Here are some tops tips from the experts
Stress, pressure – call it what you will – we all experience it – it’s a normal and often necessary response to stimulate us into getting more done. But the danger comes when it is sustained and unrelenting – left unchecked it can lead to physical and psychological illness. Health Psychologist Dr Megan Arroll (www.meganarroll.com) says, ‘If our bodies are constantly in a state of heightened physiological arousal due to stress this can impair immune function and in particular stress has been linked to cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal conditions, obesity and diabetes and depression.’
Learn to relax
One of the simplest ways to nip this in the bud, as Dr Arroll suggests, is to breathe more deeply. What most of us do, unconsciously, when stressed is start taking shallow, rapid breaths and this can lead to us feeling muddle-headed, dizzy, short of breath and possibly nauseous. By consciously changing your breathing you help reverse these symptoms and all it takes is around five really slow deep breaths. There are also loads of free relaxation apps available to talk you through breathing techniques and relaxation exercises like Guided Mind – Guided Meditation, Relaxation & Mindfulness for Stress, Depression, Anxiety and OMG I Can Meditate! Meditation & Mindfulness Techniques Made Easy (both free from the App Store).
Eating as healthily as you can will also make you more resilient and able to cope with any stresses that come your way. ‘Good nutrition is important at all times but especially during times of stress,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer (read her Nutritional Medicine blog at www.DrSarahBrewer.com) Including plenty of antioxidant rich foods like fresh fruit and vegetables and healthy protein like oily fish and nuts and seeds will help but, as Nutritional Therapist Alison Cullen explains ‘one of the effects of stress is to trigger adrenaline production which shuts down digestive function, making it harder for you to absorb nutrients from food’. As a nutritional safety net Dr Brewer suggests taking a multivitamin and mineral during stressful periods pointing out ‘Vitamin C and the B group vitamins are rapidly used up in the metabolic reactions associated with the fight-or-flight response. Stress also depletes the body of calcium and magnesium.’ Look for a good quality supplement such as Healthspan MultiVitality 50 Plus 90 tablets £6.45)
Get herbal help
Alison Cullen adds we should also try to eat around every four hours to help prevent blood sugar dips and also recommends herbal help in the form of A.Vogel AvenaCalm tincture, £9.75 for 50ml (www.avogel.co.uk) Made from the oat plant it is full of B vitamins and calming constituents that help to nourish the nervous system. Dr Brewer points to Valerian as a ‘great herbal medicine for stress and insomnia related to stress’. Find it in Healthspan’s Valerian SleepAid, £14.95 (www.healthspan.co.uk).
Dr Dick Middleton, pharmacist and chair of the British Herbal Medicine Association (www.bhma.info) says: “Two herbs can be particularly helpful for such people as they move into their autumnal years – Passion Flower can help to relieve mild stress and anxiety whilst Rhodiola is particularly helpful as a stress reliever, where an energy boost is required as well. Both herbs have an excellent safety profile and are not thought to interact with prescribed medicines.
“Herbs are often helpful as a halfway house before resorting to stronger prescribed medication, as they tend to be more gentle in their action and often have fewer side-effects than prescribed medicines. As a general rule, herbal medicines do not interact with prescribed medicines that people may be taking, although it is always sensible to read the information leaflet that always accompanies a herbal medicine. To find a list of some of the traditional herbal medicines for stress and anxiety that have been approved for sale in the UK, visit our website www.bhma.info.”
Exercise – keep moving
One thing all health experts agree on is that exercise is one of life’s natural de-stressors. Whatever you do – running, walking, exercise classes, gardening – exercise helps trigger soothing neurons in the brain and helps relieve muscle tension, often a side effect of stress. You should also experience a feel good endorphin rush and regular exercise can help you to more restful, restorative sleep.
Invest in good sleep
The bottom line when it comes to coping with stress is: some days we just cope better than others. More often than not this is directly related to how well we have been eating and sleeping but as we all know the more stressed we are the less likely we are to sleep well.
How do we break this cycle? Dr Craig Hudson, medical doctor and psychiatrist (www.zenbev.co.uk) suggests a relaxing drink made of pumpkin seed to aid sleep. Dr Hudson is the author of “Feel Great Day and Night: a Natural approach to treating Insomnia” created The BED (Behaviour, Environment and Diet) checklist, and recommends using a sleep diary for one week. Record sleep parameters in the morning at breakfast and if you can’t sleep at night he recommends getting out of bed if you are awake for twenty minutes or more – put a chair beside your bed – sit in the chair until you feel sleepy, then return to bed. Do not get out of bed and watch television, read a book.
It is unrealistic to think you can live a completely stress and anxiety free life but you can certainly help to manage how you respond to it and keep yourself a whole lot calmer and healthier.