After I recently suffered an anxiety attack, possibly one of the most terrifying experiences, I have since been engaging in conversations surrounding stress and anxiety in our daily lives. Stress, anxiety and depression have been on the rise since the pandemic, with a staggering 50% of reported illnesses in the workplace stemming from these factors.
What is stress?
Stress is our body's reaction to feeling threatened or overwhelmed. It can trigger a series of biological responses such as the release of stress hormones from the adrenal gland, rapid heart rate and breathing, increased blood pressure and blood sugar. However in this day and age, our bodies often don't switch off from this 'fight-or-flight' mode meaning that the body has not had a chance to recover. Whilst stress can in fact be positive, a form of motivation, in larger or sustained doses, it can be harmful emotionally and physically.
How stress manifests itself:
Causes of stress are entirely varied from an accumulation of micro stresses through to life changing events. How stress can manifest itself in the human body is startling. Anything from extreme exhaustion or aches and pains through to feeling as though you are experiencing a heart attack. Whilst we are accustomed to the reality of stress, we often don't realise just how stressed we truly are until we reach breaking point. Did I think I was that stressed at the time of my anxiety attack? No! I thought I was managing my everyday stresses adequately.
How to manage or prevent stress:
Whilst under the impression that I was juggling the demands of life in the best way possible, my wake up call led me to re-evaluate priorities and take certain steps to promote optimal wellbeing. Here are a few I have been practicing:
- Making lists of things I need to do and numbering each item in order of importance and focussing on just those. Attempting to prioritise 10 tasks, when in fact only 4 are time sensitive, can put unnecessary pressure on yourself.
- Daily evening meditation. I have been a huge fan of the Calm app, working through their handy '7 days of stress' meditations before bed. This allows me to put the day behind me and clear my head.
- Prioritising self care - in the daily whirlwind that is life, I realised I no longer took time for myself. A simple evening in watching tv or reading, going to get a manicure or going for a walk have a positive impact, giving your body a chance to 'slow down' from the daily pace of life.
- Exercise - Ensuring you keep your body moving and also giving it all of the nutritional goodness is key. A simple 20-min online HIIT workout at home before work or the school run, is a great way to get your blood pumping and bump up the production of neurotransmitters - endorphins, endocannabinoids and dopamine.
- Nutrition - without the right fuel, our bodies struggle to function. Adrenal function is significantly influenced by blood sugar levels which is why stabilisation of blood sugar levels is key. Avoid skipping meals, especially breakfast, in order to stabilise blood sugar after a night of 'fasting'. Minimise your caffeine intake to avoid energy crashes, prioritise protein consumption and stay hydrated.
- Music - for me, music is a huge mood booster and prevents my mind from racing at 100-miles an hour. My wake up alarm is now a playlist instead of a generic and jarring tone. Find something that uplifts you.
It is crucial to continue to maintain your sleep routine throughout this period as stress and anxiety has an extreme adverse affect on sleep, lending itself to a vicious circle.
Dealing with chronic stress or anxiety is never easy and I would also recommend seeking help or speaking to a professional, if you don't feel equipped with the right tools to manage the overwhelm. Sharing experiences are the only way to raise awareness on mental health issues.
Ultimately we all strive to do as much as we possible can in a 24hr day, and are driven by an unrealistic set of expectations in an age where there is very rarely any switching off. This is why it is important to take a break from time to time, give yourself the attention you deserve, and enjoy a moment of quiet, with a tea in hand, of course!