Stress is a biological response that primes your body for a challenge. It can motivate you to get a job done quickly, push you to perform better and help you to react faster. But stress also has some unpleasant physical side-effects, including headaches, poor sleep, shallow breathing, tummy upsets and irritability.
If you are living with sustained, ongoing stress, those symptoms can actually impact on your mental health, contributing to feelings of anxiety, depression, fatigue and ill-health. Addressing the symptoms is a key step to reducing stress levels and returning your body and mind back to good health. Here’s how to get started.
Headaches and stress
One of the ways your body reacts to stress is to tighten or tense your muscles, leading to tension headaches. If you feel that you’re beginning to clench your muscles, make an effort to relax them. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tightening groups of muscles for around 20 seconds each, then letting them relax. Start with the muscles of your forehead, and make your way slowly down to your feet. The whole process should take about 15 to 20 minutes. If the headache has already taken hold, use an ibuprofen-based product like Nurofen Zavance, which can give fast and effective temporary relief of pain associated with tension headaches.
Breathing and stress
Quick, shallow breathing is typical of the stress response. Taking control of your breathing and actively slowing it down can reduce stress levels. Try this: Sit or lie down and close your eyes. The aim is to breathe in and out through your stomach, not your chest. To check this, place one hand on your chest, and the other on your belly. As you breathe in for four counts through your nose, imagine you are inflating your stomach like a balloon. As you breathe out for six counts, imagine you are slowly deflating the balloon. Keep breathing in and out for five or ten minutes before you return to your regular activity.
Movement and stress
Harvard Medical School reports that the brain chemicals released during exercise actually reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body. Exercise also releases endorphins, the “feel-good” body chemicals known to reduce pain and lift mood. And exercise can have emotional benefits as well, since better weight management, increased strength and improved stamina can all give a boost to self-esteem. Regular exercise is ideal, but even a 20-minute stroll can help bring stress under control.
Sleep and stress
Stress can impact on sleep, and lack of sleep can compound your stress by making you tired, irritable and forgetful, perhaps even lowering your pain threshold. Think positive and set yourself a regular sleep routine. The sleep rhythms of the body respond well to consistent sleep times, so go to bed at the same time each night and set the alarm for the morning – even on weekends. Don’t do anything mentally or physically stimulating in the hour or two before bedtime. Cut back on alcohol and caffeine, both of which can disrupt sleep, and think about having a very light snack of carbohydrates and dairy just before you go to bed to help you settle; cheese and crackers or a small bowl of cereal will do the job.
Happiness and stress
When you’re feeling tired and miserable, it’s easy to withdraw from the people and pastimes that could make you happy. But being sociable, focusing on pleasurable activities and generally taking a break can all help to relieve stress. Spend some time with the people you love, doing what makes you happy.