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Mental Health Awareness Week: Top Tips for Reducing your Stress Levels by Annie Raven-Vause (HeartLed Wellbeing)

It’s mental health awareness week this week and we wanted to share with you Annie’s top tips for reducing stress levels!

Annie (Co-founder of HeartLed Wellbeing):

“Stress is arguably one of the most overused words in the British language.  Nonetheless it is an inevitable part of most people’s daily lives and you aren’t ever going to escape it.  Rather than let it sap you, we suggest you take time to learn ways to help you respond to it more positively.  Follow our top tips guide below.

Firstly understand that our bodies are geared to manage stress, it’s what has helped keep us safe since we first learnt to walk upright.  We have an inbuilt flight or fight response which when stimulated will not only help us get out of bed in a morning but will also mobilise our body’s natural resources enabling us to decide whether in the face of threat, it’s safe to stay and tough it out or whether we would be better to run away.  This is a short term stress response and usually isn’t harmful.

Whilst some stress is ok in the short term, too much stress can become harmful, especially if it is over a more prolonged period.  Chronic stress typically produces a rise in the body’s stress hormones which can suppress and weaken our immune systems, meaning that you are more likely to pick up an infection or get sick.  If untreated in the longer term chronic stress can lead to more serious health issues like high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. So what can we do to help ourselves?

Getting in touch with rather than denying your feelings is the first step to helping manage your stress.  Feelings are there for a purpose so don’t dismiss your body’s attempt to communicate something to you.  Recognise you are unique and how you feel and respond to a situation will not necessarily be the same as the way someone else will deal with it.  Learn to recognise your own body’s messages e.g. headaches, poor concentration, irritability, sadness, changes in your appetite or sleep pattern.

Reach out to people, be honest and share some of your feelings, you never know they may be feeling something similar.  Don’t shut yourself away for long periods where you will just dwell on things.  Talking to others about their experience may give you a chance to learn from other’s experience and gain practical support.

Spend some time looking at the things which triggered you to develop a headache or caused you to lose sleep.  What could you personally do to change your response to the triggers e.g breath work, meditation and do try develop a better sleep hygiene habit if you are a poor sleeper.

Try engage in some form of regular exercise because this will help flood your body with natural endorphins that improve mood, boost energy levels and distract your mind from the thinking ruts that take you towards stress.  Ideally you should aim for at least 15-30 minutes 3-5 times per week.

Think of ways to promote balance in your life, so if you are exercising on a regular basis then make time for relaxing too.  Slowing down enables you to create a little more headspace and will help quieten your own internal head chatter.  Try some Yoga Nidra or mindfulness exercises.  If you don’t have easy access to a local studio then there are lots of good resources available online.

Remember it’s not just about feeling, exercise and rest, it’s also about what you habitually put inside your body.  As the saying goes you are what you eat.  You wouldn’t feed a high performance car on old or cheap fuel, well the same goes for your body.  If you are overloading your body with highly processed foods containing lots of sugar, salts and fat then your body is going to have to work harder to digest it at a time when it’s digestive system is already under stress.  It’s much better to eat lighter foods with more fruit and vegetables rich in anti-oxidants, essential minerals and vitamins than takeaways to help boost your mood.

Try to cut down on caffeine, you might think that a quick shot of caffeine will boost your energy levels but any boost you do get is likely to be short lived.  Likewise avoid the temptation to drown your sorrows or take the edge off with alcohol.  Alcohol is a depressant and can make both depression and insomnia worse.  Drink plain water instead.

Finally think about your night time routine.  Many people that are stressed find it difficult to rest. Often they end up over tired, unable to sleep, irritable and grumpy running the added risk of an emotional outburst that can damage relationships for the longer term.  Not only that they may find it difficult to stay awake during the day.  To improve your sleep in general you may want to consider reducing the room temperature of your bedroom, creating yourself a regular night time routine.  If you do take a warm bath before settling make sure it’s not that hot that you cook!  Placing a pad and paper by the bed may be helpful for those who wake because an idea occurs to them overnight which they then worry about forgetting.  If you do wake up it is often better to get up and make a warm drink and read for a while rather than lying in bed trying to convince yourself to fall asleep.  And avoid computers, later night TV, especially the late night news channels and other digital devices for the hour before you settle.”

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