Worried stress may have begun to affect your health? Discover how you can start taking back control and make your stress levels more manageable

Stress may be a natural reaction leftover from our caveman days, but knowing that what we are feeling is ‘normal’ doesn’t feel very helpful in the moment. Between work, family, relationships, and finances – not to mention the ongoing climate and political upheaval dominating the news – it’s no wonder than nearly three in four (74%) of us have felt so overwhelmed that we feel unable to cope during the past year.

In the UK, 17 million working days have been lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2021/22. Let’s not even get into the impact that has on our home lives. More and more of us are reporting feeling stressed about our lack of sleep, our mental health, and even how clean we’re keeping our homes.

At a time where we should be reaching out and seeking help, more and more of us are expressing feelings of reluctance. New research released in time for International Stress Awareness Week 2019 by EOS Scientific revealed that 30% of us are wary about approaching our doctors about mental health, as we don’t want to be prescribed medication that may be too severe for our symptoms or may have negative side effects.

Medication for depression: what are my other options?

Nearly half (47%) of those surveyed who expressed reluctance to speak with their GP about stress and mental health were aged 18-34. While speaking with your GP should always be the first port of call if you are seriously concerned about your health and wellbeing, nearly a quarter (24%) of us are managing our own mental health using holistic and alternative remedies. What are our other options?

Learn to identify your stressors

We all experiences different kinds of stress at different points in our lives. You may have the ongoing stress from a long commute, or the short-term stress of a big deadline looming at work. Clinical hypnotherapist Jon explains how solution-focused hypnotherapy can give a way for us to track and better understand our stress.

“In solution-focused hypnotherapy, we often like to discuss the concept of a “stress bucket”. It is an analogy for the way in which stressful thoughts and incidents will eventually disengage our intellectual mind and engage our primitive emotional brain.

“Imagine a bucket inside of you – a bucket that gradually fills up each time you experience a challenging event, ruminate over upsetting aspects of the past or imagine things going wrong in the future. As the bucket gets fuller and fuller, the influence of the intellectual mind diminishes. Our mind and body misunderstand this increasing stress as a threat. We can find ourselves in the grip of a vicious circle – the negative forecasting creates anxiety that fills up our stress bucket even more which only causes more negative thinking and so on.

“REM sleep is nature’s way of emptying our stress bucket – during REM we dream and move stressful experiences from the primitive brain, where they cause an emotional response, to the intellectual brain, where they become narrative memories over which we have better control. A skilled therapist will help you develop an optimal sleep pattern to maximise the benefits of REM.”

Hypnotherapy can help you change unwanted thought patterns, directly addressing the issues you face through a solution-focused approach. Discover more about how hypnotherapy can help you to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression.

Read all about it

Sitting down with a cuppa and a good book isn’t just relaxing – it can have a positive impact on our mental health. The Reading Well book scheme offers helpful information and support, highlighting some of the best books on mindfulness, mental health, and a whole host of issues – as chosen by professionals.

Discover more about mood-boosting books, or check out our top five recommendations to help you uncover your stressors, create a healthier work-life balance, and overcome feelings of being overwhelmed with these five stress-reducing reads.

Mood and food: managing symptoms of stress with a balanced diet

What we eat can have a surprising impact on not only our overall sense of health and wellbeing, but also on how we are feeling, and how able we feel to face life’s unexpected challenges.

As one nutritionist from Nutritionist Resource explains, there are small changes to your overall diet that can make a big impact on how you are feeling – and able you feel to handle stress.

Increasing your vitamin D, zinc and omega-3 fatty acid intake by eating more eggs, oily fish, walnuts, flaxseed, or sunflower seeds can help to protect against depression. Ensuring you start the day with a balanced breakfast can improve not only your mood, but also your memory, concentration, and energy levels throughout the day.

If you’re a big coffee or tea drinker, cutting back on caffeine and increasing your water intake could help; caffeine can exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety, and may lead to dehydration without us realising. This can go on to cause headaches, mood changes, feelings of lethargy, slower responses, and poor concentration.

Stress can negatively impact digestion, lead to weight fluctuation due to changing eating habits, and may even lead to chronic fatigue. As Nutritionist Vanessa explains, although stress may now seem like it has become an accepted part of modern life, nutritional and lifestyle changes could help improve your situation.

“Generally, if strategies for calming the brain and nervous system can be put in place at the stage of feeling stressed and ‘strung out’, then ‘burn out’ can potentially be averted. However, if this doesn’t happen then the adrenal and nervous system dysregulation can become a significant issue, sometimes leading to a virus resulting from lowered immunity.

