• Long term stress can be very damaging to our physical and mental wellbeing

  • Michael Hyland shares 7 ways to help deal with stress

  • If you are suffering from stress, you can find a therapist here

Health and happiness go hand in hand.  A healthy body creates a healthy mind. Everyone knows that a good diet promotes health and well-being, but the effect of stress is often underestimated.  Stress can be a killer.

Let’s get some facts straight first. Short term stress is not bad for you. The body is designed for short term stress. Short term stress can be enjoyable. People choose to go on fairground rides – even though their bodies have an extreme stress reaction on the more exciting rides.

Humans evolved to hunt mammoths. It's just that we didn’t evolve to hunt mammoths all the time. It's long term stress, or repeated episodes of short term stress that cause the problem. It is the total amount of stress that you have in your life that matters.

The body adapts to long term stress. Stress causes numerous biological adaptations many of which predispose to developing a disease. These biological adaptations also create symptoms, including the symptoms of anxiety and depression, sleep problems, gut problems, headaches, dizziness, pain etc. etc. So avoiding chronic stress is important. Here are seven things you can do to reduce stress:

1) If you are a dolphin, don’t swim with the sharks

If you are the kind of person who gets upset by nasty comments, then avoid others who make nasty comments. Choose your friends carefully. Be in charge of who you make friends with. Chatting with friends in a relaxed state will reduce stress. But being with people who make you feel uncomfortable will create stress. Remember, you don’t have to be friends with everyone!

2) Don’t work for long periods without a break

In fact you shouldn’t do anything for long periods of time without a break. Your body is designed for variety. Sitting in front of a computer screen for four hours on end is definitely bad for you – as is watching the television for long periods of time.

Even though your mind finds the work interesting and you are not bored, your body does not like doing the same thing over and over again. Find ways of putting short breaks into your working day, even it means walking around the office holding a piece of paper in your hand looking busy.

3) Your body is designed to hunt mammoths, it is not designed to hunt and eat mammoths at the same time

Your gut is designed to work best when you are relaxed. Your gut is a sensitive organ. There are more nerves in your gut than in your spinal cord, and those nerves are connected to the emotion centre in the brain. When your mind gets upset, then your gut gets upset. And anything that upsets your gut will upset your mind.

Try to avoid eating when you are upset, or after exercise, or when you feel stressed. Don’t eat and go. Eat and rest!

4) Plan your life so you don’t have to rush

Set the alarm ten minutes early so have a more leisurely start to the day. Leave the house or office earlier so you don’t need rush to catch a train or bus. Rushing creates stress. Set out on your journey in plenty of time – driving fast in order to make up for lost time is stressful and can be dangerous!

5) Find time in each day for ten minutes deep relaxation

It doesn’t matter what form the relaxation takes – meditation techniques, such as mindfulness, word repetition, or gentle exercise such yoga or tai chi can all help. The main thing is that you need to be able to relax in a place where you feel safe and cannot be disturbed.

It isn’t easy to find a safe place in the modern world, so be creative. One technique used by people who travel to work by car is to pull into a lay by. The main thing is to make relaxation part of your routine. Regular deep relaxation counteracts the effect of regular stress.

6) Go to sleep at about the same time each day

The body has an internal clock, and it likes to do things – such as sleeping and eating – at a regular time. If you go to sleep at 11.00pm during the week, and then party till 4.00 in the morning at weekends, your body gets confused. Don’t exercise within two hours of sleeping. Don’t sleep on a full stomach.

Some people find a milky drink helps – but do this only if it helps.  Remember, if you have problems with sleeping, the cause is stress in your life, so think about getting that right rather than spending out on expensive sleep aids.

7) Find time in your life for little treats

Treats are good for you. Have a warm bath with candles. Set the table with nice china. Make your home environment comfortable, and how you like it. Think happy thoughts. Happy thoughts create happy chemicals in the body. Smile, and your body will feel you smile. Laugh and your body laughs with you.

Generate feelings of gratitude or love towards someone else and your body will realise that the world is a wonderful, rewarding place, and generate happy chemicals. Spend time thinking how you hate someone and your body will generate the chemicals that it produces when exposed to a nasty, threatening, stressful world. Control your thoughts, and you control your body.

Further reading

How to cope with workplace stress

How our relationships protect us against stress

How green spaces reduce stress

How stress manifests in different areas of the body