Stress is something you may have gotten used to-—a result of life’s demands and the need to keep soldiering on. Well, stress without relief can become “distress”, harming your life in irreversible ways. As such, it’s important to be well-educated on how to release stress.
From leading to problems such as early ageing, heart problems and mental health issues, stress is a silent killer that can reduce your productivity and general quality of life. Knowing how to release stress can drastically improve your life, perhaps even helping you drop a few kilograms and make you look younger!
That said, we know how difficult it can be to release stress. With modern-day commitments, not feeling stressed is a challenge in itself. Not to mention that it’s something that takes a fair bit of practice. Here’s why you need to keep stress at bay, and how to do it.
Why it’s important to manage your stress
1. Stress may make your emotions harder to control
You may be fairly patient by nature, but it still won’t take much to make you lose your cool when stressed. According to neuroscientists, it takes only mild levels of stress to make emotions harder to control. Factors like fear and anxiety that you’d otherwise have a good grip on can become harder to control even with mild stress.
In 2013, an experiment tested the ability of participants to control their emotions under a mild stress factor — having their hands dipped in ice water. The simple action made it harder for participants to calm themselves down when concurrently shown pictures of snakes and spiders.
If you don’t learn how to release stress, there’s even a chance that you may develop an emotional disorder like depression, which can result from chronic, untreated stress. The other emotional effects of stress include the inability to control anger, which may inadvertently lead to strained relationships at work and at home.
As your mind becomes muddled with anxiety and other emotions, you may also experience problems with concentration and memory.
2. Stress can lead to you contracting diseases more easily
Ever fallen sick at a very bad time? High amounts of stress put a strain on your immune system, and there’s only so much your body can handle before it gives in. A common example of stress affecting our immunity is our proclivity to catch a cold or other infections during periods of stress.
Some of us tend to be more susceptible to certain diseases due to lifestyle habits or a family history. Chronic stress could make you even more prone to such diseases. Illnesses that have been linked to stress include lung disease, cancer and liver cirrhosis.
3. Stress is bad for your heart
Stress can damage your body’s most precious muscle. Stress-induced hormones like cortisol constrict your blood vessels and cause an increase in your heart rate, straining your heart’s muscles and increasing your blood pressure.
High levels of cortisol can also increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. It can also increase the chances of plaque building up in your arteries, triggering poor blood flow to the heart muscle.
This has even been reflected in medical history, where the rate of heart attacks in a population might increase after incidents that induce major stress, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.
In the long term, stress can also impact how blood clots, making blood stickier and even increasing the risk of strokes.
4. Stress can make you gain weight
People are likely to consume 40% more food than they normally do in stressful situations. When surroundings prove stressful, it’s natural that an activity as immersive and personal as eating is what humans take comfort in.
In fact, this is something that’s so innately and primitively human that it hasn’t changed since the ancient times of hunter-gatherers. In the olden days, harsh conditions meant that humans had to eat as much as they could when food was available, so they could have better survivability during times when food was scarce.
When stress makes you eat, it’s your emotions rather than your body dictating how much food you need. Not to mention the fact that when you’re stress-eating, it’s usually not the celery sticks you reach for, but rather indulgent comfort food such as ice cream which are high in sugar.
Stress-induced food cravings and feelings of guilt after eating are typical signs of stress eating.
5. Stress can make you look older
Premature ageing is a key indicator of stress. And it’s not just because of the eyebags from a lack of sleep. Stress has been scientifically proven to reduce the length of telomeres, the structures on the end of chromosomes that make it more difficult for new cells to grow.
As such, stress can lead to the classic signs of ageing that you want to avoid as much as possible. Some of these signs include wrinkles, weak muscles and poor eyesight.
6. Stress can result in unhealthy addictions
Is your work making you feel like you need to knock back a beer after you’re done for the day? Stress-related changes in your brain have been proven to play a role in addiction to unhealthy habits such as alcohol, smoking and overeating.
How to release stress: 13 methods to feel better
1. Get some exercise
Healthcare professionals have long-touted exercise as one of the most efficient, inexpensive ways to keep your body and mind in the pink of health.
Physical activity and exercise can help manage stress by producing endorphins, the human body’s natural painkillers. Endorphins also increase your ability to sleep, which play a huge part in helping manage stress.
