We’ve all seen them – the person sitting in a queue of traffic, thumping their steering wheel and shaking their fists at other drivers, the person barging everyone out of the way on the escalator as they race to catch the tube, the maniac dashing around the supermarket grabbing things from shelves and running to the checkout. We might mutter to ourselves “they’re so stressed” as we carry on with our day.
But what is stress and why do we experience it? Back in prehistoric times, we needed a way to prep our bodies for danger – predators lurked around every corner and our stress response primed our muscles to run away or attack the animal that was about to eat us. That was great when the thing stressing you out might kill you, but unfortunately, our brains still have this prehistoric ‘fight or flight’ response, which kicks in when we face modern day stress like excessive workloads or worrying situations.
Over the last year 65% of people say that they have felt more stressed, as a result of the isolation and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Feelings of stress include irritability, aggression, being unable to concentrate and losing interest in things you would normally enjoy. You might feel tired all the time, have more frequent headaches, experience chest pain or an upset stomach.
Stress can be helpful in small doses – it helps us to get things done quickly and meet targets and deadlines, but if it goes on for too long, it can lead to other problems. So, what can you do if you are feeling stressed? Fortunately, there are loads of easy steps you can take to help:
- Go for a walk- getting outside in the fresh air is really important for our mental health. Try to walk somewhere green if possible - looking at the natural world helps to slow our breathing and heart rate, which makes us feel more calm.
- Breathe- when a situation starts to feel overwhelming, take a minute to close your eyes and focus on slowly breathing in and out for a minute until you begin to feel more calm.
- Get enough sleep- everything is worse when we’re tired. Make sure you aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
- Book in time to chat to friends and family- not via text but a proper conversation where you can share stories and laugh together.
- Cut down on screen time- does social media make you feel better or send your blood pressure soaring? Think about whether cutting back on time spent looking at your phone will help you to feel less stressed.