People are always telling us to relax – work less, sleep more. That’s great in theory. But, the majority of us are finding ourselves busier than ever. Our devices enable us to multi-task, which means we are constantly “on.” It’s now normal for people to be on their phones while watching TV, having dinner, lying in bed… I found myself paying bills while getting a foot massage the other day. This has to stop!
Yes, we are getting more done, but we now have research telling us the strong link between stress and negative impacts on our physical and mental health. According to our resident psychologist, Dr Egg (DPsychClin), long-term stress is linked to heart problems, muscle pain, gut issues, weight gain, and low libido. It can also increase the risk for depression and anxiety. This is serious stuff. The good news is, there is a lot we can do to reduce the impact of stress in our lives.
Dr. Egg has given us some practical ways of actually chillaxing (yes, some of these do involve your iphone. You can relax now).
Exercise: As well as improving our overall health and sense of wellbeing, there are direct stress-relieving effects of exercise. Ever heard of ‘runner’s high?’ Physical activity increases the production of ‘happy brain chemicals’ called endorphins. You can treat exercise like a ‘meditation in motion’ by focusing on the movement of your body and letting go of stressful thoughts. Plus, being physically active improves sleep which is often disrupted in times of stress. Choose an activity you will enjoy, build up your activity gradually and reap the rewards!
Meditation/ mindfulness: It might seem like mindfulness is all the rage right now, but it has been around for centuries. Mindfulness is an ancient practice of becoming more fully aware of the present moment and not judging it as good or bad. It can be achieved through meditation but it can also be practiced in daily life. For example, when you walk from A to B, be aware of your surroundings. Notice what you can see, hear and feel, rather than being caught up in thoughts or distracted by Instagram. Did you know brain scans of regular meditators show changes to areas of the brain that control emotions? Mindfulness also helps improve attention and concentration- this means you will be more focused at work and manage better in day to day life. Download a meditation app, like Smiling Mind, to support your practice.
Watch your thoughts: Research shows we have 4000 thoughts a day. We are constantly talking to ourselves (not out loud but in our heads), and over time we can develop unhelpful patterns or habits of thinking. Worrying is essentially a repetitive style of thinking where we get caught, locked or trapped in our thoughts about possible future negative events that might happen (or not!). We have internal conversations with ourselves that often start as “What if…” questions (e.g. “What if I stuff up my presentation?”, “What if I’m late for my appointment?”). This thinking process fuels our anxiety and stress. Awareness is the first step in managing this. Notice what your mind is telling you and name it (e.g. “I notice that I am worrying”). Disengage from the thoughts by focusing your attention on the present moment. Place your worry on a leaf and watch it float down a stream, or whatever image works for you!
Stay connected: People with good support from family and friends are actually protected from the negative effects of stress. When we get stressed, we tend to turn ‘inward’ but over time this can make things worse. Maintaining good relationships can actually make you more able to cope with problems on your own by increasing your own confidence and self-esteem. Luckily technology makes it easier than ever before to stay connected but don’t rely too heavily on texts and social media. Nothing beats a face to face chat over a chai latte or glass of wine.
Just breathe: Sounds simple, right? Breathing is so automatic that most of the time we don’t even pay attention to how we are doing it. When we are stressed, we tend to take shallow breaths into our chest. This causes our heart to beat faster and increases tension in our body. We can breathe our way to relaxation by inhaling deeply and slowly. Put your hand on your belly, just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and feel your hand move out as your tummy expands. Hold your breath for a few seconds and exhale slowly. And repeat!