Stress can come in many forms and can attack you when you least expect it. It can erode happiness, destroy trust, wear out relationships with bosom chums and make you just a little bit grumpy too! Its one of the most common ailments we suffer from in our hectic modern world and yet we aren’t ever told how to combat it, prevent it and think about it practically. All we know is that stress just “is”, that it’s out there somewhere waiting for us, lurking behind the next deadline, the next commute, the next awkward social event. Instead of accepting that a little stress is a natural part of being human, we fear it and become more stressed out as a consequence.
In short, we have an unhealthy relationship with stress. So why haven’t we tried to explore what stress is and the ways we can reduce it and prevent it rearing its ugly head more often than is healthy? In this article, I’m going to explore five ways that we can try and stop it having such an unhealthy grip on us, through some conventional stress-relief tactics and (more excitingly!) some unconventional but very useful strategies. Here are my five tactics for reducing the burden we place on ourselves.
Stress Relief Tactic Number One: Be a nutter!
Probably one of the most simple dietary tactics to take in preventing stress is to eat a selection of good quality nuts and seeds. Selenium, a mineral that has strong links with increasing a sense of wellbeing and reducing anxiety, fatigue and depression, is found in many nuts. Strong sources for selenium include Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds. Walnuts contain essential omega 3 fatty acids that help to reduce stress too! If you don’t have time or patience for anything else on this list, you can definitely make time for a couple of handfuls of nuts a day. Try adding a small amount of honey if raw nuts aren’t for you and if you are a vegan, try agave nectar or nut butters to give them a sweeter edge.
Stress Relief Tactic Number Two: Sweat like a demon.
Exercise is a commonly talked about way to de-stress. However, most ideas of exercise seem to be a gentle walk or an unhurried 30 minutes on the running machine/crosstrainer. That just won’t do. Recent stats have shown that only 5% of Americans get any strenuous exercise in a week and where America leads, the rest of the world isn’t far behind! Sorry to break the illusion there but it had to be done, for your own good and the health of your sweat glands. If you finish exercising and only feel a gentle warmth, you probably haven’t done enough to get the pleasant and healthy endorphin rush you need to maintain healthy stress reduction. A good sweat is a good indicator of a tough workout and means that you will probably be rewarded for it with that amazing post-exercise rush! It will also give you a long term psychological boost as you feel healthier and more powerful. Feeling in control of your physicality is a great way to empower yourself and feel able to master any situation that comes before you.
Stress Relief Tactic Number Three: Eat a meal with no distractions.
Hunkering down to a meal at the table is a long forgotten art; in a poll conducted recently almost 60% of people admitted eating virtually every meal in front of the tv and those are only the ones who admitted it! We are all guilty of this fairly often and it can be a real impediment for de-stressing. It can be a problem for digesting properly too, as the stimulation from what we watch doesn’t allow our body to enter 100% into the task of digestion. The same happens when we eat in a loud environment or when listening to music. We have all heard of eat to the beat, when it would be more accurate to say that we digest poorly when exposed to unusual audio and visual stimulus. That isn’t quite so catchy though! Poor digestion can mean that the body stays in a state of stress, meaning more fraying of the nerves and less chance of getting the maximum amount of goodness from your meal. Remember that our caveman instincts hear noise and see unusual patterns and instantly suspect attack; which caveman wants to waste energy digesting when he might need to use that energy to run away? We still share those caveman instincts and so I suggest that you sit down at the table when you eat, take some time with your food and really savour it. You will get more from it and will notice the taste more too!
Eating with friends and family doesn’t count as stress (normally) so don’t feel you have to eat in a sound-proofed vault on your lonesome!
Stress Relief Tactic Number Four: Stand up and straighten out!
The simple act of standing up more often is a great way to relax. As jobs become increasingly more deskbound, we find ourselves stooping more and more. Our posture is slouchy, we let our head slump forward uncomfortably and find ourselves increasingly forward dominant. Our heads shouldn’t be that far forward! Its time to reel them back in! The best way to do this is to stand up nice and tall, puff out your chest, roll your shoulders back a few times and let your head adjust into its natural position. Try it! Ok, feel more like a real human being? Granted you may feel a touch silly thrusting your chest out in public but just make sure to do this a few times in the day. Reminding yourself daily that your head should actually be above your shoulders instead of in front of them can really help give you a physical and psychological boost. Don’t worry about people mocking it, they will be staring at their knees for the next 40+ years!
Stress Relief Tactic Number Five: Posture is perception.
As noted above, good posture is vital to reducing stress. People often don’t realise the ways that their physical body can affect their mental happiness and ability to cope. If you are having a tough day trying to get some work done, what is worse than a headache coming along and sucker punching you whilst you are down? You feel even worse and completing the task seems impossible.
Never fear: the prince of postural adjustment is here. A common cause for headaches amongst those who are in stressful positions is trapezius tightness, where the muscles that run from your neck to your shoulders tighten up and cause you to hunch your shoulders closer to your head. This highly un-relaxing posture is strongly linked to headaches. An easy way to try and prevent this or reduce the effect when it feels tight is to stand with upright posture, with arms by your sides. Tilt your head to one side until you feel a stretch in the side of your neck. Holding that position, try and reach toward the floor with your opposite hand, without the hand actually moving closer to the floor. Hold at that point of tension for 10-15 seconds whilst breathing deeply and that should help. Remember, this is always better as a preventative solution than a cure! There are many other postural adjustments that can be made to ease stress, which I will address soon on this site.
So there are my five tips for reducing stress in a relatively simple way. Try one or two of them out and see how you get on. Remember that the most important way to de-stress is to focus on something else that is fun and relieve your tension in a healthy way. Find out what de-stresses you without becoming an addiction (such as the post-work drink or chocolate bar, neither of which are healthy long term solutions). Give yourself some time each day to have a little quiet, it will be worth the sacrifice of a few minutes of work and toil to have a healthy mind and body.
The author of this piece is David Bloomfield, a nutritionist and personal trainer currently based on the south coast of England. He is interested in making people as healthy as possible, both mentally and physically, and will be a regular contributor to this site.
@2014 Hillary Sapulveda