Do you have a hard time switching off? Do you often feel anxious or overwhelmed, sometimes without even knowing why? Living in today’s fast-paced society, the chances of you needing some tips to manage stress are pretty high.

Even as a yoga teacher, having all the ‘tools’ and knowing all the ‘tricks’, I struggle to switch off. Big time. Last week, following a very relaxing and offline holiday, I noticed my body – and thus my mind – reacting instantly to being back online. And with online, I mean social media.

The conversations, obtrusive ads, big opinions, and general ‘news’ designed to make you question your life choices was mildly irritating, and that’s an understatement!

Is your phone causing you stress?

Unfortunately for us, Facebook and Instagram are designed to ‘keep us hooked’ in order for us to always ‘want more’. The result is that we keep scrolling and scrolling, and we get lost in the labyrinth that is the social media vortex. Many of us are so addicted to the stimulation that we reach for our phone first thing in the morning, whilst we’re at work, when we watch a Netflix show, and even during a yoga class (I’ve witnessed it firsthand..). Your phone might also be the last thing you look at before you go to bed.

WHY WE FEEL STRESSED (A LOT!)

Besides a plethora of social media content, we also have to deal with instant messages, emails, deadlines and demanding bosses. We run the household, pick up the kids, feed the cats, walk the dogs, we try to be the perfect friend or mother or daughter, feed the family, stride the supermarket and cruise through our career like a Devil who wears Prada. 

And on top of all of that, we somehow have to make time for ourselves. We have to prioritise our wellbeing, do yoga, meditate, and reach those 10.000 steps a day. Tight muscles need to be stretched, and weak ones have to be strengthened. We have to ‘find ourselves outside’ and choose a hobby that keeps us from not thinking about work.

Hmmm… Seems like a lot of stuff to fit in a normal day/week.

It’s no wonder that we struggle to slow down. We have lost the ability to simply be. And instead, we are always switched on. Ready to go. Go. Go. Ready to do the next best thing.

IS BEING TIRED THE NEW NORMAL?

In this modern-day world that we’ve worked so hard on to create, feeling tired is the new normal. The rat race that absorbs us all can leave us physically and emotionally drained.

It should come as no surprise that the majority of humans more often than not feel:

  • stressed
  • agitated
  • exhausted
  • overwhelmed
  • anxious
  • angry
  • and, like their brain is battling a continuous ‘fog’ 
stress management techniques
Want To Stay In Bed Today..

Society asks us to always strive:

  • to be better
  • to do better
  • to reach new goals
  • to be the best version of ourselves, physically, mentally, emotionally.

I’ve seen huge billboards next to high schools showcasing this year’s best performers’ to the public! What message are we sending the children who didn’t make the cut? 

And what message are we giving to the high performers?

  • Not feeling good enough
  • Fear of failure

That’s what.

What if, instead of trying to be or do better, we simply try the best we can on any given day. And what if, rather than setting goals, we see life as an ongoing project for which we set intentions that are more flexible, and allow us to go with the flow. It’s good to have dreams, but it’s better to be happy whilst working towards them, rather than always wanting more, or needing to do better.

UNDERSTAND HOW YOUR BODY RESPONDS TO STRESS

The danger of being always switched on, and always ‘doing the work’ to achieve a new goal, is that our nervous system never gets a rest. And if the nervous system doesn’t get to chill out, neither does our body and mind.

When we’re constantly in doing mode, the hypothalamus – a super smart part of the brain designed to keep our body systems well-balanced (in homeostasis) – sends out stress hormones to tell the body we are ‘in danger’. 

These hormones cause a racing heart, a quicker breath and muscles that are fired up and ready for action, to protect us from above-mentioned danger. As a result, we end up in a Fight or Flight state – aka a stressed state – without there being any real danger (other than the danger of working towards a burn out).

When humans lived in the hunter-gatherer culture, the Fight or Flight response was very useful to fight a predator or run from them. In those days, the nervous system activated the stress response to be able to literally Fight or Flight. Then, when whatever danger presented itself was over, the nervous system sent signals to tell us we were safe, and the body returned back to balance (homeostasis)..

fight and flight response
Our Fight or Flight Response Is Only Human

These days, it’s hard for humans to return to homeostasis, because – you guessed it – we are always switched on. In other words, we are constantly stressed and anxious, even though we may not ‘feel’ like it. It’s almost as if we are growing accustomed to feeling stressed.

