These Five Lifestyle Changes Will Reduce Your Stress Levels
It’s Stress Awareness Month and now more than ever, it’s imperative to realise the impact stress can have on our wellbeing. Prolonged periods of stress can cause burnout, which is now recognised as a chronic condition by world health organisations. Burnout is especially associated with chronic workplace stress – something that I am all too familiar with.
Having personally suffered with burnout at my worst I couldn’t even lift my head off my pillow. I set up my own business 12 years ago and worked at the speed of light with no rest or good food – ignoring everything, I was walking in the park and I finally collapsed. The first thing I had to do was slow down.
Trying to run two businesses from my bed with burnout was extremely taxing. I have totally changed how I respond to everything in my life – my energy is back and I’m living my life with a new and improved perspective. Now it’s my mission to help other people transform their energy by making small changes to their diet and lifestyle.
Here, are five of my top lifestyle tips to help you reduce your stress levels, and avoid burnout:
Identify your energy sappers
What is robbing you of energy? Is it your work demands, a relationship you have with someone? Financial stress? The key here is to find out what your stressors are so you can reduce the exposure to it or respond to it differently. Before you go to bed at night, grab a journal or a piece of paper and write down what three things are sapping your energy at the moment. Then I want you to write down on a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being the lowest, 10 being the highest) how bad each one is. Next to each one write down how you can either remove that energy sapper from your life, or reduce your exposure to it. Think about how you can move the needle on doing each of these. For example, if a family member is sapping your energy 10/10 tell them that you can only speak to them on Fridays between the hours of 9am and 10am (rather than all the time) and make sure you are in the room with other people around you also so it dilutes your exposure. You can always sit down with them and tell them how you feel to resolve the problem.
Take time out
This means having a breather where you can – even just for 5 minutes or taking your full hour lunch break and stepping outside – or even better, plan a trip away to escape the never ending demands. The best way to do this is to block out time in the diary to actually do this and do it with someone else so they are accountable for you doing it. For example, block 2 hours off on the next coming Sunday to go for a massage or a long walk in the park with a friend. As soon as you meet both of you turn off your phones for the following 2 hours and make an effort to switch off. It will seem hard but so easy and refreshing when you’ve done it once.
A good night’s sleep is profound for reducing stress. Studies show that losing sleep raises cortisol levels and if you suffer from insomnia you are more likely to have higher cortisol levels in the blood. Sleeping at least eight hours a night is fundamental for dealing with stress and managing your daily demands.
A few things to consider here are to turn your phone on airplane mode or at least put on to night mode. This is because studies have shown that the blue light delays the release of melatonin for up to three hours. Also, drinking alcohol late at night stops you from falling into REM sleep.
Don’t over exercise
Be mindful of the type of exercise you do and the frequency of it. Too much aggressive exercise can mount a stress response which tells your body that you are under attack. The worst thing you can do if you’ve been feeling exhausted and burnt out for a while is over exercise. It will make you more tired in the long run. Rest when you need to. It is productive!
Swap one of your aggressive exercise classes such as a HIIT class or a boxing class for something more calming and restorative. A yoga class or a walk in the park are great ideas for this. Commit to doing this each week for the next four weeks.
Most people feel overwhelmed because their plate is already full but they keep on adding to it. If you take a look at your to do list and only do the things that are the priority then you are less likely to feel frazzled. Writing a ‘stop doing’ list is equally effective and surprisingly refreshing. For example, when writing your stop doing list, put all of the things that you hate doing and fill you with dread or take up a lot of your time. For me it was driving in my car, seeing clients in the evenings and weekends (I needed to stick to my boundaries) and stopping hanging out with people who were negative or draining.
Rosie Millen is a nutritionist and leading UK burnout coach (www.missnutritionist.com)