Stress is an unpleasant, but entirely natural part of life. When we encounter something we perceive to be a threat, or feel under pressure, our bodies release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol as part of our fight-or-flight survival system. That worked well enough for our ancestors when they had to deal with periodic wild-animal attacks or lightning fires. But in today’s world where we’re connected digitally 24–7, constantly bombarded with work and social demands, and confronted with crises on newsfeeds and social media, our levels can remain high.
Over time, there can be severe effects such as weakened immunity, high blood pressure, heart attacks and even cancer. ‘Anxiety and depression are also common,’ says clinical psychologist Dr Colina Linde. ‘Unchecked, the end result can be exhaustion and collapse, requiring months of medication and recuperation.’
Don’t let stress build, take these steps to manage it
- Step away
When you feel overwhelmed by a major work project or life crisis, get up and move away. Fetch a cup of herbal tea, take a walk outside – put distance between yourself and the source of your stress for even a few minutes, and focus on breathing deeply.
- Get some exercise
Research constantly reiterates its benefits in relieving stress and releasing feel-good endorphins that raise your mood. Factor a 20- to 30-minute walk, swim, cycle, gardening session or any other activity into your day.
- Set boundaries
Leave your work at work, or allot a set period, such as an hour after supper, for checking emails and catching up. Make it quietly but firmly clear that you are not available for anything except genuine emergencies after hours, and return the respect to others.
- Let go of perfection
It’s not possible to achieve, and it is a path to stress, self-loathing, depression and paralysis, as you become afraid to put anything out there that may be less than perfect. ‘Embrace imperfection and periodic failure as an important part of growing,’ Dr Linde says.
Studies have found that simply putting a smile on your face or making yourself laugh can relieve feelings of stress. It seems our brains are linked with our facial expressions and emotions,Dr Linde says. And when we smile or laugh, those around us are likely to too, reinforcing the lighter mood, and giving better perspective on a problem.
- Get support
When you feel stress rise, call, email or WhatsApp a friend – or if need be, speak to a therapist. Sharing problems with someone you trust makes the burden feel lighter, and can help you see solutions.
- Give gratitude a go
Make an effort to look back at your day and remember three good things, however small, or to look for them as you go about: a tree in bloom, a cat basking on a wall, or even the foam of a cappuccino. Committing yourself to looking for the positive will help you find it, even on stressful days.
Words: Glynis Horning