THE EFFECTS OF CHRONIC STRESS ON YOUR BODY

Long-term stress increases the level of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that’s responsible for our immune system, metabolism, and a bunch of other vital body systems. There are a myriad of dangers that come with higher levels of cortisol, especially when we are unable to return to balance (homeostasis). 

High levels of cortisol – in other words, high levels of stress hormones – comes with numerous risk factors. When our body is unable to return to balance, to reach its healthy homeostasis, plenty of nasty things happen.

A body that’s out of balance makes us more prone to, or downright causes: 

  • high blood pressure
  • increased blood cholesterol
  • quicker breath and heart rate
  • inflammation that in turn causes dis-ease
  • tense muscles
  • higher blood sugar
  • lack of sex drive
  • lack of focus
  • feelings of restlessness
  • anger or irritability
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • stomach problems
  • sadness or depression
  • loss of motivation to work/exercise/be social

Whereas some of these symptoms are simply annoying, many are common risk factors for heart conditions. Long term stress can even increase the buildup of plaque deposits in the arteries, making us even more vulnerable to heart disease.

STRESS MANAGEMENT 101: HOW TO HANDLE STRESS BETTER

Whether it’s managing our daily life ‘stressors’, or coping with huge and life-changing events, we have to work on handling pressure in a healthier and more wholesome way. But most importantly, we have to recognise when we feel stressed, and become aware of what causes it.

Unfortunately, in today’s frantic world there are not always easy solutions or quick fixes. We have to learn how to deal better with all the input and stimulants we receive on a daily basis, and keep our body in balance.

How?

Well, it’s definitely not all doom and gloom. Far from it, in fact. As much as there are a myriad of dangers that come with long-term stress, there are also a myriad of things you can do to prevent it, and deal with stress in a healthier way.

But before I give you my ultimate 10 tips to manage it all, I’d like to give you my personal favourite stress-hack first.

One thing I did, that proved very helpful in feeling less overwhelmed, was deleting my Facebook and Instagram app. I’m blissfully unaware what’s happening on the ‘Book of Face’ and ‘the Gram’ – and I’m more than ok with that. How do I stay up to date with the latest news from my favourite brands, I hear you ask? By signing up to their newsletter and receiving everything useful straight to my inbox.

Create Space For Your Mind Through Yoga, Meditation, Nature Walks

Taking a digital detox has freed up so much time for me, and I feel less frantic without the unnecessary – and constant – digital input. Instead of reaching for my phone, I choose to do something that actually serves my wellbeing for the better, such as:

  • meditation
  • walks outside
  • a movement practice
  • cooking healthy food
  • reading
  • writing

So if there’s only one thing to take away from these stress management tips, it’s to start building a healthier relationship with social media and free up precious time.

TEN MORE TIPS TO MANAGE STRESS

Besides managing our social media intake, here are ten more guidelines that help us deal better with the pressures of day to day life.

1. Eating Healthy

Eating a well-balanced diet supports our immune system and improves our energy levels. A study by Harvard University suggests that certain foods, such as vegetables and Omega-3 fats found in fish and flax seeds, help regulate cortisol levels. As we learned previously, our cortisol levels are responsible for a well-functioning metabolic and immune system. Therefore, by eating wholesome foods instead of fast foods we are better prepared to deal with stress.

Healthy food for stress-relief

2. Regular Exercise

A daily exercise routine helps to reduce stress, and boosts our general health & wellbeing. Apart from the fact that exercising lowers our blood pressure, physical activity also releases a bunch of ‘feel-good’ endorphins in the brain. These endorphins send a chemical message to the nervous system, causing an influx of ‘happy hormones’ that have an uplifting effect on our mood.

Whether it’s walking, dancing or yoga, exercising helps to send more oxygen to our cells, promoting tension relief for the muscles. And, since our heart is the most important muscle of all, getting rid of any muscular strain in the body is therefore extremely important.

3. Meditation and breath work

Meditating and focusing on the breath is a really powerful tool to still a busy mind.

Especially meditation can feel daunting to some people. ‘I am not able to sit still’, or ‘I don’t have time for meditation’, are things I often hear from my students. The beauty of meditation is that it actually frees up more time in our schedule. As the brain (and body!) has a chance to fully relax, any brain fog slowly dissipates, allowing us to become:

  • more productive 
  • more creative
  • happier and healthier

On top of that, deep and slow breathing nourishes our body on a cellular level, decreasing the level of stress hormones. Having a short breath puts us in the Fight or Flight response. It’s therefore hugely important to know how to breathe correctly.

