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Stress self-help

No matter what sort of treatment you use for stress, there are a number of steps you can take to help yourself

Introduction

Stress is a common condition and many will be familiar with the symptoms of stress that may be experienced. Your doctor or healthcare professional may recommend a variety of stress treatments that may be of help.

However, many people reading these pages will also be interested in knowing what can be done to help oneself.

This page describes self-help tips that can be useful if you suffer from stress as well as some tips for immediate stress relief when you find yourself in a stressful situation. It also describes the useful role exercise can play in beating stress.

Stress self-help tips

The key to managing stress is to take steps to allow you to feel in control of the situation. Some of the following self-help tips can be useful for you to get on top of the stress you are experiencing:

  • Take charge of the situation. One of the most helpful ways to ‘take-charge’ of stress is to make a list of all the things that are contributing to you feeling stressed. With this list, try to change the way you deal with each stress or by writing a possible solution
  • Make time to relax. It is important that you make time for yourself – time for your mind and body to relax. Practice relaxation techniques such as yoga or deep breathing exercises. The more you use these techniques, the calmer you will feel
  • Be more assertive. Many people end up stressed as they take on too many social or work responsibilities. Help yourself by not saying ‘yes’ to everything you are asked to do.
  • Organisation. Make sure you arrange your day so that you have enough time to fit in the important things. Don’t overcrowd your diary – this will leave you feeling stressed and deflated by what you have not got round to doing, when in actual fact, you should feel proud of yourself for what you have achieved.
  • Weekends. Use the weekends wisely. Don’t fill every waking hour with never-ending tasks – help yourself by making time to relax.
  • Preparation is key. Many people find that if a stressful event is coming up (a presentation or exam), having plenty of time to prepare and practice helps increase self-confidence tremendously. Being more prepared means less stress on the day.

Self-help tips for immediate stress relief

There are times when no matter how hard you try, you can’t avoid the stress. So what can you do to help yourself? When faced with a stressful situation, it can sometimes be very useful to have a few techniques to help relieve stress quickly. Try these out for yourself:

  • Laughter. Distract yourself by reading something funny, talking to someone who is funny or sharing a joke with someone. Humour helps relieve the symptoms of stress by producing ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the brain
  • Deep breathing. Learn a few breathing techniques to help you relax that you can carry out anywhere. The simplest is the advice to count to 10 before responding to a stressful situation – this does not often go wrong
  • Take a walk. Get away from it all and clear your head by taking a brisk walk. Sometimes a change of scenery and some fresh air can help you forget the stress you find yourself surrounded by
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to an increase in stress, so make sure you are well hydrated at all times
  • Speak to a friend or a colleague. If you have a work problem, a colleague may be able to help you by taking responsibility for a few of the tasks you are not getting to
  • Make a cup of tea. Herbal tea is best. Try peppermint tea to calm any digestive symptoms or chamomile tea to help relax you. Even the few minutes spent making a cup (or pot) of tea can help you to relax by taking your mind off the stressful situation you find yourself in.
  • Herbal remedies. Licensed herbal medicines containing valerian  have been used for years to help with feelings associated with stress.

Lifestyle advice

There are a number of steps you can take to help yourself by changing your diet and lifestyle:

  • Alcohol (and drugs) mask stress symptoms. Remember this is only temporarily and you will still have to deal with the problem later - so it is best to stop taking them or reduce to a minimum.
  • Caffeine – decrease tea, coffee, soft drinks, chocolate and all sources of caffeine as it can elevate the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol.
  • Diet – eating a healthy balanced diet is always recommended and especially as it is essential for the body to be receiving the correct amount of minerals which are essential for body and brain health and therefore for reducing our vulnerability to stress. The B group vitamins are particularly well-known for their invaluable properties in helping brain function.
  • Keep hydrated - since any slight dehydration can lead to palpitations. Certain sensors in the body increase the sympathetic nervous system tone, causing a cascade of hormones that aim to retain fluid. These hormones are the stress hormones, obviously contributing to the stress response.
  • Breathing techniques are an excellent way to calm the body and release nervous tension. Learn some easy breathing techniques that you can use throughout the day to de-stress.

Remember prolonged periods of stress can be damaging to physical and mental health. If you feel that your stress symptoms are not improving, no matter what you do to help yourself, speak to your doctor and ask for help.

Further reading:
Stress
What is it?
Stress symptoms
Stress treatments