By Elisa Cottarelli | Team MM
Sometimes the most stress-inducing advice is the simple phrase, ‘don’t stress!’
The negative effects of stress are well documented: it causes a release of cortisol which creates a ‘fight or flight’ reaction in the body – either agitating us out of our minds, or completely shutting us down. We know stress can be harmful, especially for the menopause and our symptoms, but sometimes there is little we can do to squash those stressful thoughts. Destressing doesn’t have to be difficult, but if you’re not too used to it, it could take some practice. So, here are our top ten ways to destress:
- Switching Off
Taking a moment at night to turn off your screens (phones, laptops, tablets, TVs, and everything else) allows you a little time to relax before bed. Now, if you’re one of those people that gets overwhelmed with negative thoughts the moment you have a chance to think (or overthink), then you might think turning off your screens would only cause more harm. However, it’s important to learn to be alone with your thoughts without them taking over and making you feel worse, and this take practice! You don’t need to lay motionless in bed just because you’ve turned your screens off. Read a book, write in a journal, reorganise your closet; anything really that gives you a bit of ‘me time’. The aim is to create a pocket of ‘me time’ right before bed that is free from the extra stimulation found on screens.
- Eat! (Moderately)
No, we’re not suggesting you stress-eat through a box of biscuits. However, studies have shown that the gut can be a major mediator of stress – if you choose the right foods. When the body feels hungry, it can cause more stress. Eating healthy snacks can actually reduce stress. Choose foods like avocados, nuts or hard-boiled eggs which are healthy options that will fill you up, or foods like potatoes and bananas that are high in potassium which helps protect you against the negative effects of stress!
- Listen to relaxing music
Music has a way of completely changing our moods…it’s not magic, it’s science! For example, studies on airline music (that is, music you hear as you wait for a flight, board a flight, watch the welcoming videos etc) have clearly shown the effects of musical stimulation on the brain. In one example, a Pittsburgh airport decided to play Brian Eno’s album ‘Music for Airports’, described as an ‘eerily ambiguous’ work of art, over the loudspeaker and were forced to turn the music off after many passengers complained that the music was making them nervous and anxious to fly! Playing relaxing and soothing music can help you to destress. If you’re not sure where to start, science shows that ‘Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed-instruments, drums, and flutes are very effective at relaxing the mind even when played moderately loud’. Take a look here for some more options.
Destressing isn’t just about relaxing the mind, it’s also about relaxing the body. If you’ve ever had a massage, your therapist may have noticed ‘knots’ in your muscles, which can be a result of high stress. Stress creates tension in your body and muscles, and a little bit of stretching everyday can help relieve some of that tension, and ultimately relieving some of your stress.
- Go for a walk!
A simple 10-20 minute stroll outdoors can do wonders for your stress, for so many reasons! Firstly, spending time outdoors (particularly in green spaces) has been shown to increase your attention, energy, memory, and coping skills. It also boosts endorphin levels (the ‘happy’ hormone) and reduces fatigue. This will leave you feeling more positive and at peace.
- Fill your home with plants
If you don’t live near a park or you’re struggling to find time to visit one, bring the park to you! Not only do plants purify the air in your home, they’re easy little tools to help destress. Studies have shown that people who enter a room with plants in it are shown to have higher drops in blood pressure compared to those who entered a room without plants. They also feel more relaxed. In any case, it’s a good excuse for some home decorating!
Meditating isn’t easy, but it can do wonders for your mind, body, and spirit. If other destressing tactics haven’t worked, you might need to take it to the next step and try meditating. Meditation is just like any impressive skill: it takes practice! It’s easy to say things like, “It’s just not something I can do!” but so many people practicing meditation now had those same thoughts when they first started out. It takes a bit of time for it to take effect, but fortunately, there are many guides and classes that can help you on your journey.
- Create a daily timetable
It’s easy for life to get out of hand and for stress to build and build without you really noticing. When you have a super hectic life, your stress levels can easily get out of hand. Time management can help put all your tasks in order and give you back control over everything you have to do. You’ll likely find that you have more time in your day than you expected!
- Forgive and forget
If stress is becoming a chronic part of your life, it’s important to be aware of the sources of stress in your life. It can be easier to manage those little stress triggers in life (like a busy work week or traffic on your commute home) – but sometimes, we can have troubling, long-lasting thoughts that prevent us from really ever feeling relaxed. Holding onto negative feelings, to grudges, to anger, and constantly replaying troubling interactions can actually impair your body’s calming system, according to Charlotte van Oyen Witvliet, a psychologist at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Genuinely forgiving those who have done you wrong (including yourself) can be the first step to letting go of emotions and feelings that are stopping you from living a stress-free life.
- Say ‘I should’ a little bit less
Likewise, chronic stress can be caused by constantly forcing yourself to do things you really don’t want to simply because you should. Now, the advice here isn’t to become less responsible with your work and not submit that report you said you’d complete for example. We all have responsibilities and it’s important to attend to those. It’s simply a matter of prioritising your tasks and accepting that there might be a few things you can’t do, and that’s okay. For example, you may have told an old friend that you would join her for breakfast on Saturday morning. But now it’s late Friday evening and you’ve just got home from a very difficult and very exhausting week at work. You battle it out in your mind and eventually convince yourself to go because ‘you said you’d go, so you should’! At moments like this, it’s important to remember that sometimes you have to put yourself and your wellbeing first. If it’s not going to harm you or others later down the line, then you don’t need to do everything you said you’d do, simply because you said you’d do it. If something (an event, a task, etc) is causing you more stress than necessary, then really think about whether you actually have to do it. If your friend is truly your friend, they will understand why.
Overall, there isn’t a right or wrong way to destress, but it’s very important to listen to yourself and recognise when too much is too much. Figuring out the right way to destress shouldn’t be stressful (no irony intended). As we’ve shown, there are plenty of simple, little methods to add to your everyday life that can help you to manage a stressful day or moment. Of course, if stress is becoming a constant problem, it’s important to take the right steps to handle it. Stress, whether it’s a minor or major problem, is nothing you can’t take care of!