4. Practice relaxation techniques

Besides practicing meditation to calm your mind, other stress-busting things you can do are:

  • practicing yoga: whether it’s a group class, a retreat or a YouTube session at home, practicing yoga has a tremendous amount of benefits for both body and mind. Never done yoga before? I recommend talking to a local yoga teacher – and a physician – first. It might also be wise to seek a beginners class at a local yoga studio, or book a private yoga class with a certified instructor.
  • practicing yoga nidra: yoga nidra is a deeply relaxing guided meditation that involves a body scan and visualisation techniques. It is said that 20 minutes of yoga nidra equals 8 hours of deep sleep. Sounds perfect! Curious? I have previously written about the benefits of yoga nidra and recorded a guided meditation.
  • booking a massage: yes, this comes with a small price tag – but, treating tense muscles to a soothing relaxation massage is guaranteed to melt any stress away. Try Fresha to find and book local beauty and wellness services.
  • art therapy: whether it’s mindful colouring or a guided art therapy course, studies have shown that drawing and painting can reduce cortisol levels in the body, as it helps the person to focus on something other than themselves.
  • cuddling a pet: a very popular form of stress therapy, and for good reason. Pets offer great companionship, and studies show that having a pet (and cuddling them!) can lower stress levels and reduce anxiety.
pets for stress relief
Cat & pet cuddles can help manage stress levels

5. Learn to say no

It’s sometimes hard to say no to a birthday invitation or work party, yet saying no should not make us feel guilty. Prioritising me-time and mental health are way more important than potentially upsetting a friend or colleague. In the end, if they are true friends or awesome colleagues, they will understand.

6. Improve the quality of your sleep

Easier said than done. I know. In short:

  • no digital devices after 7pm
  • limit the amount of caffeine intake, no coffee after 3pm
  • exercise!
  • meditate
  • eat a light meal at night
  • get some rays during the day to boost melatonin production, the sleep hormone
  • create a sleep routine and try to go to bed around the same time every night, and wake up around the same time each morning

7. Plan a girlfriend getaway or night out

Yes, this also comes with a price tag. But, fostering friendships and enjoying quality time with friends is so important for our mental health. If budget doesn’t allow, it can be as simple as watching a funny movie together, or cooking a delicious dinner at home.

Another relaxing activity that takes the focus off any worries is to book a day spa together. Or, dress up and try a new restaurant in town, and go to the theatre after. If money, work and family life allows – why not plan a little trip together, or book a yoga & wine retreat.

The important thing to remember is to nurture friendships, and to talk about any feelings of overwhelm or stress with a good friend.

book a relaxing yoga retreat with a friend
Connect and relax in real life!

8. Write stress away

Keeping a journal is not for everyone, but it can be very helpful to relief stress. Putting thoughts and emotions on paper, and writing about future plans or past worries can be cathartic. Especially when writing about stressful events that have already happened, journaling is a great tool to let go of the past and free up space in the mind.

journaling for stress relief
Writing down your thoughts can be very cathartic

9. Organise, prioritise and declutter

Organise any work-related or household projects and tasks in order of urgency, and remove any tasks that are unnecessary. Prioritise what’s important, and slowly tick off items on the to-do list. In can also help to add tasks to a digital calendar on due dates, rather than having all of them written down on a piece of paper. It can be overwhelming seeing a list of 10+ items written down, whereas 10 tasks on a digital calendar are ‘invisible’ and will only come up on the ‘do-day’ itself.

Be like Marie Kondo and declutter wardrobes, kitchen cupboards, as well as office desks and home studies. A tidy home and office equals a tidy and orderly mind.

10. GET MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT

If you need more support than the above-mentioned stress management strategies, please seek professional counselling or contact Beyond Blue, a free mental health support service that can help you find the right person to talk to.


About the author: Sab is the founder of Retreat Here and Sabijn Linssen Yoga. She plans and facilitates our Yoga Retreats and helps to connect likeminded women in real life. As a fully certified Yoga & Pilates Teacher she also offers private and corporate classes in Melbourne.

founder Retreat Here and author


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