Beat stress for good. Here’s how.

Most of us have busy lives. This isn’t always a bad thing, but being consistently busy can lead to feeling stressed out and tired. Long-term stress can have a seriously detrimental impact on our overall health, so keeping your stress levels low is very important.

Being stressed puts us at risk of a range of health problems, from simple sniffles to stomach ulcers, stroke, and heart disease. Reducing stress makes us happier, increases our productivity, boosts our immune system, and can even help us live longer. How does stress work, and how can we make ourselves feel better?

The Science Bit

Stress is a natural chemical reaction in the brain that has an impact on its ability to function. When we’re stressed, the amounts of several neurotransmitters (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine) in the brain begin to increase, causing an increase in ‘fight or flight’ hormones. This has an emotional and physical effect on our body.

Ongoing feelings of stress can contribute to several emotional and mental health problems such as anxiety, panic disorder, depression, and even the development of phobias. You might find it hard to make even simple decisions, get angry more easily, feel frustrated, and struggle to remember things.

The body’s physical reaction to chronic stress can happen slowly, so even if you think you’re fine, your body may be building up health problems that will only become apparent later on. One of the earliest signs of chronic stress is a tension headache, along with muscle pain and other musculoskeletal issues caused by tension. Other early symptoms are gastrointestinal responses such as nausea, stomach pain, heartburn, vomiting, or eating more or less than you’re used to.

Managing Stress

Fortunately, there are lots of ways that we can keep stress under control. Many people practice mindfulness and meditation, techniques that encourage relaxation and emptying the mind of external thoughts and stressors. Meditation also teaches us to be kinder to ourselves, rather than constantly judging ourselves against our own perceived flaws; something very easy to do when we’re busy and stressed, and to help ourselves to have a healthier mindset. Take 15 minutes out of every day to just empty your mind and focus on your breathing. Even small changes can make a huge difference.

Massage is another method many people use to alleviate stress and the musculoskeletal symptoms of chronic stress. Massage allows us a space to relax and escape our daily lives, while also relieving the pain and tension stress causes in our muscles.

Another way to alleviate stress is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Stress can be physically draining, and it’s essential to get enough sleep so you can recharge. Unfortunately, being stressed can prevent us from sleeping as it’s difficult to switch off. Try tiring yourself out with a bit of stress-busting exercise, read a book, or drink some herbal tea shortly before bed (make sure it doesn’t contain any caffeine).