At the risk of stating the obvious, it has been a stressful time.
Not only are we living through a once in a century pandemic. To make matters worse, the measures we have taken as a result have destroyed the economy. Not to mention our social lives.
If you are feeling a little stressed, well, that is normal.
Even outside a crisis, stress is part of life. In fact, we need stress. It helps us avoid danger. Without it, our ancestors would not have run away from predators. Today, we would struggle to drag ourselves out of bed come Monday if we felt entirely relaxed about the consequences.
That said, too much stress is undeniably bad.
The symptoms tell us this in no uncertain terms. They include insomnia, headaches, teeth grinding, anxiety, feelings of frustration and anger, inability to concentrate, heavy drinking and drug taking.
Long term, stress will kill you. It leads to heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and many other terrible outcomes.
The good news is that even when life gets really tough, stress is not inevitable. Greek philosopher, Epictetus, recognised this when he said:
“Men are disturbed not by things but by the views they take of them”
If you do find yourself in a situation where life’s getting the better of you, you will be pleased to know that over millennia, our ancestors developed a small number of exceptionally effective cures for stress. Incorporate any (or all) of these tools into your life and you will find that over time, you become happier, healthier and of course, less stressed.
It can be a challenge incorporating healthy habits into your lifestyle. For some tips on ensuring new habits stick, see our recent blog post.
It is at the top of every sensible list of stress management techniques for a reason.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. These are hormones that make you feel relaxed. Your body releases the same hormones when you do something intensely pleasurable, like eating chocolate or having sex.
Any exercise will do the trick. As long as it lifts your heart rate. Rhythmic exercise, like walking, running, swimming and cycling can be especially helpful, due to its meditative quality.
To get the most benefit, keep it up for at least twenty minutes each session. You can work up to this over time, depending on your fitness level. Ideally, you should exercise daily.
The most important thing is to find something you enjoy. That way you will be more likely to stick at it.
Meditation can be difficult at first. This comes down to a common misconception. People think that unless you are experiencing an overwhelming sense of calm, you are doing it wrong.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no right or wrong when it comes to meditation. Sometimes you will achieve that elusive calmness, but more often than not, you won’t.
Whatever your experience, you are still getting the benefits.
And these benefits are profound. There’s a wealth of scientific evidence to show that meditation significantly reduces stress. Some associated benefits include reduced anxiety, better sleep, a stronger immune system, improved concentration and memory and higher energy levels, among many others. Studies show that within a few months of taking up a daily mediation practice the amount of grey matter in the front part of your brain – the area responsible for executive functioning – increases significantly.
Best of all, meditating is exceptionally easy once you have been taught properly. There is plenty of apps to get you started. A favourite is ‘1 Giant Mind’. Available on both Android and IOS, this app starts users with a 12 day learn to meditate course. For 15 minutes a day, you will learn all the essentials of mindfulness mediation, taught in a way that is practical and easy to follow.
Incorporating exercise, mediation and controlled breathing techniques, Yoga is tailor made for stress management.
It is also something you can do at home. Online classes are a great way to start. One of the most popular is Yoga with Adriene, an online sensation with more than 7 million YouTube subscribers.
YouTube classes are an ideal way to start a Yoga practice, particularly while social distancing remains a necessity. However, if you decide that it is something you would like to go on with try to find a good teacher once this is feasible.
Although it is simple to learn, many Yoga poses depend on using the right technique to get the full benefits. It can be helpful therefore to have an experienced teacher watch you and provide feedback.