In recognition of Stress Awareness Month, we’ve rounded up the best ways to de-stress, stay stimulated and maintain healthy digestion — all without having to leave home
We are facing a modern stress epidemic. The UK has been labelled a ‘stressed out nation’ with more workers feeling stressed than ever before. In 2018, 74% of people in the UK were so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Meanwhile, 51% of adults felt depressed and 61% reported feeling anxious as a result.
These alarming statistics came from a recent UK-wide stress survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation. The study, which was the largest of its kind, also found that 46% ate too much or ate unhealthily due to stress.
Evidently, stress is a major gut disruptor. It can cause digestive problems including indigestion, cramping, bloating, inflammation and a loss of appetite as well as conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and irritable bowel disease (IBD).
This feeling of tension and emotional strain may be heightened at the moment, with many of us isolated from others, confined to our houses with no escape from the rest of the family, being forced to work from home while the kids are off school in addition to the pressure of financial worries and health concerns. It may be causing any existing gut issues to flare-up.
That’s why Stress Awareness Month — and increasing public awareness about both the causes and cures for stress — is more important than ever this year.
If any of the above sounds familiar, don’t worry. There is something you can do about it and even just recognising that you need to find a coping method is a start.
Here are 21 activities and techniques you can integrate into your life immediately. And remember, #WeAreInThisTogether!
Not sure if you’re stressed? Take Calm Moment’s short stress quiz.
Use your breath
Meditation app Headspace claim our breath is one of the most effective stress management tools.
- Ratio breathing: This one-minute breath exercise will help you to let go of stress and ease your digestion. Simply, inhale slowly through your nose for three seconds. Hold for one to two seconds, then quickly breathe out through your mouth or nose, counting to six. Repeat five or six times until you feel more relaxed. A simple technique that can be done when you’re sat at your desk and need a quick breather (pun intended). Find out more.
- Box breathing: The rhythm of this exercise is four steps each equal in length, hence the name ‘box’ breathing. Inhale through your nose for three seconds, hold for three seconds, breathe out for three seconds, hold for three and repeat. This will bring a sense of calm to your body and focus to your mind. Plus, if done before bed, it can help you drift off into a restful night’s sleep.
- Alternate nostril breathing: Overcome stress and enhance your wellbeing with this powerful technique which calms your mind, relaxes your body and promotes healthy digestion. Particularly useful for relieving stress and reducing anxiety, alternate nostril breathing is a pranayama — the practice of breath control — yoga tool, otherwise known as nadi shodhana. The process is exactly like the name suggests — breathing through one nostril at a time. Practicing this technique for just five minutes each day can help you to regain focus. Here’s how to do it.
- Colour: Colouring books for adults have been on the shelves for a while, so it’s no secret that the activity can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as encourage mindfulness. However, sometimes it’s all too easy to prioritise non-essential tasks rather than making the time to do it (I’m guilty of this) and remember that it’s not just for kids. Use your extra time to take half an hour out to colour and, if you have kids at home with you, why not do it together? You’ll be surprised at the difference it can make. Try this free tropical colouring download from Alisa Burke.
- Take a bath: Nothing beats a leisurely soak in a warm bubble bath at the end of a long day. Why not add some relaxing Epsom salts to yours? They are an ingredient which can be dissolved into water to soothe tired and aching muscles. Also known as magnesium sulphate, evidence suggests Epsom salts enable the skin to absorb magnesium which is vital for maintaining hundreds of functions within the body as well as promoting better sleep. My personal favourite is Westlab’s vegan Mindful Bathing Salts which aim to “restore calm and serenity amidst modern life.”
- Cuddle a pet: You may be on your own a lot at the moment, so spending time with your furry friend is even more important. Not only can it help you overcome feelings of loneliness, but it can boost your mood. A recent study also identified that just stroking a cat or dog for 10 minutes can significantly reduce your stress levels. While I don’t have a dog, I have to agree. I honestly don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the past couple of weeks without my two guinea pigs. Don’t worry if you don’t have a pet, as studies show just watching videos of cute animals can reduce stress and improve life satisfaction. Here’s one to get you started.
