenting etc.
Even if you are too young to fret about a mortgage or spiralling childcare costs, you may be worried about exams or the prospects of employment in a flat jobs market. Add to the equation the ever present yammering of social media - by which we are encouraged to present an airbrushed version of ourselves to the world - and it is not surprising that so many feel over-stretched and under appreciated.
There is no magic button to make all of this go away. Rather, dealing with stress necessitates taking a step back and thinking about the life you are living, the life you would like to live. In the short term, however, there are practical measures which will ameliorate the worst effects of stress. On their own, they do not provide a solution. Taken together - with a little patience thrown in - they may represent the first steps on the road to calm.
The road to salvation is not lined with snack boxes and cola cans. Fruits packed with vitamin C - orange and grapefruit for example - will boost your immune system, which has been shown to lower stress. Also, taking time out to prepare food can have therapeutic benefits - and, over time, is far better for you than wolfing another pizza in front of the television.
You've heard it a million times already but it's true. Exercise alleviates stress. Physical activity encourages the body to produce endorphins, nature's 'feel good' chemicals. We're not suggesting you immediately sign up for Iron Man: a brisk half-hour walk daily has been shown to fight stress.
Of course, in a moment of high tension, slipping into lycra and dashing around the block is not always an option. What you can do, however, is take a deep breath. This increases the rate at which oxygen is delivered to the body - which helps it relax. It also assists in triggering the 'relaxation response', which is connected to the body's nervous system.
It's amazing what 10 minutes of calm can do for your state of mind. Increasingly, we are surrounded by white noise and distractions - leading to over-stimulation which, in turn, causes stress. Stepping away from it all for just a while turns the temperature down on your nerves. Experts advise sitting quietly for 10 minutes, seeking to free your mind of thoughts (but not getting worked up if you can't ).
You may blanch at describing it as 'meditation' - nonetheless, who could argue that carving space of rest and contemplation doesn't reap long, and even short, term benefits?
Assuming you are fortunate to have a job which does not require toiling through Saturday and Sunday, cordon off weekends and make them sacrosanct. There is such a thing as overwork - if you find yourself putting in six- or seven-day weeks, your mental, and eventually, physical health will suffer.
For those with no choice but work at the weekend, be sure to take time off midweek. You'll return refreshed - making you better at your job and happier as a person.
Some busy people take pride in how little sleep they get by on. Leave them to their delusions. The truth is that rest boosts productivity and alleviates stress. Do your best to achieve a solid eight hours every night - and if tired during the day, remember the value of power-naps. A snooze of just 20 minutes will recharge dwindling batteries and make the challenges of the day seem less overwhelming.
The best way to switch off is by doing something you love. Activities that absorb your attention will 'slow' your brain waves and bring calm. Aim for something that has you so wrapped up you hardly notice the passage of time. These moments of bliss will build a repository of relaxation, standing to you the next time you are in a stressful situation. If physical activity is involved so much the better, as this will raise blood circulation and lower blood pressure.
Twenty minutes can make such a difference. Rising slightly earlier than normal you will give your body a chance to attune to the demands of the day. Enjoy the stillness, think about you would like to achieve in the hours stretched ahead. You'll step outside the front door better prepared for the challenges that await.
You may not be consciously aware of it but a messy environment can raise stress. De-cluttering your home or office will help de-clutter the mind.
A sense of order, of everything being just where it is supposed to be, will boost calm. Furthermore, the simple act of tidying up is an opportunity switch off - which will again, go some way towards lowering tension.
Whether an extrovert or introvert, being around others will make you feel better. Maintaining a network of friends and family appreciably benefits mental and physical health - research has demonstrated that isolated or lonely people are at greater risk of heart disease and suffer impaired sleep quality. You don't have to spill all your woes to your friends - just spending time in their company can make your problems feel less insurmountable.
A sense of humour is crucial as we navigate the absurdities of the 21st-century workplace. It sounds silly, we know, but studies have shown watching a comedy on television for just half an hour can meaningfully lower levels of cortisol, the 'stress hormone'. There is a reason god gave us endless Friends reruns.
Health & Living