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A Realist’s Guide To Dealing With Stress
2 May 2019
May the fourth has just been and we all know what that meant, didn't we Jedis?
It's easy for Stress Awareness Month – which has run every April since 1992 – to get lost in the shuffle. But stress and its mental and physical impacts are hugely important to the wellbeing of families, not to mention the economy.
The sister of stress is anxiety, and our recent Let's Stalk Talking report called out the size of the nation's worries. Huge numbers of under 35s, for example, told us that they 'always' (not ‘sometimes’ or ‘seldom’) worry about money, health, jobs, mortality. Even ghosts.
So yes, this is Stress Awareness Month. Cue numerous healthcare, commercial and charitable organisations throwing out lofty and ambitious top ten lists of ways to deal.
We’re not about to do that. Instead, here’s a realist’s list of five. And you don’t really have to do that much.
Let's Start TalkingYeah, it sounds like another plug for our report but it's true. Stress is often the result of bottling up angst and worries. Relief can often be found in talking about those and getting your fears off your chest.
The point of our Let's Start Talking report was to show that as a nation we aren't talking – even to friends and family – about things that matter. So no one expects this national silence to do a slick about-turn just because …
But maybe if we're prepared to accept and own our stress, that's a decent first step. Giving a voice to the worries storing up inside can be like taking the lid off the pressure cooker.
Why not find a confidant and do a stress swap. The data shows we're all – to a greater or lesser extent – carrying around a big bag of worries. We're human. So you tell me yours and I'll tell you mine?
Cut down on jittery thingsYou're going to hear a lot of this. You've heard a lot of this. But if you're predisposed to stress it mightn't surprise you to hear that coffee, cigarettes, sugar and booze can make things worse.
The chemical reason is that these are all stimulants and, for all they might offer momentary relief, that's not their function. It's annoying because, over time, we’ve sort of trained our minds and bodies to think, say, cigarettes calm us down. Or coffee perks us up.
But that's pretty much a myth – the chemical reality of all stimulants is that they pump you up … and then you crash, get jittery and wind up needing another dose.
No one's saying cut them out entirely. As above – we're human. Just try to be mindful, instead of two coffees in the morning hit one. Drink water instead of loading up on sweets.
And, well, you all know you shouldn't be smoking anyway.
SleepSleep really is the most under-rated, under-talked-about cure for … a lot of things. In 2019 there's a myth going around - fuelled by politicians, athletes, especially entrepreneurs - that it's possible to get by on, like, five hours sleep.
It’s not. Based on 10,000 different research papers, the percentage of adults who can survive on six or fewer hours of sleep and show no impairment is technically 0%. Nobody.
Sleep is important and we're not getting enough of it.
Sleep is a frenzied time for the body. It's a time to process information and file raw data into its rightful place in either the short or long term memory. And in an era of limitless information, we need more time to help in that effort.
Sleep enables the repair of damaged muscle tissue and the recalibration of our hormones including cortisol, the body's stress chemical. Sleep is arguably the most effective day-to-day tool we can use to balance our health and wellbeing.
Today, too many people see sleep as a nuisance or just another thing to do today. That means, as a nation, we're not getting what we need. Between seven and nine hours – it'll do wonders for your stress life.
Sleep without screensYou know this one too but let's nuzzle into the science of it.
We've all been there. We've gone to bed early – perhaps we're stressed – only to fire up Facebook or Netflix on the phone, iPad or laptop. Wrong move.
Having gadgets as part of the bedtime ritual might, by now, feel normal and natural - but it is detrimental to sleep. And it's not just for practical oh go on let's watch another episode or six reasons …
Most modern gadgets have LED screens which emit a powerful blue light. That light inhibits the release of melatonin, a bodily hormone which facilitates sleep.
Even if there is no blue light or measures have been taken to reduce its impact (a study by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York shows that Apple Night Shift's effect on melatonin is negligible) the last thing a person – especially a stressed person – needs before they fall asleep is an argument on social media or a surprise in the bank account.
Just the act of consuming information late in the day is enough to put the brain in hyperdrive. Then there's the noise, the lights, the stimulation. It's best to simply banish the screens. If you really must sleep in the same room as your phone or tablet then at least turn notifications off.
MeditationThe benefits of exercise are long established. Nowadays, doctors even prescribe exercise for people who are anxious or depressed. But look, if you're not exercising already then chances are you're just not into it.
And because this is a list of achievable ways to limit stress, we're not here to stress you out about not exercising. If you can, walk more often.
So, to meditation. There's stats galore that show meditation helps prisoners with aggression, athletes perform better and unruly school kids straighten out. There's even anecdotal evidence that meditation lengthens your life.
If you can manage five minutes with an app (surely someone in your circle has been banging on about Headspace by now?) then you'll see the difference pretty quickly.
Meditation is a way to consciously sit and be - and filter all the day's gunk out. It can work wonders on stress and all you really have to do is sit there, no treadmills required.
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