In recent months, I’ve been going through a period of intense busy-ness: starting a demanding new job in a new city, buying a new flat in a different area altogether (logic never was my strong point!), living between two different places, often on the road, driving hundreds of miles each month, seemingly always packing – and always forgetting something! I’m definitely not complaining about this busy-ness. I’m doing things I love and moving closer to Bibi so I can be there when the baby is born (eeeeee, so exciting!) and be of some use as our already-loved little being grows.
All this running around was starting to take its toll though and I noticed that it was all getting a bit much. My sleep patterns, well, stopped being patterns and started to be all over the place, so I’d wake at 4am and then be tired all day. I didn’t feel like going running (say whaaaat?!) and I noticed that I was saying no more often than yes to invitations. In short, that little devil stress was sneaking up on me and stealing my fun times and sense of balance.
We probably can’t totally prevent stress, nor should we want to. Research suggests that moderate levels of stress help make us stronger and better at dealing with it, almost like a vaccine where a small dose prevents us getting the full blown disease. That said, no one wants to be stressing their socks off all the time. That definitely isn’t good for us, nor for the people we work and play with.
When we’re feeling a bit over-wrought, it pays to remind ourselves of the simple hacks that help us keep our stress levels down and our happy levels up. These are my five easy ways to beat stress build up, based on experience, research and getting it right sometimes and occasionally rather wrong.
Get Some Exercise
I know this is one of those ‘well, she would say that, wouldn’t she?’ things but exercise really is beneficial in reducing stress. Aerobic exercise reduces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and produces endorphins, which naturally relieve pain and boost your mood. A run through some beautiful woodland would be ideal but, if that’s not an option, a brisk walk round the block or a quick swim at your cheap-as-chips local leisure centre can knock a chunk off your stress levels.
Try Yoga or Meditation
Yoga and meditation can reduce stress by helping us tap in to the body’s parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS reduces blood pressure and slows the heart and breathing rates, helping to keep us calm. Plus gentle yoga classes and meditation are both restful in themselves and allow us a break, however brief, from the things that are stressing us. Win-win!
Bibi and I both use the Headspace app for meditation and there’s also a handy little book, the Headspace Guide to Mindfulness and Meditation, if you’re looking for an introduction.
When we’re stressed and busy, it’s really easy to forget about things that keep us well and strong (doh, humans are such complicated creatures!) Getting home late, tired and still with stuff to do, we tend to seek easy eats, for obvious reasons. I like to cook from scratch but at times when that’s not been an option recently, I’ve been reaching for Amy’s Kitchen soups instead of the gin bottle! They’re the nearest I can get to home-cooked, no-crap, tasty dishes that taste like the things I would cook myself if I had time.
When we’re stressed and feel short of time, we can start to see invitations as a chore instead of an opportunity to have fun, learn something or simply be in a different head space.
Don’t say yes when you really want to say no, of course. Continue to say no to the things you’d want to avoid anyway. Listen to your brain though and if it’s saying ‘sigh, that would be nice but it sounds like a bit of an effort’, it’s probably worth saying yes to! I’ve really benefited recently from ignoring the little whinge in me and getting out and about to see family and friends, go to the movies, grab a quick coffee or meet a friend for a swim after work. On the way, I’ll admit to sometimes thinking ‘what on earth am I doing this for?!’ but I always feel better for doing it.
Have A Laugh
One thing that can disappear quite quickly when we’re stressed is our sense of humour. Things can seem more serious and important than they really are and we can lose track of the lighter side of life. Which is a shame, because laughter really is one of the best medicines. Laughing relaxes the body, releases endorphins, boosts the immune system and decreases pain in the body. Wowzer! Laughter has a whole host of other health benefits too. Treat yourself to a night with that friend or family member who really makes you laugh – we all have one of those. Or spend an evening watching your favourite funny movies or comedy classics on TV or go see an actual real live comedian. You’ll feel so much better after a good giggle.
Photo credit: Simon K Allen – check out his website for images to buy – not of us, you’ll be sad to hear… 😉
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