One of the most effective things you can do when you’re feeling stressed is to take control of your situation. It might sound easier said than done as it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re run down. However, only you can change your circumstances. Acknowledging and facing your stress will get you off on the right foot and empower you to bring about positive change.
Here are some stress management techniques that you could include in your daily routine to help promote your mental wellbeing.
This is one of the most natural activities humans can do to express themselves. Regardless of whether or not you can hold a tune, solo or group singing has been proven to benefit your mental wellbeing. A study published by Psychology of Music found that the anxiety levels of individuals who took part in a structured one-hour choir session had reduced anxiety levels at the end of the activity. When singing, the pituitary gland in the brain releases endorphins – the hormone responsible for relieving pain and inducing feelings of pleasure. This physiological effect leaves you feeling less stressed and more positive. With Christmas slowly approaching, why not join a local choir and start preparing for carol concerts? Choral singing also has social benefits and is a great way to meet new people.
There can be no better way to improve your wellbeing than by helping others. Volunteering helps individuals to build social ties and support systems, increasing confidence and reducing isolation. While developing a sense of purpose, helping others by volunteering also increases your levels of dopamine – another of the body’s main feel-good hormones.
This technique will be no surprise. Meditation has been practiced in the east for thousands of years but moved to the mainstream more recently. It is a technique used to quieten and calm the mind, resulting in emotional positivity and a sense of peace. Mindfulness is one type of meditation, where you focus the mind on the present moment and the ‘here and now’. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can improve emotional stresses including anxiety, depression and pain.
The aim of mindfulness meditation is observation. As you focus on your breathing, you acknowledge the thoughts that come into and out of your mind, without reacting to them. Mindfulness is based on the principle that thoughts come and go but you choose how you respond to them. By not physically and mentally acting on negative thoughts, you allow them to pass, giving you greater control over your thoughts and in turn, emotional wellbeing.
There are many meditation apps to introduce beginners to the practice and even as little as 10 minutes a day can have a positive effect. I have to admit that I’m not the most disciplined person and can go days without meditating. But I can honestly say I feel a lot calmer when I get into a good routine. I find it more beneficial to meditate when I get home from work, as it helps me to let go of anything that has bothered me during the day.
We all know the importance of exercise – it reduces blood pressure, cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many other lifestyle-related conditions. Exercise also stimulates the body to produce endorphins and lowers the levels of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. While it can be difficult to motivate yourself to go to the gym or an exercise class in the first place, most people would agree that they feel much better for doing so after they have worked out.
For some people the gym can be quite an intimidating environment to walk in to. I remember joining a local gym a few years ago and feeling really anxious just walking from the entrance to the changing room. My heart was beating so fast I didn’t need to do a cardiovascular workout after that! As the weeks passed it got a lot easier as I became relaxed seeing regular faces. However, there are plenty of other forms of exercise that you can do outside of a gym. My favourite form of exercise is walking. It’s free and being outside in the fresh air really lifts my spirits. Brisk walking offers all of the health benefits mentioned above, doesn’t hurt your bank balance and can be done on your own or with others.
5. Breathing techniques
Breathing techniques are considered to be one of the best methods to reduce stress levels. One of the most beneficial stress-management techniques that I was introduced to is the 4/9 breathing technique. After I had pleurisy I saw a counsellor to manage my health-related anxiety. He taught me this very simple technique that has become part of my everyday life. All you need to do is count to 4 as you breathe in and 9 as you breathe out. Do not purposely change the speed of your breathing, just focus on the counting. As you start to do it you will notice that your breathing will naturally fall into a relaxed rhythm.
Breathing techniques work by counteracting the symptoms of stress. When you feel agitated your pulse rate increases, blood pressure rises and you breathe quicker. By focusing on your breathing you are first and foremost distracting your mind from whatever it is that is causing your distress. As you deeply inhale in a calmer manner you enable more oxygen to circulate around the body and alleviate the symptoms of stress.
To feel the benefit of breathing techniques it is important to do them every day and not just when you’re feeling stressed. Regularly practising a breathing technique means that it will have a quicker effect when you need to calm your mind and body. I do my 4/9 breathing while sat at the computer, walking around the office and when driving. You can literally do it anywhere.
For more information about stress management, this How to Manage Stress PDF from Mind is a useful resource. Your GP can also advise you if your stress levels are having a negative impact on your wellbeing.
Next week I will explain how a strong immune system starts in the gut and which foods help to boost your body’s defence system. Have a good week!
Inner Wellness Massage Blog
Welcome to my wellness blog! This is where I will share all things health and wellbeing. I hope to encourage others to prioritise their own health while I continuously work to better my own.
Disclaimer: the views and experiences shared are my own and information based on health-related topics has been researched. While this blog promotes and encourages a healthy lifestyle, I am not a doctor and the content is not intended as medical advice. Always seek help from a medical professional if you are concerned about your health.