“It is thought there may be a certain personality type who is more likely to develop chronic fatigue syndrome and who will generally find it more challenging to manage stress (at least until they have developed an understanding). These are often ‘A’ types, high achieving perfectionists who are usually highly sensitive. Recognising the pros and cons of these traits can be vital to recovery and to understanding and handling stress better in future.”

If you’re a stress eater, Nutritionist Joanne suggests making healthy, positive food choices before you feel too tired or stressed, as this can be when rational thoughts around healthy eating go out of the window.

“Ensure you eat enough protein in each meal. Options include eggs, fish, chicken, seafood, meat or dairy, [or for vegetarians] vegetable protein sources include chickpeas, lentils, beans and tofu.

“Introduce small protein based snacks to help keep you sustained in the morning or afternoon. For example, a few nuts, a matchbox amount of cheese or even a boiled egg.

“Plan ahead by spending 10 minutes writing down what your meals will be next week. Stick it on the fridge or somewhere easy to see. Make use of healthy ready meals with chopped and frozen vegetables.”

Being more mindful of which herbs we are choosing to use can also help to reduce feelings of stress. As one chinese and western herbal expert explains through Therapy Directory, herbs have been used for centuries to help with mood and health.

If you are experiencing digestive problems thanks to stress, incorporating chamomile tea may help with mild symptoms. Lemon balm or lemon verbena can also have a positive digestive effect.

Get ‘appy

It feels like there’s an app for just about everything – but is that really a bad thing? If you struggle to fit self-care in or learning more about small, positive changes into your regular routine, an app could be a great way to fit around your busy schedule.

We’ve shared five of our favourite apps to help ease stress, or check out these seven great apps to help with feelings of stress and anxiety, as recommended by Counselling Directory.

Taking charge of your time

Time-management is one of those adulting skills that can feel like it's just out of our grasp on a good day, let alone when we’re feeling stressed. If you feel like you’re always running out of time or are struggling with productivity, working with a coach could be the answer.

Life Coach Directory member Rachel, explains

“If we look at things in a different way, understand what heightens levels of stress or anxiety and learn to respond and think differently, the feelings will naturally subside. It may be difficult to do this alone but with help, it can really work.

“If you find the right coach, they will be able to help you deal with your anxiety or stress and feel like yourself again. Look for someone who is happy to have a chat and listen to what you have to say - rather than someone who is just trying to sell themselves.

“Ask how they might approach your situation. Also, ask how many sessions they think you may need and costs. Although the coach might need to meet with you first they should be able to give you a rough idea based on experience. Then you can decide if it is worth it to you.

“There are many people out there who believed being stressed and anxious was just part of who they were and they’d have to put up with it. Yet, weeks later, after working through it, their panic attacks have subsided, they feel much more in control and far less stressed.”

Find out more about how you can start decreasing your stress and maximising your productivity, or find out how technology may be able to help. If work-related stress really are becoming too much, it could be a sign that it’s time to make some changes in your career.

Sleep on it

Between smart watches that track our sleep patterns to apps that help us feel calm before bed, for some, technology has given rise to a new kind of stress orthosomnia. If you find yourself struggling to get a restful night’s sleep thanks to insomnia, or stressing about how much and what quality sleep you are getting, there are a number of small tweaks you can make to help have a more relaxing night.

Making your bedroom a more sleep-friendly space can be a good first step. Removing unneeded gadgets and electronics, investing in heavy curtains, and creating a calm, relaxing environment can all help.

Incorporating mindfulness or meditation before bed can be a key component in creating a pre-bed self-care routine that works for you. If you find yourself feeling restless or tense, engaging in light exercise such as yoga can be a relaxing way to burn off that extra energy.

Self-regulation and working with an expert

During periods of high stress, it can feel like your life is spiralling out of control. As Counsellor Greg explains, “When stress builds up you may notice your reactions become more conditioned and automatic. You probably end up feeling overwhelmed.

“Find yourself a quiet place like a bedroom, a park bench, or your garden. Any place that you use as a safe haven. Play some relaxing music, close your eyes and slowly turn down the white noise in your mind. Focus on your breath, until some calm is restored and your thoughts go down a few notches.”

By working with an experienced, qualified therapist, you can not only address issues that may be causing you undue stress and anxiety, but can also learn how you can break negative cycles through self-regulation and other techniques.

Embrace complementary therapies

If traditional routes of managing stress don’t feel like they’re quite the right fit for you, there are a whole host of complementary therapies and alternative options out there that may help.

EFT (or tapping) can be used to help manage stress and anxiety. Essential oils can be a key component in de-stressing through aromatherapy massages, the use of scented candles, meditation, or the use of diffusers. Or working with a holistic therapist can help you to create a self-care routine that works for you. Discover more about the different kinds of therapies available.