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How to Stress Less in 5 Steps

By Colin Douglas

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Marti Pellow might have hit the nail on the head when coming up with a suitable Scottish band name; but I don’t think the same can be said for Wet Wet Wet’s all-time greatest hit. Stress seems to be the thing that’s really all around us, not love – you certainly hear a lot more about it. Last year a YouGov poll found Scotland to be the most stressed area of the UK. Why? There could be a long list of reasons, but I’m happy for it to remain a sweet little mystery. Let’s talk solutions, not problems.

Here’s 5 ideas that could change things up:

Eat well

Start with the basics, look after your body and your body will look after you. Give your body what it needs (not always the same as what it wants) and it will provide you with the energy and motivation to tackle the challenges before you. Over-eating and under-eating will cause strain on your mental resources in multiple ways, upsetting normal hormonal rhythm and dampening your oomph. Unfortunately there’s no cookie-cutter answer to what you should and shouldn’t eat (this doesn’t mean you eat a cookie), but who wants that anyway – your diet should be kept fresh, varied and fun.

 

Prioritise Sleep

Often the first thing to slip when we’re under stress is our sleep quality, we sacrifice it for extra time spent working or worrying. Sleep cleans up our brains, refreshes and defragments us allowing us to tackle the following day with renewed vigour. Depriving ourselves of sleep means that we start the day in a deficit, already stressed, making it much harder for us to navigate our way to a stress-free day.

 

Exercise Properly

When it comes to exercise we have a huge list of options. Find one that you can enjoy, and use it to raise your heart rate above 50% for 20-30 minutes. Feel your body responding to the workload you put on it, have your lungs gasping for air and sweat running off your forehead. In these situations we’ll find an almost meditative-like escape from our normal thought patterns of worry and stress, while feeling a surge of energy to tackle our tasks with positivity afterwards.

 

Have good (yet flexible) habits

One of the staples of an efficient human being is a series of good habits.

“Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. You get what you repeat.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Healthy habits are always best adopted over time – that’s when you really make them stick, by regularly repeating actions that are slightly more positive than your current basepoint. But even the strongest habits can be challenged by busy times. When we have a lot on our plate, it’s natural to let the “unnecessary” stuff slip to create leeway – perhaps you don’t have to read a chapter of that book tonight, perhaps 15 minutes of mediation can be put off until another day, perhaps a take-away is the better option for tonight. When we cheat on our habits we almost always add to feelings of stress and guilt, but perhaps worse than this is that a small upset in our habits can (and usually does) result in a larger upset. One night off leads to two. What seems like a singular exception at the time can lead to us “falling off the wagon”, and everyone knows that the hardest part of falling off is trying to get back on.

Try being flexible in times where habits are being compromised – too many people approach positive habits with an “all or nothing” attitude, making it all too easy to fall into nothing. Instead we should adopt the “all or something” approach, we can always do something towards that habit. How about just one page rather than a full chapter? Two minutes of meditation rather fifteen? What’s the healthiest take-away food you can get? If we reduce our habits down to an amount that renders them achievable, no matter the circumstances, then we’ll be able to remain on the wagon.

 

Take on less

We all have a million and one things we’d like to get done. Learn how to play the cello. Mount the TV on the wall. The list is ever-expanding, and often it suffocates us into inaction. After all, we only have a certain number of hours in the day, and a limited amount of willpower to work with. Our hunter-gatherer bodies aren’t well primed for endless computing of tasks. What we’re often left with in the time before bed is that slight trace of failure and guilt for not accomplishing all that we wanted to. My advice for these situations is to step aside and ask yourself: “Really though?”. Your quality of life isn’t measured on how many things you do, but rather how much you enjoy doing them. Be wary of how much you try to cram into a day; life is a sequence of moments, not a series of ticks on a to-do list.

 

 

If we choose to aim for depth over distance, and stop trying to do so much, the guilt and stress can wash away and leave us faced with a more wholesome experience in whatever we’re doing. Generally people seem to experience what they want to experience, if you look for stress you will find it.

Perhaps my favourite Prime Minister said it best:

“If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around”

Hugh Grant, Love Actually

 

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