The mental health charity, Mind UK reports that 1 in 4 people will experience mental health issues or mental distress at some point in their lives.
I have personally experienced how stress can impact your mental health. I love the work I do and the clients I engage with, but in one particular instance there was a lack of professional support within my job environment. This added unnecessary stress to the already intense work I was doing and things got so bad that I began to suffer with anxiety and panic attacks. I faced the decision to either continue in a role that was clearly affecting my mental health, or to resign and first take care of my own needs. I chose the latter.
Stress is a normal part of our busy everyday modern lives. Fortunately, the human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger but it can also have a negative impact on our health when we face continuous challenges without relief or relaxation, leading to stress-related tension building up, which can put us in a state of distress.
Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach and indigestion, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, insomnia, moodiness and feeling lethargic or suffering with fatigue. Research also suggests that stress can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.
The reality is, Modern Life does not always allow us to switch off and recharge. As my own experience has shown me, excess stress may lead to bigger more complicated health implications, which is why it is important to look after ourselves both emotionally and physically.
Here are 11 top tips to DE-STRESS your life
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs: These will only numb the stress you feel in the short-term and the longer term effects can be detrimental to your health.
- Be proactive: If your stress is work-related, talk to your employer or direct manager to see if there are ways you can improve your work environment. If these measures are unsuccessful then legally (in the UK) your employer should refer you to occupational health assessment and put in place practical measures to reduce your stress.
- Speak your mind: Talk to someone about what is stressing you out — a friend, a counsellor or helpline. Talking about your stress is sometimes all it takes to de-stress your distress.
- Pamper yourself: Treat yourself to something like a massage or a Spa day. If your budget doesn’t allow this, offer to give a friend a massage and ask for one in return or relax in a hot bath, with scented bubble bath and some relaxing easy listening music. When I was a student, I used to do ‘face-pack evenings’ with friends at home, where we’d all put on a face pack and pamper ourselves while watching reruns of Friends.
- Breathe: Try some relaxation techniques or mindfulness exercises, like Pilates, Meditation or Yoga. Anything that will help you to breathe slowly and deeply.
- Get a De-stress Buddy: Regularly connect with someone who is supportive of you and who you can do fun things with like catching up over a cup of coffee at your favourite café or going to the cinema or theatre. Social activities with friends is a great way to take your mind off the things that worry and concern you.
- Sleep: Make sure you are getting enough sleep and if this is becoming a problem, talk to a GP. I have found that avoiding watching the news before I go to bed — in fact any television for at least an hour before bedtime — help me to unwind and quiet my mind.
- Get back to basics: Make sure you are following a healthy and balanced diet, replacing processed, sugary and greasy foods with fresh produce. Simply cooking yourself a lovely home-cooked meal can also help you to relax.
- Have a good laugh: Research has found that laughing is a very effective way to release stress and Laughter Therapy is often used to help people cope with stressful situations or traumatic episodes in their lives.
- Get regular exercise: Going to the gym or for a run will release endorphins and other feel-good hormones that will help your body cope better with stress.
- Put it out there: Write down the things that are affecting your stress levels — like a de-stress journal. I do this often. Once I’ve made my list, I tear it up and throw it away. This helps to me to process the things that are boiling away in my head and it allows me to physically dump it where it belongs — in the rubbish bin.
Experiment with some of these tips to see what works best for you. Making a few lifestyle changes can be a challenge in the beginning, but it has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to combat stress.
Something I still hold dear to my heart is the advice my Grandma Gertie used to give me. Like most Jewish Grandmas, food was also very important to Grandma Gertie who believed it had the power to relieve all neuroses. So, at times when I seemed to be a bit overwhelmed, she used to say to me: “Sit down and have a nice cup of tea and a piece of honey cake… I made it specially.” And if I declined her hospitality, she use to say (in a thick Jewish East End accent) to “Go and jump in the lake”… said with love of course.
Even though Grandma Gertie is no longer with us, she is still very much alive in my head and I often think about how much of what she said revolved around how we need to nourish and nurture ourselves and the ones we love. Her advice very much echoes Rabbi Hillel, who said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? ”