Find instant calm
- Heart math: This technique, used by the American military, combines your breath and visualisation to help you feel calmer and more present. Firstly, place your hand over your heart. Take three deep breaths and recall a happy memory. Repeat the memory within your mind, then imagine your heart is speaking to you, telling you what you can do to feel good. Do this every hour if you need to. Leading hypnotherapist and self-help guru Paul McKenna recently demonstrated this technique on the award-winning daytime TV show This Morning.
- The Havening Technique: A super easy yet effective approach which is particularly useful if you are a healthcare professional to prevent PTSD. Simply, place your right hand on your left shoulder and your left hand on your right shoulder, then stroke the sides of your arms and move your eyes from left to right. The reason this works so well and significantly reduces stress levels is because it replicates mothers rocking their babies to calm them. Meanwhile, looking from side to side produces waves in the brain similar to those created when you’re in a deep sleep. Again, check out Paul McKenna’s video demonstration.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: This anxiety-reduction technique was first introduced by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s. It involves alternating tension and relaxation within all of the body’s major muscle groups. It helps you to differentiate between these two states, so you can become more aware of and release unnecessary tension in your body. I find this particularly useful before going to sleep. It can also relieve chronic pain, so if you’ve got a bad back from all that working at your dining room table, this might be the perfect thing to try. Wellness expert Verywell Mind offer a straightforward guide on how to do it.
Try something new
With less social gatherings going on, maybe you could use your new-found time to pick up a hobby and bring a new sense of calm.
- Cooking or baking: Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore; it can be a relaxing and fun activity too. Meditation app Headspace offer a guided mindful cooking exercise to help you to be fully present with the activity. And while we may have struggled to get certain items from the supermarkets recently, having alternative ingredients on offer can encourage you to be more creative in the kitchen. Of course, if, like me, you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other gut conditions, you may have to be careful about what you eat, but perhaps you’ll discover a new ingredient or recipe that you didn’t know you were okay with before. This is an opportunity to try new things and create healthy habits rather than restrict things. Why not make these delicious dairy-free chocolate pecan brownies?
- Gardening: Whether you’re green-fingered or not, during the coronavirus outbreak gardening is being promoted as the ultimate isolation hobby. That’s because the mood-boosting activity has been proven to have a range of benefits for your physical and mental wellbeing. Not only does it burn calories by getting you active, but it is a great stress-reliever too. And if you really don’t want to do any planting, just being out in nature can improve your mood and confidence and reduce stress. Perhaps it’s time to get your hands dirty. Fingers crossed for the weather. Get involved on Twitter using #KeepCalmAndGetReadyToGarden
- Read a self-help book: An activity proven to calm the mind and relax the body. According to the University of Sussex, reading can reduce stress by up to 68%, while just six minutes of reading can slow the heart rate down and reduce muscle tension. Why not take this one step further and read a self-help book? You’ll reap the benefits of reading and learn more about how to make personal improvements at the same time. My personal favourite is Self-care for the Real World by Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Phillips because it does exactly what it says on the tin. Not sure which book is for you? Cosmopolitan offer a great list of self-help 2020 reads. So grab a cuppa and snuggle up with a good book.
There’s copious amounts of evidence to support that exercise provides health benefits both physically and mentally. That’s why it’s essential to keep fit amid the current situation, whether that’s at home or part of your permitted daily social distancing outing.
- Yoga: Doing a regular yoga practice enables you to take some time out, leave your troubles behind, deepen your connection with your body and focus your mind. The discipline is a great stress-reliever that some even claim has a “healing power.” And with a wide range of online workouts and apps that allow you to personalise your practice available — such as Down Dog which is currently completely free to download until 1 May — it’s easier to do a session from the comfort of your own home than ever before. Check out these tailored yoga poses for toning your core, aiding digestion and improving gut health.
