Take it easy and live with­out stress for a week

Liz Con­nor finds out how re­lax­ing more can help us phys­i­cally and men­tally

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Health -

NO mat­ter how re­silient we think we are, stress is some­thing that can eas­ily take its toll over time. From feel­ing un­der pres­sure at work to jug­gling too much at home, there are plenty of rea­sons why you might reg­u­larly strug­gle to switch off at the end of a long day.

Here, GP Kim Glass ex­plains the full ex­tent to which liv­ing stress-free for seven days can have a pos­i­tive im­pact on your health, both phys­i­cally and men­tally.

1. Bet­ter sleep

It’s ev­ery­one’s worst night­mare on a Sun­day evening. Toss­ing, turn­ing and star­ing at the ceil­ing for hours, strug­gling to drift off peace­fully be­cause all you can think about is to­mor­row’s to-do list.

As a re­sult, Glass ex­plains that you’re of­ten left feel­ing un­re­freshed, grouchy and ex­hausted dur­ing the day. Not only is this un­pleas­ant to deal with, it can be dan­ger­ous to your health over time, as con­sis­tent poor sleep can put you at risk of se­ri­ous med­i­cal con­di­tions such as obe­sity, heart dis­ease and di­a­betes.

“If you’re head­ing to bed stress-free, you’re much more likely to fall into a deeper, un­in­ter­rupted sleep, mean­ing you will wake up re­freshed, en­er­gised and ready to at­tack the day ahead,” says Glass.

2. Im­proved diet

In times of stress, it’s not un­usual to turn to sug­ary or high-fat foods as a way of cop­ing.

“When we’re un­der pres­sure, our brains are wired to crave com­fort­ing foods,” says Glass. “We’re likely to want to snack on choco­late and other treats which give us dopamine, oth­er­wise known as the happy, re­ward hor­mone.

“In a world with­out stress, we can be more aware of our diet. We shouldn’t crave sweet treats and will feel more mo­ti­vated to pre­pare healthy meals, so our diet would be­come more reg­u­lated, more nu­tri­tious and health­ier.”

3. Clearer men­tal health

“Not ad­dress­ing stress can re­sult in con­tin­ued strain on the body and mind, which can con­trib­ute to men­tal dis­or­ders such as anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion,” says Glass.

She com­pares stress to a car be­ing driven con­tin­u­ously in the fast lane, re­sult- in wear and tear on the en­gine. “When you’re stress-free, you of­ten think much more clearly, find your­self bet­ter equipped to make the right de­ci­sions, and have a much more pos­i­tive out­look on what’s go­ing on around you — both at work and at home.”

4. Less stress on the heart

Chronic stress ex­poses our body to un­healthy lev­els of adren­a­line and cor­ti­sol, which can in­crease the risk of heart prob­lems. “A week away from stress would re­duce the strain on our heart so it’s im­por­tant to con­sider rest and re­lax­ation when get tough,” ad­vises Glass.

“If you’re suf­fer­ing from stress, it’s help­ful to check in, to en­sure there are no deeper health prob­lems oc­cur­ring, such as high blood pres­sure or un­healthy lev­els of choles­terol.”

5. In­creased pro­duc­tiv­ity

“Stress and pro­duc­tiv­ity can be a vi­cious cy­cle. Take work, for ex­am­ple — it can cause stress, which can lead to ab­sen­teeism, putting us be­hind and fu­elling more stress.

“Else­where, you may have found your­self putting off head­ing to the gym, cut­ing ting the lawns, or other tasks you usu­ally face headon . “A stress-free week is sure to in­crease your pro­duc­tiv­ity, make chal­lenges more achiev­able and leave you ready to de­feat what­ever task lies in front of you.”

Dr Glass’s tips on how to bet­ter man­age stress...

Try mind­ful­ness, med­i­ta­tion and yoga: “Some peo­ple find that med­i­ta­tive ap­proaches can help re­duce stress and anx­ious thoughts, mak­ing you calmer and help­ing to re­lax your mind.”

Re­duce al­co­hol and cafthings feine in­take: “While peo­ple might turn to a cou­ple of drinks or more cof­fee to help them cope through dif­fi­cult pe­ri­ods, this will only make them feel worse in the longterm.”

Know your lim­its: “It can be hard to say ‘no’ but it’s im­por­tant to know when you are at your max­i­mum whether at work or at home. Don’t take on too much and en­sure you get enough rest.”

Make time for the things you en­joy: “If you en­joy meet­ing friends for a cof­fee, go­ing to the cin­ema, or some­thing else, make sure you al­low your­self to do so.”

Make time for phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity: “The ben­e­fits of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity on both the body and mind are clear. Go for a run in the park, a swim or sim­ply head out on a brisk walk to help clear and re­fresh your mind.”

If you’re con­tin­u­ing to strug­gle though it’s al­ways worth speak­ing to a GP who can help you to ex­plore talk­ing ther­a­pies.

“In a short amount of time it’s pos­si­ble to re­lieve the feel­ings of stress, and the ben­e­fits both men­tally and phys­i­cally will be clear to see - whether you find your­self eat­ing more healthily, be­ing more pro­duc­tive at home and at work, or sim­ply spend­ing more time with friends,” says Glass.

“Every­body gets stressed, but it’s im­por­tant to recog­nise in your­self when things be­come dif­fi­cult, so you take the nec­es­sary steps that are right for you.”

CHILL OUT: Ban­ish­ing stress can have a pos­i­tive im­pact on your men­tal and phys­i­cal health.

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