A 5 Step Plan to Reduce Stress and Overwhelm

Ah, stress.  That great evolutionary tool which has aided Man for millennia.  BUT... when we aren't facing potential fights to the death with giant beasts, or a constant struggle to survive, stress has a nasty habit of, well, not being so great.  And for many of us, stress fast becomes a fact of daily life, a constant battle that saps away at our wellbeing, our mental health, our happiness, and even our relationships.

Stress is often described as a 'silent killer', contributing to, amongst others, high blood pressure and heart disease.  The negative effect of stress on the immune system is also well documented.  If you are constantly feeling stressed, aren't coping well with life, are feeling overwhelmed or regularly losing your temper, it's time to start tackling the stress in your life. As well as identifying the causes of stress and doing what you can to avoid or change them, there are actions you can build into your daily life that will help combat the effects of stress.

1. Just Say No!

The world really will keep on turning without you. Take some time out and concentrate on yourself for a while. Cancel or postpone as many plans, work commitments and events as you can and take some time to think about what you really want to spend your time doing. If it means restructuring your social life, calendar or daily schedule, do it. If that seems daunting, do it a bit at a time, taking baby steps to a better life and better use of your mental and physical resources and time.

If you find it difficult to say no, start with small things and build up to the bigger ones. You don't need to bake a showstopper for the school fair, plan the perfect birthday party, organise the football team and everything else on top of your own work and personal commitments. Hand the reins over to someone else, buy the cake, or hire someone else to do the things you don't need to do. Concentrate on what matters to you, which brings us on to...

2. Manage Your Time Better

What is the best use of your time? Is it worth spending five hours cleaning the house if you never spend any time having fun with your kids? No-one else can be mum/dad, but someone else can clean your home. If you can afford it, outsource the tasks that you don't need to do. Put systems in place that will make life easier, such as these 10 ways to free up time and organisation tips for busy families.

Look at your to do list and consider what really matters. If it doesn't really need to be done, cross it off; if it can be done later, postpone it; if someone else can do it, ask them or hire them. If it really does need to be done, and by you, but you've been putting it off, set a kitchen timer for 10 minutes and crack on. if work takes over everything else, read our guide on how to achieve a better work life balance.

Make sure your to do list contains only the things that really do need to be done, by you, and set them in priority order, but...

3. Make Time for What You Love

Spend time doing something you love every day. When stress and anger overwhelm us, it's all too easy to let go of the things we enjoy. It almost seems selfish to spend time doing something we love when there is so much else to do, but treating yourself well is more important than ever when stressed.

Self-care is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, but don't let that put you off. Taking care of you doesn't have to mean spending extortionate amounts at the spa or going on retreat, just make time for what you love each day. Take a walk, have a bath, go for a run, take a class, read, do crafts, sew or knit, join a yoga group, whatever works for you. Make a list of things you love to do and find small pockets of time each day to do a few of them.

Not sure where to start? Try our 55 simple ways to feel happier every day or how to fit relaxation and me time into your day.

4. Get Out More!

Literally. Get out the door for 10 minute (or longer) walks as often as you can during the day. A few breaths (practice yogic breathing or look up how to breathe well online) and your mood will lift and the metaphorical clouds will start to clear. Exercise outdoors if you can. Stretch throughout the day, and get into the habit of taking a few deep, energising breaths every hour, preferably in the garden.

Aim to spend time in nature every day, but 3-4 times a week is a great start. The weather doesn't matter, just dress appropriately. And you know what muddy puddles are for, don't you! (If the puddle jumping induces a fit of the giggles all the better, laughter boosts the immune system and lowers stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.)  At the same time, avoid airless, stuffy interiors and busy places such as bars and shopping malls, which will sap your energy.

5. Be Healthy

Breathe better, walk more, spend time in nature, stretch, exercise. Drinking enough water (2 litres) and eating well is vital too. Up your intake of raw or lightly cooked fruit and vegetables to maximise your intake of vitamins and minerals, aiming for 8-10 portions a day at least.  A wholegrain, plant-rich diet based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet is best for health and mood.  If cost is a concern, read our guide to how to eat healthily on a limited budget.

Avoid caffeine, processed foods, sugar and alcohol to keep your blood sugar stable. The stress will be impacting it enough and your body doesn't need any additional strain. Eat regularly and snack on healthy foods, such as fruit and veg or protein-rich foods like hummus, nuts and seeds or peanut butter. Eating smaller amounts more often is preferable for keeping blood sugar regular and avoiding mood swings and dips.

It won't be immediate, and there will still be sources of stress, but by adopting these stress-busting actions, you will be on the way to conquering it and achieving a calmer, happier and healthier life. Take care of you!

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