April is Stress Awareness month but it seems to me that stress is everywhere all the time. Stress shows up in different ways. Sometimes it sneaks up on us, sometimes it hits us in the face and other times it is just part of of life, barely noticeable but always there. That tends to be the bad kind of stress. There is also the good stress which is brought on intentionally by exercise, a cold shower or a sauna but good stress is a topic for another day.
Are you aware of the stress in your life? Short term stress brought on by a significant life event such as a wedding, house move or the death of a parent can be significant but it doesn’t generally have the long term health implications of chronic stress. Long term chronic stress might be due to a job you don’t like, a relationship that isn’t working, money worries or chronic illness (either yours or that of a family member.) Other long term stressors or what I like to call “sneaky” stress or micro stressors are small things that in themselves aren’t significant but over time have an impact. For example, a disorganised morning routine so you’re frequently late for work or school drop off; an untidy house so you can never find that specific item of clothing, your handbag or you car keys etc; no food in the fridge because you’ve not got around to doing the supermarket order or shop; admin that slips your mind; dripping taps, broken drawers, lightbulbs that need changing etc.. etc.
What are the possible effects of stress on your body?
So what can you do to manage your stress?
First of all , sit down with a pen and paper and try to identify the source of your stress.
Is it being caused by a one-off event? What are the implications for you? Can you do anything to relieve the stress? Can you delegate some responsibilities? Or maybe you need to talk to someone?
If it is “sneaky” stress, it is generally within our control. Spend some time listing the micro stressors in your life. Work out what they are due to? Is your house cluttered? Is your paperwork disorganised? Are your mornings chaotic? Think about what you can do change the situation.
Chronic stress may require a longer term plan but being aware of what is causing the stress is a good start.
Now that you have identified the source of your stress, how can you best manage it so that you avoid the symptoms detailed above? Try the following –
1. Mini-pauses: – take a few moments everyday to focus on you. It may just be a minute or two to breathe – in through your nose for 3 and out through your nose for 5 , pause and repeat. Close your eyes and take your breath right down to your belly; feel it rise and fall with your breathing. Alternatively, take a cup of something into the garden and leave your phone inside the house. Look around you. What do you see?
2. Journaling:- writing about what is stressing you out can really help. It enables you to step back and view the situation as an outsider. What would you advise your friend in the same situation to do?
3. Exercise :- exercise relieves stress. Exercise outdoors is even better. Try going for a walk first thing in the morning. This time of year is the perfect time to start a new habit of daily walking. Ideally, leave you phone at home and practice mindfulness – listen to the birds singing; observe the trees that are now turning green and the flowers that are blooming. Where I live the bluebells are coming out and it is a glorious sight.
4. Sleep:– I know the sleep-stress cycle can be a difficult one to crack but maintaining a sleep routine will help. See my post on sleep here for more information. Use your journal just before you go to bed to brain dump everything that is on your mind.
5. Do something for you: – I know this sounds little cheesy but really, how often do you do something that brings you joy? Even if it means finding a baby sitter or care cover, the relief it will bring will make it worth it. Having joy and purpose in your life is key to living a long, happy and stress free life.
If you would like to know more about stress management, then please feel free to email me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Why not join my Facebook Group Fit and Thriving at 50 plus to find out more about how I work and pick up some healthy ageing tips at the same time.