Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.
1. Identify the cause
If you are having problems with tense muscles, overtiredness, headaches or migraines, it is quite possibly stress-related. Is it your job, relationship, living situation or something else? Problems can be divided into three categories: those with a practical solution, those that will get better with time and those outside your control. Learn to focus on the first kind; ignore the others.
2. Move your body
Exercise won’t cure your stress, but it can help to clear your head and make you feel as if you’re gaining some control. Try something new: yoga may be calming, but there’s nothing more thrilling than pummelling a punchbag. Don’t exacerbate the stress by drinking, smoking and downing double espressos – these aren’t fixes, they’re crutches that will only make you feel physically and mentally worse.
3. Talk it through
If you are the kind of person who is open to advice, find a friend to have a moan with. Friends can work as a support group, sounding board and – if there is some obvious solution you haven’t considered yet – they may provide you with solutions. Sometimes, you can’t see the easy way out of a situation when you are standing right in the middle of it.
4. Ditch the phone
This doesn’t mean put it on “do not disturb” and look at it less: everyone knows that is not a proper solution. Put it in a drawer an hour before bed and ignore it – have a bath, watch a film or read a book. You won’t check your work emails and you will stop scrolling through the seemingly endless achievements of your peers that will make you panic and feel as if you are getting nowhere. Breathe.
5. Clear your head
You can be as sceptical as you like, but research has produced compelling evidence that meditation can help alleviate stress after just eight weeks. Meditation reprogrammes the brain so that you have more capacity to manage stress as it arises, before it starts accumulating and burying you. There are lots of apps: Headspace, for example, is designed for people who are just starting out.
6. Make a list
Having too much to do may cause you to flail around because, if you are moving faster, it feels as if you are getting more done – but this is a false impression. Make a to-do list. Do the big, important things last, after you have achieved several of the small things. That way, you will approach the big things already feeling good.
7. Eat healthily and drink water
There is some evidence to suggest that what you eat affects your mood and everyone knows the mood-boosting effects of pizza last only as long as the pizza. Junk food makes you lethargic and less able to deal with stress, so stick to high-fibre, carbohydrate-rich foods, fruits and vegetables, and try to avoid high fat, caffeine and sugar.