For many of us, experiencing high levels of stress is synonymous with our everyday lives. You only have to cast your eye over the plethora of books, podcasts and articles out there telling us how to eliminate the toxic stress that depletes our reserves and makes us ill.
However, unless you are able to book yourself a single one-way ticket to a desert island, the demands keep coming. What is key is not so much the elimination of stress but how effectively you are able to recover from it. The good news is, there is a lot you can do to set yourself up for effective recovery. And it is available to us all irrespective of where we live in the world, our financial resources, ethnicity or gender.
Let’s have a look at what this recovery looks like.
Look after your physical body
The importance of building physical resilience in times of high stress cannot be underestimated. In the same way as our vehicles would be no use to us without fuel and the appropriate fluids and mechanical maintenance, our bodies are no use to us without proper input and care:
- Eat well
We all fall prey to reaching for that easy-junk-food-option when wrung out by stress. But research has shown that the right food choices can support us by sustaining our energy, easing tension
and stablising our blood sugar. When we eat is also important. Skipping meals can result in our blood sugar dropping, causing us to feel jittery – only enhancing our anxiety.
- Drink plenty of water and keep hydrated
Place a jug or bottle of water on your desk and sip it slowly throughout the day.
- Get enough quality sleep
Practice good sleep hygiene by turning off electronic devices; avoiding alcohol, caffeine and big, fatty meals before bedtime; making sure your bedroom is cool and dark at night and establishing a soothing wind-down routine.
- Get your body moving
Do some exercise. If you don’t have the time – or energy – to go to the gym, go for a walk. It has incredible mental benefits too, especially if you walk in nature.
Become aware of your self-talk
Start to notice how you use language to either support or limit you as you go about your daily routine.
- Think well
Rather than wallowing in what’s wrong with your life, focus on the positive qualities you want out of a situation. See the upside rather than the downside by visualising what that looks like and using the appropriate language to make sense of it. Take a firm hold of the elements you can control and let go of those you can’t.
- Say kind things to yourself
Consciously change the harsh language you are using to talk to yourself and describe your situation. Use supportive, encouraging words to boost your confidence and shift your outlook.
Shift your mood
We are often unaware of our mood and emotions and how these can reduce our ability to recover from stress.
- Connect with your tribe
Whether it is your family, friends, club members or community, they are important stress buffers, mood enhancers and laughter generators. When you are feeling stressed it is too easy to put relationships on the backburner and make work the priority – unfortunately at a high cost to you and those you love.
- Spend time in nature
Find a green space close to where you work or combine time in nature with your regular exercise by walking or cycling outdoors. Research has shown that spending time in nature can have a powerful effect on our mood and mental state. According to a study published in the April 2019 issue of Frontiers in Psychology, spending just 20 minutes connecting with nature can help lower stress hormone levels.
Most of us have never stopped to consider the importance of the breath. Focusing on the timing and pace of our breath can have positive effects on our body and mind. Start becoming aware of your breath throughout the day, noticing the air in your nostrils and the rhythm of your breathing as you inhale and exhale. Deep belly breathing for a count of five on both the inhalation and exhalation is a simple technique you can use to relax when feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
- Find meaning and purpose
Aligning your efforts with meaning and purpose has a big impact on one’s ability to deal with stress. Who are you when you are really thriving and feel most fully alive? Listen to your truth and explore in writing what you are good at, what really matters to you, what you value and what gives you joy and find a real sense of meaning and direction in your life.
Finding the optimum balance between stress and recovery is essential in avoiding burnout. However, it may be difficult not to read this article without feeling overwhelmed or disillusioned by how much more you now have to do in addition to your already-too-long to-do list.
Take it slow. Don’t put pressure on yourself to try and implement everything at once. Choose a few of these techniques – the ones that most resonate – and start integrating them into your daily routine.
Once you see the benefits, you will be more likely to take on more.
And what if you don’t start putting some proper recovery measures in place? What will the cost be to you, your family and your career?
How well are you coping with stress? I would love to hear from you.