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What is stress and what can we do about it?

For most of us, stress seems to be an inevitable part of life.

According to the mental health charity MIND, 34% of us cite work as the most stressful aspect of our lives with financial problems (30%) and health concerns (17%) falling not far behind. So, we can feel stressed for a variety of different reasons, but what is stress?

Historically, our bodies have produced a stress response to prepare us to react to physical threats to our survival, this response is commonly referred to as fight-or-flight. However, in modern times we rarely face the physical threats to our lives that our caveman ancestors did.

Stressed student sitting behind a tower of books

Instead, we’re much more likely to experience emotional stress caused by events that put pressure on us like exams, an important presentation at work or a break-up. Despite not being life-threatening, this emotional stress still causes the same bodily response as physical stress.

Experiencing this stress response for an extended period of time takes its toll on our body and mind so it’s important that we have successful ways of coping with and reducing stress.

Ways to reduce stress

There seem to be countless ways we may be able to reduce stress, from the conventional to the little bit weird, and here’s just a few of them.

Exercise

It’s very likely that you’ve heard that exercise reduces stress but like many, you’re probably pretty reluctant to break a sweat. But, before you rule out exercising completely, it’s worth understanding how it can help beat stress.

Exercise not only lifts our mood and distracts us from whatever is stressing us out but it’s also thought to increase our ability to bounce back after a stressful experience – also known as emotional resilience.

It is believed that the stress we feel from exercise (increased heart rate, sweating etc.) helps us to adapt to the stress of life challenges as we learn that this bodily response is not always something to fear.

Stressed woman doing exercise.

Housework and gardening

Another suggested way of reducing stress is housework and gardening, which may sound ironic as for some the endless list of chores may be a cause of stress. However, it’s thought the repetitive motion of doing housework – like the back and forth of an iron or vacuum – can help to reduce stress.

This technique can lower stress whilst also tackling a potential cause of stress head on– it’s a win-win!

Get social support

The NHS suggests that getting support from others can help reduce stress for multiple reasons. Spending time with friends can help take our mind off of what’s stressing us out or can help us to deal with our stress by talking it out and rationalising it.

On a similar note, the more affectionate among us may find that they don’t get stressed out as easily as other people. This is because physical contact – like hugging or kissing – has been shown to reduce stress.

Connecting with others increases the amount of a hormone called oxytocin which has a calming stress-reducing effect on the brain.

We really shouldn’t try to deal with our stress alone as our friends, families and partners are here to help.

Petting a dog

If there weren’t enough reasons to already love dogs, it has been proven that petting a dog can help to reduce stress. A poll conducted for Winalot, showed 55 percent of the dog owners surveyed felt more relaxed after time with their dog and 44 percent were less worried about life’s everyday problems like job security and financial troubles.

This is by far the cutest stress-buster of them all!

Happy dog

Eating garlic

So now we’re getting to the weird stuff. We all know the pitfalls of eating garlic which may lead some of us to avoid the stuff! However, the ability of garlic to boost blood flow and relax blood vessels can lead us to feel less stressed, so it might be worth embracing that bad breath!

Taking a beer bath

The final one on the list is probably the strangest method of all: bathing in beer. It’s said that the fragrance produced by the ingredients in a beer bath can have a calming effect that reduces stress. So much so, there are some spas that now offer this as a treatment!

Read more

These ways of dealing with stress are just a selection of many. To read more about these reasons and others that haven’t been mentioned follow the links below:

Aimee Marks

Aimee is studying psychology and is on a placement year with NCMH.

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