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12 Ideas for Beating Stress (and Why They Work)

Posted by / November 7, 2018

Living with stress is pretty horrible. You panic that you can’t get on top of things. You get angry about stuff that you know you cannot influence anyway. You feel like key elements of your life are frustratingly beyond your control.

Without action, things tend to get even worse.

Before long you are living in a near constant state of agitation. Negative thoughts prevail and unexpected events derail you. You feel unable to find a clear answer to personal problems. And no matter how much effort you put in, you somehow always feel behind.

It doesn’t have to be like this.


Sounds familiar? You’re not alone.

You already know that stress is common. But new research suggests that stress in the UK really has become an epidemic.

Earlier this year the Mental Health Foundation conducted the largest known study of stress levels in the UK – incorporating 4,619 respondents. In the past year 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. That figure is alarmingly high.


It’s the slow bullet that kills you

A little bit of stress can be a good thing. It’s a necessary part of the human condition and often the spark that ignites action – whether that’s tackling the pile of dirty dishes that has been growing for four days, or getting started on that sales report.

Yet living in a constant state of cortisol-induced arousal is damaging to the body and can lead to emotional and physical disease. Even short-term psychological impacts of stress include anxiety, depression and loneliness.

Sadly our attempts to tackle stress often lead to bad habits. You know, the type of habits that provide short-term respite but end up making things worse over time: unhealthy eating, smoking and increased alcohol consumption.

Here are twelve healthy alternatives to reduce stress, liberate some headspace and improve your mental outlook.


1. Mind over matter

Despite the growing list of advocates, there’s still something of a stigma attached to meditation. For some people, meditation will always be the preserve of annoying celebrities or people who live in yurts and eat mung beans. You’re entitled to your opinion, but it’s your loss.

Five minutes of meditation each day – seriously, that’s all it takes – can make a huge difference to your sense of calm, providing you with crucial respite from your cluttered schedule. Headspace is a free mindfulness app that makes meditation almost effortless, with introductory programmes for total beginners as well as specific courses for tackling issues like poor sleeping or stress.

Calm the chatter in your grey matter.


2. Stop beating yourself up

Since when did you get so darn hard on yourself? When you tell yourself you are a failure on an almost daily basis, you start to believe it. Negative self-talk perpetuates negative emotions. It doesn’t matter that you missed the bus, or had to ask for more time on a deadline that was impossible anyway, or made the most fascinatingly unappetising cake the world has ever seen for the office baking event. Who cares?

A lot of the time stress is born from internal pressure – the perception that we are failing or not doing enough in some way. Show yourself some compassion and start loving yourself. The British penchant for humility is all well and good. But without positive self-talk you’re not going to have anything to feel humble about in the first place. Love yourself.


3. Write it down

When you start fixating on an issue, it’s sometimes hard to think about anything else. Before long this problem has hijacked other areas of your life – such as your working day. One easy way to try and free up some headspace is to write down the problem you are struggling with. You don’t need to find a solution just yet. But getting the crux of the issue out of your head and onto the page can work wonders.


4. Run, run, run

The latest science on what running does to your brain is beyond jaw-dropping. Box-fresh research suggests that running improves your ability to focus and take in information, while damping down activity in your default mode network – that’s the source of your inner monologue and an area of the brain that has been linked to clinical depression.

Even more mind-blowing is that scientists have shown in animals that exercise can rid the body of a molecule called knyurenine, an accumulation of which has been linked to stress-induced depression. In short: exercise – in particular running – can reduce stress, improve focus and perhaps even protect your mental health – all while shedding calories. Laced up your trainers yet?


5. Make a plan

Stress is often born from uncertainty. We don’t like the feeling of being out of control. Yet no matter how complex the problem, there’s often a solution. That’s why it can help to draw up a plan of action for the issue that’s bothering you.

Whatever it is that’s worrying you, draw up a list of best and worst case scenarios and plan your response to each. While it’s important not to waste time worrying about things you can’t control, taking control of the things you can is empowering. There’s a sense of calm that comes when you know you’re prepared for anything.


6. Get it off your chest

Yes, it’s a cliché. But often a problem shared really is a problem halved. Talking through your anxieties with a friend can help you to see the problem from a different angle and pick out potential solutions that you hadn’t thought of before. Ruminating on the issue with someone you trust also helps to tackle the feelings of loneliness that stress can sometimes trigger.


7. There’s nothing indulgent about you time

Busy, busy, busy. These days people seem to wear their busyness like a badge of honour. Having no time for yourself doesn’t necessarily validate greatness. Failure to make time for the things you love amongst the shifting sands of your to-do list is a recipe for burnout.

The mythical place where every one of your tasks is ticked off exists only in your head. There’s always more work to do. So give yourself a break and read a book. Run yourself a bath. Get lost in the gentle whir of the Xbox. Sit down and strum the guitar. Do more of the things you love, because that’s what makes your soul sing.


8. Engage your brain

Your brain can’t fixate on unhealthy thought patterns when it’s busy working on something else. That’s why the tasks that demand your full concentration tend to be the most cathartic. You may find that attempting to learn a new language, a new instrument or a new skill (such as juggling) may bring you a lot of freedom as your brain shifts gears.


9. Break your routine

You know what they say. A change is as good as a rest. And rest is exactly what your overheating brain is craving. Do something you’ve never done. See somewhere you’ve never seen. Even getting out of the office once a week and working in new surroundings can help, if your company allows you to work remotely.


10. Pull away from push notifications

Smartphones: spectacularly useful yet spectacularly distracting. The endless rumble of push notifications zaps focus, steals your attention from your actual responsibilities and fosters the belief that all communication needs to be responded to instantly. Nah.

You have bigger priorities than watching your ex-housemate’s latest Instagram Story the moment it’s published. Stick your phone on airplane mode once in a while and bask in the sense of liberation. You rule your smartphone, not the other way around. Right?


11. Start practicing gratitude

A lot of people out there tend to dwell on the negatives, moaning about this or that and how terribly it’s affecting them. That can lead to a mindset where you sniff out the negatives by default.

Life gets hard sometimes. It’s also capable of changing in an instant. But no matter how bad your day has been, there’s always something to be thankful for – no matter how small. Taking two minutes to write down five things you’re thankful for at the end of each day can reorientate your brain towards a more positive outlook.  


12. Give your sleep hygiene a health check

It’s hard to get a decent night’s kip when your brain is doing somersaults. Too much stress can leave you tossing and turning in bed, wide awake while your mind races. Unfortunately you need your sleep now more than ever. Tiredness can exacerbate your stress.

Besides, good things happen when you sleep. You know what they say about sleeping on it? That’s because while you’re asleep unnecessary clutter is purged from your brain while your subconscious ruminates on the issues of the day. You tend to be able to see problems with more clarity and make smarter decisions after a good sleep.

Stack the odds in your favour by addressing your sleep hygiene. That means nixing the blue light from your smartphone before bedtime, reading a book to wind down at night instead of watching television and avoiding caffeine in the evening. (The NHS has some useful pointers on sleep hygiene if you’d like to know more.)


Anything we can help with?

Sometimes the stressors in life take a bit more help to shake. Already a policyholder with PG Mutual? One of the perks to your policy (for qualifying members) is free access to a professional telephone counselling and helpline service. Sometimes a supportive ear is all it takes to help tackle your stress and think more proactively about your challenges. Sign in to the members’ area on our website to find out more.

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