The Health column with Heart Research UK’s physiologist Simon Taylor: Top tips to reduce stress

Stress occurs when we feel that we are unable to cope with the demands placed on us.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 29th April 2022, 8:59 am
Everyone has different levels of resilience to stress. Photo courtesy of Heart Research UK

Stress occurs when we feel that we are unable to cope with the demands placed on us.

This may be in our home lives, work lives or both, and is linked with feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

Stress is a normal part of our lives, however persistent, long-term stress can be harmful to our health.

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The main way in which stress can affect our health is via indirect effects on our lifestyle habits.

When we are stressed, we are much less likely to engage in healthy behaviours such as exercise and eating well, that help to reduce our risk of heart disease and other health problems.

We may also turn to negative coping behaviours to help us deal with our stress such as drinking more alcohol and smoking, or taking drugs.

Whilst the effects of stress on our long-term behaviours are likely to have the greatest impact on our risk of developing heart disease, we also know that when we feel stressed, our body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which raise our heart rate and blood-pressure in the short-term.

Whilst this can be helpful in situations where we need to quickly respond to danger, feeling stressed at work can typically mean that this is sustained for long periods of time which can lead to the arteries becoming damaged.

How Can You Reduce Stress?

To help reduce our stress levels, we should think about the balance between our demands and our ability to cope with them. Everyone has different levels of resilience to stress, and therefore some people are better able to cope with pressure, whereas others may require more support to minimise their stress levels.

There are two main ways that we can reduce our stress levels; 1. We can reduce the demands placed on us, or 2. We can increase our resilience and coping skills.

Reducing Demands

Reducing demands can sometimes be difficult, especially if our stress is being caused by something which we have no choice about doing such as working or caring responsibilities.

In this case, we may look at how we can adapt the situation; perhaps a conversation with your line manager to discuss your workload or sharing of personal responsibilities with a partner.

You may also employ time-management strategies such as breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable ones, and taking 10 minutes at the beginning of each day to plan.

Improving Coping Skills

Increasing our coping skills is the second way that we may look to address our stress levels.

Regular exercise, hobbies and relaxation practices can all be part of a well-rounded self-care routine that helps us to ‘re-charge’ throughout the day. By taking regular breaks from demanding tasks, it can improve our ability to deal with the tasks themselves, thus improving our ability to cope.

Activities such as exercise (especially yoga) and relaxation can also help to reduce stress hormone release and put our body into a restful state.

It is important to remember that whatever the situation, if you feel like you could benefit from additional support, don’t hesitate to speak to a friend, see your GP, or contact one of the many charities helping people with their mental health every day.

You can visit the NHS website for more information.

It is okay to ask for help.

Go to www.heartresearch.org.uk/healthy-tips for more tips on how to stay healthy.