Our brains are much more linked to our physical health than you might think. Excessive emotional stress tells the body to operate in hyper drive, which can lead to stomach aches, back pain, rashes, acne and even hair loss.
Maintaining your mental wellbeing is actually essential to your physical wellbeing. Although it may be difficult to reduce stress at work or in your everyday life, there are ways that you can manage your stress so it doesn’t impact your health.
Here are some easy strategies to help relieve stress and improve your health while you’re at it.
Often when you’re anxious, the last thing that you want to do is jump on a treadmill or go to the gym. But exercising regularly – even if it’s just a 10-minute walk or a weekly game of basketball – can improve your mood via the endorphins released during physical activity.
Apart from making you feel physically fit, exercising regularly also helps you to sleep better. Currently 1.5 million Australians suffer from sleep problems and one of the causes of insomnia is stress. Given that lack of sleep can raise your anxiety levels during the day and make you less resilient, exerting yourself might be the answer to more than one problem.
Meditation has long been used to reduce stress, but people sometimes avoid it because it seems, well, boring. In reality, meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting in silence for an hour while you try not to watch the clock. Even taking a five-minute break from work or study can help you reduce your stress levels.
For most people, the goal of meditation isn’t to have a spiritual epiphany, it’s just concentrating on the breath and allowing themselves time to relax. It can be as simple as knowing that you’ll have five minutes a day when you don’t have to check your phone or answer your emails. Meditation can help you practice mindfulness, which is a coping tool to bring your attention back to the present moment.
If you’re having trouble getting started, Headspace is a great app for simple guided meditations, or you can try practicing yoga regularly.
Your diet can affect more than just your physical wellbeing. Stress releases the chemical cortisol into our bloodstream, which causes food cravings. These food cravings can make us eat sugary foods, which can mess with our energy levels and lead to those mid-afternoon ‘crashes’.
To avoid the mood swings, choose foods that will be able to give you sustained energy throughout the day. Load up your plate with asparagus, avocado, berries and walnuts, and replace your second coffee with a green tea.
Talking to people
It may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many people forget that talking to your friends and family can reduce your stress significantly. All it takes is an email, phone call (always better than a text) or a catch-up dinner to improve your overall wellbeing. Knowing that you are supported and can support others is a great tool for stress relief.
One way that you can make more connections in life is to surround yourself with people who you trust and can be honest with. This means only allowing positive and mutually-beneficial relationships in your life, and phasing out toxic friendships. Sarah Knight, best-selling author of the Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, gave an excellent TED Talk on the subject. And while some of the language can be a little strong (avoid if strong language isn’t your cup of tea), it’s well worth a watch for some practical strategies on how to stop spending time you don’t have doing things you don’t really want to.
Smiling and laughing
Sounds silly, huh? Studies have actually found that the act of smiling and laughing can legitimately reduce our stress levels and release tension. The ethos of smile therapy is that the regular act of smiling affects our brain chemistry and relieves our stress response.
Feel a bit funny laughing about nothing? Why not listen to a funny podcast on the way to work or watch an episode of your favourite comedy before bed. Out of all the ways to relieve stress, it’s probably the most fun.