You don’t have to picture yourself panting buckets worth of perspiration. General aerobic exercise of low to moderate intensity is enough to decrease your body’s tension levels, elevating and stabilising your mood.
Besides the benefits we’ve mentioned, exercise also confers the following benefits for your mind and body:
|Other benefits of exercise|
|Better memory and thinking||Endorphins from exercise improves your concentration and makes you mentally sharp. Additionally, exercise helps stimulate the growth of more brain cells.|
|Higher energy level||Increasing your heart rate regularly over the week can help you feel more energised in general.|
|Better self-esteem||Establishing a regular exercise habit can improve your sense of achievement and self-worth.|
2. Deep breathing
Breathing is a powerful tool to help relieve stress, and when done properly, can become something to incorporate into your life with ease. Anxiety and stress can sometimes make breathing difficult, resulting in short and shallow breaths that drain you of energy. Replace that with deep breathing instead.
Learning to take deep breaths that go all the way to your belly is easy. To do so, you should first get comfortable. Try lying down with a pillow underneath your head and knees, or sit down in a chair with your shoulders, neck and head supported against its back.
- To begin, breathe in slowly through your nose.
- Fill your belly with air and feel it expand.
- Exhale through your nose.
Imagine the air you inhale brimming with a sense of calmness. As you exhale, imagine the air leaving you as being filled with all the stress and tension that was in your body.
After your first breath, you can place one palm on your belly and the other on your chest. Feel your belly rise and lower as you inhale and exhale.
3. Eat well
Work-related stress could lead to you skipping meals, weakening your immune system further and draining your body of energy.
Having a balanced diet and eating regularly is an effective remedy for stress, working to counterbalance the impact of stress. A proper diet can strengthen the immune system, reduce blood pressure and help stabilise your mood.
Some nutrients are particularly effective when it comes to reducing the effects of stress. When you’re doing your grocery shopping for the week, be sure to purchase some foods that are rich in Vitamin C such as oranges and other citrus fruits. Vitamin C can help reduce stress by lowering the amount of cortisol in your blood and reducing blood pressure in times of high-anxiety.
Complex carbohydrates, magnesium (found in leafy greens and soybeans) and omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna) can also reduce stress by inducing counterbalancing chemicals like serotonin in the brain.
And if you need comfort food to tide you through a stressful period, indulge in some velvety dark chocolate. Dark chocolate can help reduce stress on a molecular level, with cocoa also working to improve mood and cognitive function.
4. Avoid nicotine and alcohol
Alcohol, nicotine and other dependency-building substances may easily become things that your body relies on to release stress. This could result in your body being unable to release stress until it receives such substances.
Alcohol and nicotine can also cause chemical changes in the brain and cause oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the human body.
Furthermore, alcohol releases added amounts of cortisol, altering the way your brain perceives stress and how it responds to it. Cortisol also happens to promote habit-based learning, increasing your risk of becoming a habitual drinker to cope with stress.
Besides keeping your stress levels low, avoiding nicotine and alcohol can also help prevent a handful of other potential health problems, from lung and throat cancer to infertility.
While substances like alcohol may feel like an easy escape mechanism, remember that it keeps your problems around in the long run. It’s still best to tackle your stress head-on to gain full control of your mind and body.
5. Get more sleep
Sleep is when our bodies recover and recuperate from the stressful events of our day-to-day lives. A good night’s sleep leaves your body spry and creates an active mind, leaving you better-equipped to conquer your day when it comes.
But getting sufficient and quality sleep might not be that easy. Stress can make you tense and anxious, causing cyclical sleep problems which result in behavioural, physical and emotional changes. You can work towards better sleep by identifying your stressors and ensuring that you are relatively distanced from them when it’s close to your bedtime.
Adults should do their best to get between seven to nine hours of sleep daily, as well as apply good sleep hygiene to get some good shut-eye.
Examples of good sleep hygiene include the following practices:
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol four to six hours before bedtime
- Establish a consistent sleep schedule: go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
- Keep your room quiet, dark, and at a comfortable and cool temperature
6. Talk to someone
When your mind is muddled with stress, talking to someone and airing your worries may be just what you need. Having a listening ear and external opinion can help provide perspective and keep stress-induced thoughts and anxiety under control.
