The 9 things that can combat stress and what you could do today. Yes today!
Meet Gemma. Gemma’s from Hertfordshire and when she started a Do Something Different programme she was really stressed. Times were already tough so she wondered how having more to do could possibly help…?
The 9 things that can combat stress
Psychologist have identified 9 things can help to combat stress. These form the basis of our Do Stress Less Pro Collection programme, which Gemma took part in.
So here they are: 9 things you could start doing today to enjoy a less stressed life. Pick just one area you know you’ve been neglecting and give it a go. In fact the more you can do the better.
1. Staying active
Just getting moving can get the endorphins fired up (otherwise known as the “feel good” chemicals) and help you feel better about just about everything. Yes it takes a little more time out of your already busy life, but getting off the bus a stop earlier, using the stairs instead of the lift, taking a walk around the block before you sink in front of the telly can all have a beneficial effect. If you need a little inspiration, take a look at the NHS Couch to 5K programme or This Girl Can.
2. Building stronger networks
We are basically social beings. It’s in our DNA. Our relationships build a sense of who we are, which can be an important part of reducing stress. (Exactly what Gemma found made made a huge difference (from the video above). Building stronger networks is about spending more quality time with the people who matter to us. The emphasis is very much on quality. So you could:
- Sit down to a meal with your partner at a table tonight with all the electronics off
- You might find five minutes to really engage with your children
- Perhaps you haven’t rung a parent or sibling for ages?
- How about taking time to meet someone at work instead of just sending an email?
3. Helping others
Generosity makes you healthier. When you do something good for another person, you encourage the release of endorphins in your body which brings about a “helper’s high” and helps fight stress. Research has proven that having a generous attitude greatly improves our immune system. You could try something big like volunteering for a community scheme you’ve been meaning to get involved with. Or something tiny like holding a door for someone or picking up some litter as you walk to the shops.
4. Building broader networks
Sometimes we just need some fresh perspective. Broadening networks, particularly with people from different backgrounds or cultures, can be really good for us. Indeed our own research shows us that ‘Inclusive’ people’ are about 4 times more likely to have higher wellbeing compared to ‘non-inclusive people. So what could you do?
- Take a nodding relationship with a neighbour or a work colleague a bit further?
- Join a social club around a hobby or interest perhaps?
Take a look at Meetups and see if you can find a bunch of like-minded people in your area doing things you’re interested in. If you can’t, why not start one of your own?
“Stressed people rarely have time for themselves.”
5. Taking care of yourself
Stressed people rarely have enough time for themselves. But that just makes the stress worse. What you need to do is to give yourself permission to do something for you. Without feeling guilty. Do this for yourself and then you’ll be better at doing all the other things on your list. So if you haven’t been looking after yourself, make a date with you. Go see a film you will love. Book a reflexology session. Buy your favourite food. Be kind to yourself and your ‘inner you’ will notice. If you find it hard to let yourself do this, join our Go Do programme for free and you’ll then have permission to do all kinds of new things, including things for yourself.
6. Connecting with nature
You live in a city, and don’t have time for trees and green spaces. You live in the suburbs, but you rush past the park to get the train. You live in the countryside but you’re always in the car. A Stanford-led study has found quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression. And depression is often closely linked to stress. So stop ignoring the amazing things around you. Even if it’s just for five minutes. Revel in the wonder of nature. Hug a tree. Breathe fresh air. Feel alive.
“If you know someone who is a good listener,
buy them a cup of coffee”
7. Emotional sharing with others
When we’re stressed, many of us bottle everything up. And that’s not good for us. Indeed, a study in the US by Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester shows that the risk of premature death from all causes increases by about 35 per cent among those who fail to regularly share how they feel. If you know someone who is a good listener, buy them a cup of coffee, share a walk in the park (that’s two stress busters in one right there) or call them and talk a few things through. Make sure it’s a two-way exchange; you might be able to help each other.
8. Positive thinking
With stress it’s very easy to get into a spiral of negativity. “I didn’t do that well enough.” “I’m always late.” “Everyone’s better at this than me.” This is called the brain’s “negativity bias“: Your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain’s information processing. If you can cast this negative voice aside, you have a much better chance of getting on top of things. Tonight, write down three positive things from the day. Tomorrow, look for three more things as the day goes by and write those down. Make that a habit and you may find you feel a lot more positive (and less stressed).
“Petting cats or dogs has been shown to reduce stress”
It’s so easy to say ‘relax’, but when you’re wound up it’s incredibly hard to do. So just start with one small step. Some people find writing a list helps them to relax. Petting cats or dogs has been shown to reduce stress (yes really!). Mindfulness meditation. Soothing music. Relaxation videos. Laughing yoga. Just take a minute to Google-around on what might work for you and then engage with it.
Professor Ben Fletcher one of the founders of Do Something Different and author of numerous scientific papers and books on stress and how it affects us says that doing new things can make a tremendous difference.
“Our own data from a sample of over 1700 people who have completed a Do Something Different programmes has shown really positive improvements in mental health, particularly stress, low mood, anxiety and depression. I think this is a result of people being less constrained by their automatic habits. Giving them increased flexibility and connection with an expanded representation of the self and enhanced self-mastery.”