Letting go of stress: tips and advice

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Work, money issues, health and lack of sleep can all heighten stress

Kirstie Duhig shares simple techniques to help you learn how to reduce stress and anxiety

A good breakfast, even breathing and time spent outdoors - just a few ways we can shuck off the pressure of modern life.

Last year, a YouGov survey for the UK's Mental Health Foundation found that almost 75% of respondents had been so stressed in the past year that they'd felt 'overwhelmed and unable to cope'.

Why do we get so stressed?

Work, money issues, health, lack of sleep – stress can be triggered by all kinds of physical and mental changes around us. It's not just the big issues that can prompt our stress response either: a missed alarm, running late, skipping breakfast, rushing for the bus - add up all of these micro-stresses and some days we've reached our stress threshold before we've even got to work. In fact, many of us are so used to living with stress that we barely notice those little tension spikes that cause us to be short-tempered.

When we encounter stress, our nervous and endocrine systems take over as the body tries to protect itself by preparing us to fight or flee the perceived threat or danger. When this happens, it can be hard to make clear, rational decisions, stay positive or function effectively. If our automatic response is triggered regularly and we endure stress for ongoing periods, the resulting imbalances can have a negative impact on our health and wellbeing over the long term.

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How to reduce stress

While eradicating stress altogether is unlikely to be realistic, there are some simple ways to reduce our stress levels and improve our resilience.

Start the day off right

Being kind to yourself at the start of the day is one of the easiest: choose an alarm that doesn't wake you with a jolt; get up early enough that you aren't rushing through your morning routine; and eat a healthy breakfast – opt for low-sugar, unrefined options such as oats, wholemeal or sourdough toast, eggs and avocado.

Make time for regular exercise

Find something you enjoy and can fit into your day (try to avoid late evening). Exercise increases your brain's production of endorphins, chemical messengers that help to relieve stress and pain, as well as improving your mood.

Spend time outdoors

Being surrounded by nature and away from screens has been shown to reduce stress. Vitamin D from the sun can reduce depressive symptoms too.

Use your breath

In stressful situations we often take short, shallow breaths or even hold our breath. Instead, taking slow, deep and controlled breaths can help to switch off our fight or flight response. Try this '3-4-5' mindful breathing exercise: breathe in for the count of three, hold for four and exhale for five. Repeat for a minute or longer, until you've regained your calm.

Like anything, the trick is to find the techniques that work for you. Of course, some sources of stress will require you to make bigger changes in order to move past them but small steps like these are a good place to start.

Kirstie Duhig edits In The Moment – a monthly magazine focused on wellbeing, mindfulness, creativity and happiness.

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