- Walk or run: Where possible make the most of your daily outdoor exercise allowance and head for a walk or run. Doing cardiovascular exercise releases feel-good hormones called endorphins in the brain which relieve stress and increase serotonin levels which in turn boost your mood. Personally, with my gym being closed, it forced me to find an alternative and I have taken up running again. Just be sure to keep to social distancing guidelines. If you can’t go outside but are lucky enough to have a garden, taking a stroll in your outdoor space is still beneficial. While there are many restrictions in place at the moment, there are also opportunities to try different things.
- Dance to your fave tune: Described as the ultimate feel-good exercise, this offers some surprising effects for both the body and mind. While we may not be able to hit the dance floor at the moment, having a good jig at home is still an instant mood-booster. We know moving our bodies for a period of time is great for improving physical health, but dancing regularly can also help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression as well as to release and come to terms with these emotions. Struggling to decide what song to dance to? HuffPost has compiled a list of the best tunes to reduce anxiety and stress.
TIP: Next time you have a spare five minutes in-between cooking, fill it with some sensational moves.
Take some me time
- Meditate: Meditation has numerous benefits for your mental health including controlling anxiety, enhancing self-awareness, improving focus and sleep as well as stress reduction. It is a powerful tool that can become even more effective when incorporated into your daily routine. I (try) to begin each day with an appropriate guided meditation suited to whatever mood I’m in and let’s just say, I know when I haven’t begun my day with a meditation and so do others! With wonderful apps like Headspace and Calm, meditation is available at the touch of a button. Specifically to help people through this uncertain time, Headspace has created a free dedicated section featuring practical calming meditations and techniques. If you haven’t practiced meditation before, stick with it and eventually it’ll become as normal as brushing your teeth! Download Headspace or Calm and learn to stress less.
- Give yourself a massage: Okay, so this may sound a bit strange, but seeing as we can’t book in with a masseuse anytime soon, it can still be very calming. Plus, it’s FREE — bonus! Craniosacral therapist Tanya Goodman Bailey’s stomach massage, otherwise known as The Belly Love Method, is not only relaxing but great therapy for an irritable bowel or for soothing an upset stomach. It can be done clothed or unclothed — the choice is yours.
- Gratitude journaling: This is the process of writing down the things that you are thankful for. It helps you to reflect on the positive things in life, remember what’s important and reduce negative thinking. A simple yet effective way to keep a gratitude journal is to write down three things that you are grateful for each day before you go to bed. That way you’ll end the day on a positive note. Remember, a happier mind is a calmer mind.
- Repeat positive affirmations: In short, these are positive phrases or statements used to challenge negative and unhelpful thinking and develop a more positive state of mind. When repeated to ourselves, they have the ability to override negative thinking patterns and we can begin to believe what we are saying. For instance, repeating “I am confident” can make us feel more confident. To help you remain upbeat during the coronavirus outbreak, I have created a page — ‘Stay Positive’ — featuring positive affirmations that you can use. Fellow blogger, of Living.Pretty.Happy, Alex Grace provides a really useful guide on how positive affirmations can help you.
- Light a candle: Merely the warm glow and subtle scent of a lit candle by your desk can bring a sense of ease to wherever you are working. But, if you have more time, go the whole hog and create a sanctuary in your own home; dim the lights, soak your feet in a warm, bubbly bowl of water and let your worries melt away. Soothing scents include lavender, bergamot, chamomile, frankincense and sandalwood. No need to miss the spa when it can come to you!
- Smile: This one is so simple, yet quite often we don’t do it enough. Evidence shows using your facial muscles to paint on a smile tricks your brain into thinking that you are happy. As well as a boost to your mood, it can bring health benefits including stress reduction and a lower heart rate. You may think you need something to be happy about in order to smile, but it can work the other way too — smiling can make us happier. And the good news is that you can do it at any time without having to stop what you are doing. So the next time you feel tense or anxious, take a deep breath and slap on a smile.
What is Stress Awareness Month?
Stress Awareness Month is an annual event that has been held every April since 1992. During the thirty day period, health experts across the country join forces to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. This year’s theme is ‘The 30 Day Challenge’ where people are being encouraged to pick one action for their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing to carry out each day. Download your 30 Day Challenge Calendar.