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Feeling irritable? Tired? Overwhelmed? Rushing from one thing to the next and still can’t keep up? These are signs that mean you could be suffering from stress.

Each of us has a different tipping point. And in our 24/7 culture, stress can be a daily occurrence. The first step in managing stress is to be aware of your own signs and symptoms.

Everyone is different, and there’s no one rule for all. Maybe you lose your sense of humour? Withdraw from friends and family? Eat more? Eat less?

Know your own signs and you will be far more aware when stress levels creep up. You can then start to get your body, mind and behaviour in shape to tackle stress.

Eat. Sleep. Play. 

Food and drink

We all know too much sugar isn’t good for us, yet it can be all too easy to reach for it when things get on top of us.

Long working hours, or having too much to do, can mean we go for convenient and less healthy ready meals, wine and sugary snacks to give us a quick fix.

Have a look at your diet and see if there are any changes you can make to give your body a better chance of coping with the external pressures being thrown at it.

Sleep

Less than 7 hours a night and the effects on the body are as bad as regularly smoking or drinking to excess – so says sleep expert Matthew Walker in his best-selling book, Why We Sleep.

Walker’s research even says that lack of sleep can contribute to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, diabetes, cancer, heart attack and strokes.

Arianna Huffington (editor in chief of Huffington post) and a big sleep advocate suggests working out how much sleep you need by allowing yourself to wake up naturally if you had no alarm (or small children acting as alarms). Then set your bedtime accordingly and let nothing (not even that box-set you are watching) get in its way.

Exercise  

Activity or exercise is often the first thing you drop when life gets too hectic, yet it could be what keeps you sane as it reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones – such as adrenaline and cortisol.

It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Almost any type of exercise will help. Find one that works for you and move it up to the top of your to-do list.

Mind your emotions

Monitor your thoughts

If you find yourself feeling anxious, upset or angry for longer than you would like, start to become aware of the thoughts you are having.

“Unhelpful thinking”, as described in cognitive behavioural therapy, are things such as mind-reading, catastrophising and blaming, which can easily keep us in a negative state.

Just thinking positive isn’t the answer. Instead try replacing “Tomorrow is going to be a nightmare, I’ve got too much to do” with “Tomorrow is going to be a challenge, I’ve got through tough days before”.

Meditation, mindfulness and breathing

The ancient practice of meditation has been proven to reduce levels of stress and improve cognitive functions such as memory, decision-making and creativity.

You don’t have to live in a monastery to practice meditation. Similar effects can be created by becoming more mindful at any time of the day. Download the Headspace or Breathe app, find a local course or begin with a book such as Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

A quick way to reduce the levels of cortisol in your system is to do a minute of focused breathing. Breathe in for a count of four and then out for six. Whenever you find yourself feeling a bit on edge, take a minute to breathe better.

Break the habits

Think about what behaviours you could break to reduce the stress in your life. For example, are you too attached to your phone? Do you lose track of time when looking at social media, yet tell yourself you don’t have time to exercise today?

If you’re in the habit of always saying ‘yes’, start saying ‘no’! Reduce the amount you have on your plate.

It might be difficult at first, especially if you always like to help others or you get excited at new work, new opportunities and invites. But it will be better in the long run, stopping you from over committing and letting down the people you had wanted to help.

Still can’t say ‘no’? Try this. Each time you’re asked to do something, pause, take a deep breath and consider if you say ‘yes’ then what might you say ‘no’ to as a result. It might not be obvious but you could be saying ‘no’ to some breathing space, an ability to meet a deadline or some quality time with friends and family.

For further information on these topics:

– Stephen Palmer and Professor Sir Cary Cooper. (2013) How to deal with Stress

– Arianna Huffington (2016). The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time

– Mark Williams and Danny Penman (2011).  Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World

– Matthew Walker (2018).  Why we Sleep. The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

Written by Flora MacDonald, Executive Coach/Trainer/Consultant