It’s wonderful to welcome back Dr Juliet McGrattan, GP and friend of mine with her stress relief tips.
Stress can mean being busy and a bit late for an appointment but it can also mean sick children, family break-ups and financial uncertainty. We’re all different, we all tolerate and cope with stress in our own way but there’s one thing for sure … it’s horrible!
It’s not just a mental strain either. Our brain and our body are inextricably linked; physical symptoms often come from a psychological cause. It can be quite hard to take when your GP tells you that your headache, nausea or abdominal pains might be due to stress. It means that the solution is often more lengthy and complex than a short course of tablets and you might need to make some difficult changes to resolve it.
Stress can sometimes take you by surprise too. For whatever reason, your coping mechanisms reduce and what would previously have seen you reaching for the notepad to make a comprehensive ‘to do’ list, suddenly turns you into a blubbering incapable mess.
It happens to everyone. Believe me, in my years a GP I’ve seen people from all walks and generations of life literally crumble due to this six letter word.
So, what action can you take to reduce and avoid it? Here are my top five tips for stress:
1) Recognise it
Sounds easy but this is often the hardest step. We’re so used to rushing around and having a million things to do, surviving on caffeine and adrenalin and paying very little attention to ourselves. A certain amount of stress can feel normal and help us to perform at our best but be careful. Stress is a sneaky thing and it gradually accumulates and can suddenly floor us unexpectedly. Watch out for some of these physical symptoms which might indicate that your body is straining under the pressure: weight loss, disturbed sleep, poor appetite, headache, nausea, chest and abdominal pains, diarrhoea and palpitations.
2) Listen to others
We might not even notice that we’re gradually altering in personality but stress has the power to change us. We might stop enjoying life so much and become irritable, intolerant or overly sensitive. Often it’s those closest to us that notice these changes the most so don’t flip if your partner, husband or friend makes a comment. Try to think of it as a warning and take a good look at yourself.
3) Don’t accept it
Don’t just ignore stress. It will come back to bite you one way or another. Just battling on regardless will end in tears and they’ll probably be yours. Sit down and make a list of all the factors that are causing you stress. You might feel powerless to change many of them but there will be some you can influence. Even if there’s just one you can resolve that’s okay, that might be the straw that’s breaking the camel’s back. I bet if you look at the list there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your burden just a little.
4) Mobilise the troops
Now isn’t the time for struggling on alone. Call in the favours, ask for help, shout from the rooftops if you need to. Good friends, relatives and bosses will want to support you. If you had a friend in need you’d help them wouldn’t you? Even if it’s just delegating a school run, extending a deadline or allowing you an hour to yourself it will take the pressure off a bit. Stress is nothing to be ashamed of and admitting it and seeking solutions is better than crumbling altogether.
5) Ease the symptoms
So, we’ve identified that a bit of stress is normal in today’s life and that’s fine but our body doesn’t always cope well with it and we need to find ways to help us manage our stress. Short term measures like alcohol, caffeine and comfort eating don’t help and can make things worse in the long run. We need to find activities that let us forget everything and just focus on the present. What you choose is up to you but it needs to be something that helps you to escape and relax.
Exercise is a brilliant way to distract yourself and you get extra health benefits from the happy hormones your body releases when you do it; I find I solve many of my problems when I’m out running. A Zumba class with a couple of friends is sure to lead to laughter which as we know is the best medicine. A long soak in a deep bath, a good film or a natter with friends; find what works for you.
The effect that long term stress has on our future health is not yet fully understood.
Whether it directly leads to heart disease or cancer are topics that are still being researched.
We do know however that it can steer us into unhealthy lifestyles which themselves increase our risk of conditions like heart disease and diabetes so it’s important to remember that taking time for yourself is not being indulgent, it’s necessary to keep you healthy and it needs to happen regularly so make space for it in your life.
I’d love to hear your top tips for managing stress, do share them in the comments below.
Read Juliet’s blog.