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Dr Sally Harris shares her thoughts and advice about managing stress

07 September 2020

Stress is a modern day factor affecting our health, particularly given the additional challenges we have all faced this year, so it’s important to recognise the signs of stress and be prepared to manage and reduce it.

Stress is a biological protector designed to enable us to face threats or avoid them—often referred to as “fight or flight”. Small doses of short-term stress can be even be considered helpful in motivating us.

But when the pressures of life outweigh our ability to cope with them, this can create long term or chronic stress, which has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, back pain, diabetes, cancer, and a generally weakened immune response to disease.

People experiencing high levels of stress can experience anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and depression, and may turn to unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking and overeating to help deal with their stress.

There are much healthier ways to cope. Here are some ways to reduce stress and its toxic effects on the body:

Exercise.  Exercise is one of the best tools to beat stress.  It can dissipate excess energy caused by the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, relaxing tense muscles and encouraging sleep. It also releases endorphins into your bloodstream, making you feel relaxed and happy.  Aim to exercise at a moderate intensity for a minimum of 30 minutes, most days of the week.

Eating and sleeping well.  Good nutrition and 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night can help your body recover from daily stresses. If you struggle to sleep avoid caffeine and other stimulants and avoid alcohol, as it is a depressant and may deepen any depression you may be feeling.

Meditation.  Meditation involves sitting in a relaxed position and learning to focus your mind. Meditation is intended to have the opposite reaction of stress - triggering the body's relaxation response; helping it to repair itself and preventing new damage from the physical effects of stress. For tips on how to meditate visit: https://www.mindful.org/how-to-meditate/

Learn the power of ‘no’.We often take on more than we can handle, creating more stress for ourselves by over-committing and failing to say no when too much is expected. Try not to overpromise professionally or personally and give yourself time to finish the things you have agreed on.

Reward yourself. When you complete a difficult week, reward yourself. It can be as simple as watching that film you’ve heard about, cooking a nice meal or taking time out to catch up with friends. 

When to seek help

It is important to seek help if you are unable to manage your stress and feel overwhelmed with daily life.  Some key signs to look out for can include; heightened and prolonged anxiety, feeling deeply withdrawn, abusing alcohol, food or drugs, struggling to sleep or sleeping too much, constantly feeling sick or unwell. It’s important not to put off seeing a doctor if you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s far more common than you may think. Most GP’s and other healthcare professionals are offering virtual consultations, so finding the time in your busy schedule to speak to a doctor in complete confidence is easier than ever.

For more information and tips on self-management of stress visit Mind:  

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/developing-resilience/

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