New year, new you – the mantra that the majority of us will be abiding to come January 1st. With a new lease on life and a new sense of perspective after the holidays, we often look to continue that stress-free attitude throughout the year, promising ourselves to promote a better work/life balance and to not sweat the small stuff so easily. Sounds simple enough. That is until you switch on your computer on January 3rd of course, and bask in the chaotic mess that is your inbox.
If you’re always making the New Year’s Resolution ‘To be less stressed', but always find that it falls by the wayside even before the first week of the year’s up, getting into good habits now could improve your chances of success. Understanding what the key stress symptoms are, incorporating some valuable relaxation techniques into your daily routine and recognising when you’re exhibiting the signs of stress all work together to provide a valuable set of resources from which to delve into when times get tough.
We asked psychologist, life coach and Get The Gloss Expert Elaine Slater for her top tips for how best to deal with stress and how putting in the groundwork now can end up making a world of difference to your physical and mental health. “Stress is undeniably damaging and disrupts nearly every system in your body. Long-term exposure to stress can lead to significant health problems. It is important to recognise the symptoms of stress and find ways to manage them and look after yourself,” says Elaine. Here’s how...
What is stress?
“Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure,” explains Elaine. “Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope; this triggers psychological and physiological responses. Stress can affect how you feel, think and behave as well as how your body works.”
An emotion of which the side-effects can either help or hinder us, its damage can be widespread. “Our physiological stress response known as fight or flight is triggered by the hypothalamus and gets the body ready for action,” says Elaine. “Stress hormones are released into the bloodstream including; cortisol, adrenaline and an influx of androgens. Stress sits at the top of a cascade of events that lead to undesirable hormonal changes in the body, causing emotional and cognitive distress, weight gain, skin problems, as well as many debilitating physical symptoms.”
Due to the demands of work and life nowadays, it’s no surprise that many people’s ‘default’ setting is constantly set on high alert making relaxation nearly impossible. “For many people stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. When you are constantly operating in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price,” warns Elaine.
What are the symptoms of stress?
Elaine recommends looking out for the following signs of stress in order to identify whether you need to slow down and take the necessary steps to address its source:
Feeling overwhelmed, irritability, feelings of loneliness and isolation and/or an inability to relax.
Memory problems, inability to concentrate, constant worrying, negativity and/or a racing mind.
Disordered eating, nervous habits, isolating yourself and/or using alcohol to relax.
Fatigue, palpitations, tension headaches, insomnia, dizziness, stomach upset and/or IBS.
What are the best ways to combat stress?
By making some small but effective changes to your weekly routine, you’ll be better prepared for when stress hits its peak. “It is crucial to make time for: mindful rest and relaxation, exercise, plenty of quality sleep and a healthy diet during periods of high intensity,” recommends Elaine. Start small and don’t put too much pressure on yourself – these recommendations aren’t designed to set you up for failure. The last thing you want to end up doing is being stressed about being stressed …
Tip 1: Slow breathing
This isn’t as airy fairy as it sounds. Taking a moment to concentrate on your breathing has a deeper physiological impact than people realise when it comes to the inner workings of their bodies. “Slow and deep diaphragmatic breathing activates the vagus nerve which helps counteract the numerous stress responses triggered in the body by physical and emotional stress,” recommends Elaine.
Tip 2: Meditation
Set a certain time of day aside (whether that’s first thing in the morning or last thing at night), to block out outside distractions, put your phone on silent, quiet your thoughts and focus on your direct surroundings. “A quiet mindful meditation will stimulate the release of endorphins. This helps to counteract the impact of the stress hormone cortisol; encouraging a sense of deep wellbeing and inner calm,” advises Elaine. Find out how to meditate here.
Tip 3: Exercise
“Even a short burst of exercise can increase concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress,” explains Elaine. “These chemicals calm down anxiety, reduce stress and aid relaxation.” That’s reason enough for us to reach for our trainers. Your chosen exercise doesn’t necessarily have to be HIIT though – yoga acts as a great way to balance both body and mind. “Maintaining a regular practice of restorative yoga, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system; responsible for recovery and repair,” suggests Elaine.
Tip 4: Good sleep hygiene
The quality of your night’s sleep will only be as good as your surroundings. “Be mindful of sleep hygiene; make sure your bedroom is quiet, comfortable, ventilated and dark,” recommends Elaine. “A darkened room stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and supports melatonin production.”
Tip 5: Employ a digital detox
Put the iPhone down. It’s 11pm, no one’s in the office and whatever tasks lay in store for tomorrow can really wait until the morning. Honestly. Swap your handset for a book instead and the improvement in your sleep patterns will truly astound you. “We live in a hyper-connected world; this can be stressful and negatively affect our relaxation and sleep. Enjoy a time out from your gadgets at least one hour before bedtime,” recommends Elaine. “Electromagnetic radiation from smart phones, laptops and iPads disrupts and overstimulates our central nervous system and significantly reduces melatonin; the hormone which regulates sleep. Enjoy a digital detox a few hours before bedtime to encourage quality, deep sleep.” That goes for the TV too…
Tip 6: Healthy eating
“Be conscious of eating a balanced healthy diet and drinking plenty of water. Avoid foods high in refined sugar, caffeine, additives or stimulants,” recommends Elaine. That mug of hot chocolate seemed like such a good idea at the time…
Tip 7: Develop a support network
“Manage stress by reaching out to your support network of friends, family, colleagues or your counsellor,” suggests Elaine. Stress affects everyone in different ways – some more than others. Have a friend that possesses the outlook that you would like to have too? Ask them to describe how they dealt with a particularly stressful situation – both mentally and from a workload perspective. Talking it out will help provide a valuable insight into their psyche and most importantly, show you that you’re not alone.
Tip 8: Stress relieving products
Luckily, there is also a wide selection of bath, skin and beauty products out there all designed to help ease stress levels and put you in the right frame of mind for a good night's sleep. From soothing oils to candles, teas to gadgets, see our recommendations of the best stress-busting products here .