Reduce stress during Stress Awareness Week

Four ways to reduce stress and anxiety

Millions around the UK experience stress and it is damaging to our health and wellbeing. For example, at some point in the last year, 74% of us have felt so stressed that we have felt unable to cope (Mental Health Foundation). Read on to discover our stress management tips.

What is stress?

Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. When you are stressed, your body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

Stress is your body’s reaction to help you deal with pressure or threats. This is sometimes called a "fight or flight" response. Your stress hormone levels usually return to normal once the pressure or threat has passed.

Is stress bad for you?

A small amount of stress can be useful. It can motivate you to take action and get tasks completed. It can also make you feel alive and excited. But too much stress can cause negative effects such as a change in your mood, your body and relationship issues.

These can include feelings of constant worry, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, irritability, depression, change in eating habits, muscle tension, diarrhoea and constipation and feelings of nausea or dizziness.

If you’re stressed due to work, your environment, an issue in your personal life or something else, the first step you can take to feeling better is to identify the cause of your concern. If you can understand the root of your worries, making a change to address the situation can be quick and easy.

But, for most of us, it can take time to reduce stress and anxiety - especially if you need to make impactful changes to your life.

Follow our four steps to reduce and manage stress

One: Do some exercise

Being active is not only good for health and fitness, but evidence shows it can improve mental wellbeing by:

  • Causing a release of chemicals in the brain, which can positively change your mood
  • Clearing negative thoughts and letting you deal with problems more calmly
  • Helping you to set goals and targets
  • Giving you an achievable goal; low to moderate intensity exercise can work as well as high intensity to reduce stress and anxiety

Two: Avoid unhealthy habits

Alcohol, smoking, caffeine, fast food and sweet treats (when consumed above the recommended levels) are poor coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety.

  • Government guidelines recommend no more than 14 units of alcohol a week for men and women. This is equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine. Lowering or removing alcohol entirely from your diet can directly reduce your stress and anxiety
  • Cut down or stop smoking if you do
  • It’s recommended that you reduce your caffeine intake if you’re stressed or anxious. Try de-caffeinated drinks, or abstain from caffeine after midday, to help improve relaxation closer to bedtime

Three: Take time out

  • Take time to relax
  • Explore relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, yoga or breathing exercises
  • Tell yourself that it’s okay to prioritise self-care. Take a break from stressful situations where and when you can
  • Take regular breaks from work
  • Eat lunch away from your desk while at work

Four: Get some restful sleep

  • Improve your sleeping environment by removing distractions, such as the TV and electronic gadgets with continuous light, from the bedroom
  • Switch off electronic screens at least an hour before going to sleep; the earlier the better
  • Adjust your sleeping environment if it’s too hot or cold, or if there’s too much light or noise – eye masks and ear plugs can help
  • Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine and sugary snacks close to bedtime

How to avoid stress at work

Wellbeing at work is crucial to your overall mental health. If you’re struggling at work for any reason, you shouldn’t suffer in silence. Many companies provide training for managers, HR teams and employees on how to access support if you’re stressed. We understand that it’s not always easy to talk about how you feel, so if you’re unable to approach your line manager other options should be available, such as a wellbeing or welfare officer or an Employee assistance programme (EAP). Find out more about the health and wellbeing support we offer our staff by visiting our website.

Final word

If you’re finding things hard right now it is ok to ask for help. Seeking help for a mental health problem for guidance or talking to your doctor about options for support and treatment is a positive step towards feeling better. Remember It’s ok not to be ok sometimes.

For further support, the Mental Health Foundation has created an article around How to reduce and manage stress, or you can read our own top tips on how to relax and recover.

Published on 01 June 2022