Healthy diet? Tick. Reduced alcohol intake? Tick. Exercise? Tick. Managing stress at work, stress at home, home-schooling children, demanding family, friends and mental health issues? Well… if you can’t tick this one off, you’re not alone. Stress has been dubbed the ‘health epidemic of the 21st century’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO), thought to cost American businesses up to $300 billion a year. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to prioritise our mental health and adopt simple ways of coping with stress. But first, what exactly is stress?
What is stress?
It’s normal to feel under pressure from time to time. It’s how humans function – deadlines, pressures and urgency means we can juggle our to-do list and prioritise. However, when stress becomes overwhelming, it can impact out mental and physical health, triggering a cascade of damaging consequences.
Stress is our body’s response to pressure and is often triggered when we experience something new, unexpected or threatening. Cortisol – the body’s primary stress hormone made in the adrenal glands – floods our system, increases blood sugars and makes our heart pump quicker. In turn, this response can manifest as physical tension – such as teeth grinding, shortness of breath or stuttering and mentally, with anxiety attacks and depression. The trouble with modern day stressors is that they have a cumulative response, so many of us may feel stressed all the time.
Even if you’re lucky enough to think that, on the whole, your life is fairly straightforward and happy, you’re only a flat tyre, tantrumming toddler, burnt dinner and work deadline away from a potentially bad episode of stress.
At Balance Box HQ, we shared our favourite ways to keep stress at bay. The key, however, is to factor as many of these behaviours (or the ones that work for you) into your regular routine, so they become healthy habits rather than infrequent events. That way, you’ll be better equipped to handle the tough times, and enjoy the good ones.
You might be surprised to see journaling top our list, but it’s such a potent way of checking in with yourself, that it has quite a cult following. Oprah Winfrey claims that keeping a journal, and specifically writing down things she’s grateful for, is the single most important thing she’s ever done. “Keeping a journal will absolutely change your life in ways you’ve never imagined’, she says. Why? Well, in terms of stress, the mere act of putting pen to paper can make big worries seems small, complicated problems seem simple and anxieties melt away on to the page. As many stressful triggers are mental, journaling may provide you with the space to clarify your thoughts and feelings. Try and find a time and space to journal every day. And be honest- write for yourself and no one else.
The human eye can detect more shades of green than any other colour. This is because, quite simply, we evolved to live in nature. However, for some of us city dwellers, nature might just mean a wilting plant on a windowsill. It’s therefore really important to prioritise time spent in nature – a walk in a park, a trip to the beach or pottering around the garden. The reason? Scientists have found that exposure to green space, and its calm, restorative effects are linked to lower stress, and a decrease in harmful cortisol levels.
3. Hot baths
If you’re already a fan of a long, hot soak in the tub, you can skip straight to number 4 because we’re preaching to the converted. However, if you’re a shower-only person, and think baths are outdated, time consuming and pointless, read on. Research has shown that an hour long soak in a hot bath can reduce the risk of a heart attack, improve blood sugar control, lower your blood pressure, burn around 140 calories (yes please), and protect your from illness and infection. How? Well, lots of good things happen when you sink into the tub. First, your skin releases endorphins in response to the heat water, in the same way it does when you feel the skin on your skin. Next, your breathing slows, improving your oxygen intake. In addition, research has shown that ‘passive heating’ (like spending time in the sauna) can reduce your risk of a heart attack. As for the calories? One study concluded that soaking in a hot bath can burn as many calories as a brisk 30 minute walk because the hot water makes your heart best fast. Throw in some Epsom bath salts and lavender oil – an essential oil proven to boost your mood – and thank us later.
The benefits of exercise will never go away. It’s good for your body, and it’s good for you mind. The key is to reframe what you consider ‘exercise’ to be. Incidental exercise includes activities such as gardening, a brisk walk to and from the local shop and kicking a football around the park with your children – it all counts, and it all adds up. If, on top of incidental exercise you can head out for a 5km run a few times a week and incorporate some strength training, over time you should find your stress levels melt away as your body is flooded with endorphins – feel good hormones associated with improved mood and happiness.
5. Mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness and mediation has become mainstream. No longer the preserve of dubious hippies, science has got behind the plethora of health and wellbeing benefits that slowing down and decluttering your mind can bring. It’s easy to think that meditation is not for you because you need to be ‘trained’, or ‘enlightened’, or in some way, ‘special’, to master the art of mindfulness. But you’d be wrong. Mindfulness is simply the art of focusing on the here and now, using the breath as a tool to do this. Yoga incorporates movement too, but it’s just another way to get your brain to calm down and stop overthinking. The beauty of mindfulness is that you can weave it into your daily life in the most ordinary of circumstances. Peeling potatoes, showering, cleaning… just focus intently on what is happening in the moment, and notice how that effects your stress levels. There’s also some great mindfulness and meditation apps out there including Headspace and Calm. Namaste.
6. Healthy diet
Potentially our favourite stress-busting tip, healthy eating really is the best medicine. Books and articles galore will inform you about the vitamins, minerals and dietary benefits of healthy eating and how these nutrients can positively impact your stress levels. To choose a just a couple, we recommend magnesium which interacts with GABA (a neurotransmitter) to reduce neural activity in the brain and quiet down the nervous system and selenium, which can have a positive impact on your thyroid, help regulate hormones and protect you from free radical damage- a side effect of stress. Opt for kale, spinach and pumpkin seeds for magnesium, and Brazil nuts, yellowfin tuna and turkey for selenium.
7. Hold off on the alcohol
You might think that a large glass of wine, downed while cooking dinner will help you unwind, but you’d be wrong. Very wrong. Alcohol or more specifically ethanol – play havoc with your neurotransmitters. At first it depresses your nervous system, which is why you feel relaxed after a few glasses. However, when these side effects wear off, you can be left feeling anxious and edgy, which might make you reach for another glass of wine. The vicious cycle has begun, and it can be hard to break. What’s more, alcohol has been proven to negatively impact sleep – a crucial pillar to warding off stress. There’s no sugarcoating it, if you want to reduce stress, you have to reduce your alcohol intake.
At Balance Box, we understand how stressful the daily juggle of a busy life can be. But it’s important to prioritise your nutrition because when you eat well, you’re better equipped to face the demands of modern life. Browse our menu of delicious, calorie-controlled meals which will are freshly prepared and delivered straight to our customers.