Did you know that today is International Stress Awareness day? And while we all need a degree of stress to be able to function well, modern life can easily become overwhelming. “Work, family, and social pressures can all conspire to make our lives too difficult to manage,” Dr Rafael Euba, a consultant psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre, explains. “A specific difficulty we encounter in modern life is that we are not expected to switch off. We are constantly connected and engaged but there are some things we can all do to avoid excessive stress.” Here, Dr Euba shares his top stress-busting tips.
MANAGE YOUR TIME
Don’t pretend the day has 27 hours and be realistic about how many things you can do in 24. Make a sensible to do list and don’t worry if plans change. A key way of managing your time is being comfortable in saying ‘no’ to things. Remember that a ‘yes’ to one thing, means a ‘no’ to something else. I also try to keep my leisure time as simple as possible so I don’t feel under pressure to constantly be achieving something.
While you might feel as though you’re being extra productive, multitasking will only clutter your brain and make you less productive. Studies show that we’re not designed to “task-switch” and we function better when we are doing only one thing at the time. Researchers at Stanford University found that subjects who multitasked while performing cognitive tasks experienced significant IQ drops similar to those seen in individuals who skip a night of sleep or who smoke marijuana. Multitasking has also been found to increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Having our brain constantly shift gears pumps up stress and tires us out, leaving us feeling mentally exhausted – even when the working day has barely begun.
DON’T TRY TO BE A SUPERHERO
If you’re a busy mum, wife and climbing the career ladder all at the same time don’t beat yourself up if you’ve not been able to vacuum the house or forget your child’s clarinet lesson. Give yourself credit and focus on all the good things you do instead. We can often be our own worst critic, so if you feel this is you, then pretend it’s your best friend that is feeling this way. What would you say to them? We are often far more critical of ourselves than we would be of loved ones. This approach can help you take a step back and look at the situation in a better light.
IGNORE SOCIAL MEDIA
Studies show that too much time spent on social media can be linked to feelings of isolation and low mood. Part of the reason social media makes people feel socially isolated (even though they may not actually be) is the comparison factor and we make judgements about how we measure up. This kind of comparison is linked to depressive symptoms. One study found that more friends on social media doesn’t necessarily mean you have a better social life—there seems to be a cap on the number of friends a person’s brain can handle, and it takes actual social interaction (not virtual) to keep up these friendships. So feeling like you’re being social by being on Facebook doesn’t work. Since loneliness is linked to a myriad of health and mental health problems, getting real social support is important. Virtual friend time doesn’t have the same therapeutic effect as time spent with real friends.
KEEP A NOTEBOOK BY YOUR BED
Sleep has a big impact on our mood, with studies showing that having a sleepless night can make us more irritable, short-tempered, and vulnerable to stress. One study looked at how people who were sleep deprived responded to emotionally negative imagery, and it revealed that those who were sleep deprived had a 60 per cent higher stress response than those who were rested. Once you sleep well, your mood often returns to normal. But getting enough shut-eye is easier said than done when you are feeling stressed. If you feel like you can’t switch off, having a notebook on your bedside table, writing down any thoughts and allocating a time to go through them the following day will help to put your mind at rest. Dimming the lights and spending the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading will also help put your body in sleep mode.
APPRECIATE THE SIMPLE THINGS IN LIFE
Noticing the world around you and being grateful for the little things in life is linked to feeling happier and reducing feelings of depression. Research shows something as simple as going for a walk and spending time surrounded by nature can be a highly effective way to restore your sense of calm and boost your mood. But you don’t need to head to the Amazon rainforest to feel rejuvenated. Why not get your nature fix by joining a local walking group, going on a cycle ride or simply relaxing and enjoying the countryside?
ADDRESS YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Does your partner make you stressed and anxious? Look at the way he/she makes you feel. Ask why this might be, sit down and try to work things out or alternatively seek help from a counsellor. Remember that a partner should be a source of comfort, not stress: it might be that you’re no longer right for one another.
If self-help methods aren’t helping, and if you’ve been feeling stressed, depressed or anxious for more than a few weeks and it’s affecting your daily life, it’s important to talk to your GP. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- Do I dread starting the day?
- Do I have to multitask in order to be able to cope?
- Am I always tense?
- Do I have trouble sleeping, or digesting my meals?
- Am I irritable with my partner?
- Do I have problems concentrating?
Dr Rafael Euba is a Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre where he specialises in repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) for the treatment of depression, an alternative to anti-depressant medication. www.psychiatrycentre.co.uk