Top five tips for dealing with stress

26 April 2019

The term stress means different things to different people…and to their different doctors. However, most of us would probably agree that when we refer to stress in our lives, we are describing the way we react when faced with pressures which we struggle to control.

These pressures, often referred to as ‘stressors’, can arise from a huge variety of factors, including life events, illness, living conditions, work, home and family, study or from the daily demands placed on ourselves.

Sally Ross who is a General Practitioner at Spire Portsmouth explains, "even those events which we see as enjoyable can be stressful, such as holidays, moving home, starting a better job, pregnancy, parenthood and Christmas".

Recent advances in neuroimaging in this century have enabled us to understand much more about how the brain works in response to stressors, but also, how stress can be damaging to our physical health. Sally explains: "We now understand that stress responses can increase inflammatory processes and increase cardiovascular risk. Emotional stress can manifest as a physical illness, and sometimes this leads to unnecessary investigations being undertaken, which increases stress further if they provide no explanation for our ill health".

Stress is a psychological, emotional and physical response to specific situations and very difficult to define generally. It is a ‘bespoke’ condition, and sometimes takes a while to identify as the cause of a persons ill health precisely because we all differ in how we respond to life events.

This can be further delayed and complicated by our reluctance to accept stress as a medical condition. Many of us feel frightened by stress, and just don’t want to admit that we can’t cope. 

Sally thinks the key to managing your own stress is to: do things differently, find enjoyment and create new habits which make you feel better. 

Follow these five top tips for achieving this:

STOP right now and make some time in your diary, every day, to do something different which you'll enjoy. Start with 15 mins every day, build up to 60 mins if you can. Write a list of things you can do in these time slots which you enjoy. These may be activities you have enjoyed in the past but stopped finding time for. Sometimes they will be things you have always wanted to do - perhaps learning a new skill or hobby. Ask family or friends for help if you can't think of anything straight away. 

Include something outdoors in your list. Often called 'Ecotherapy', there is good medical evidence for spending time outdoors every day - we were evolved to do this! Consider walking, cycling or gardening, even sitting outside to listen to music, read a book or do a jigsaw, or just to do deep breathing (see below) outdoors - ensure you are not using a screen. 

Learn some slow breathing exercises. You can try '7-11' breathing, relaxation exercises, or Mindfulness. Try counting backwards from 100 to 0 and taking a deep breath in and out as you think of each number. (Time how long it takes you to do this so you can then allocate time every day to repeat it).

Plan something new, that has nothing to do with work, and is good for you! This could be a change in lifestyle (healthier diet - what will you eat? Reducing alcohol - how will you do this, what alternatives? Better sleep - what will you stop doing to get to bed earlier, or relax your mind before sleep?) or learning a new skill, or a project you have always wanted to achieve, or a challenge! 

Random acts of kindness. Research shows that helping others can be beneficial to our own mental health. It can reduce stress improve our emotional well being and even benefit our physical health. Remember to think kindly towards yourself also!

Sally Ross is a General Practitioner practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital. Our private GP service offers easy access to an expert opinion when you need it.

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