This could also help you identify and change thought patterns that contribute to producing stress. One such thought pattern might be the overgeneralisation of circumstances. For instance, you may feel like a failure whenever you fail to perform a task correctly, making you feel stressed.
Apart from speaking to friends and family, you could also speak to a healthcare professional who could also help identify what’s causing your stress and how to deal with it.
On MyDoc’s digital healthcare platform, you can seek the advice of a qualified professional any time of the day, from wherever you are. You’ll never have to feel stressed about finding the time to drag yourself to a doctor’s office.
7. Spend time with friends and family
Even if you don’t feel like talking about what’s causing you stress, spending time with friends and family can help take the edge off. Friends and family might be the people closest to you, and so they may also be the ones who you need to put the least effort into interacting with.
This may even help create a rehabilitative environment for you, distracting you from what’s causing you to stress and giving your mind a break. Support from friends and family can also undoubtedly go a long way in getting you through the toughest of times.
8. Have a good laugh
If adulthood has resulted in less laughter for you, it’s time to take your joy back! Put yourself in situations and opportunities that can trigger laughter, whether it means buying a ticket for a night at the local comedy bar, or watching some of your favourite comedy skits on Youtube.
Hearty laughter can help relieve body tension and stress, leaving your body relaxed for up to 45 minutes. Laughing on a daily basis can help reduce the presence of cortisol, lowering your stress levels and increasing your immunity as a side effect.
Laughter can also trigger endorphins, the same “feel-good” chemicals that your body releases when you exercise. Endorphins can help create an overall feeling of well-being, even going as far as to relieve physical pain.
9. Practice good time management
Perhaps you’re stressed because you feel like you always have an overwhelming amount of tasks to deal with, whether at home or at work.
Could it be time to go back to the drawing board and reassess how you’re managing your time? You may not notice it, but it could be poor time management that’s leading to you feeling so overwhelmed.
Proper time management and properly sorting your tasks out could help you get a better hold on what needs to be done, giving you more time for rest, relaxation and the other fun things that you deserve to help take the edge off.
Here are some time management tips that you can start applying in your daily life:
- Prioritise tasks based on importance and urgency
- Set a time limit for tasks
- Use a to-do list
- Learn to delegate tasks
- Don’t multitask
10. Learn to say “no”
Stress is often caused by a variety of external factors and the expectations of many people around you. If you have too much to do, reducing your stress may lie in one magic word: “no”.
Learning to say “no” can help you prioritise your own well-being, while managing the expectations of people around you. Whether you’ve over-committed to a slew of tasks, or you feel like a slave to the expectations of your family members, saying “no” can help establish healthier communication channels for you in the future.
While saying “no” may seem like a daunting task in the beginning, the long-term effects of practicing saying “no” will almost definitely be worth the initial apprehension.
11. Make time for fun
Stress often makes people neglect themselves. A great way to combat stress is to make time for yourself and the things that you enjoy.
Reconnecting with yourself can help calm your nerves and soothe your mind. Furthermore, this will allow you to come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to do things that you enjoy, even with a full plate.
So turn on your favourite Marvel movie or spend a day out with your family and friends. It’s okay to have fun, and it’s okay to relax.
12. Listen to relaxing music
There’s a lot of science behind music and its power to influence the human mind and emotional palate.
Music, especially slow classical music, can help you release stress by reducing your heart rate, blood pressure and the number of stress hormones in your body.
If you’re not quite sure how to incorporate music into your busy life, you can start playing music during your commute or turning the radio on when you’re in the shower.
Music is in fact a clinical form of therapy for stress and mental illnesses like depression and bipolar disorder.
13. Use essential oils or scented candles
The refreshing scent of essential oils and scented candles can have a relaxing effect on your mind, stimulating the smell receptors in your nose and sending positive signals to your brain!
Functioning as forms of aromatherapy, certain scents and essential oils may have compounds that help release stress and calm nerves.
One such example is lavender oil, which can help target the limbic system, the part of your brain that controls emotions.
Now that you know these handy tips on how to release stress, it’s time to start practicing them in your daily life! However, if you still can’t seem to get a handle on your stress levels, getting some mental health advice could help.
Stress management doesn’t have to be difficult. MyDoc is always here to help.