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The stress-less toolkit The stress-less toolkit
As the pandemic rages on and we all try to continue with life as normal – whatever that means these days – we could... The stress-less toolkit

As the pandemic rages on and we all try to continue with life as normal – whatever that means these days – we could also use more coping mechanisms to manage rising stress levels.

Numerous studies (see here, here and here) from across the globe reveal the pandemic’s mental health impact, which is causing more stress, greater anxiety and even depression.

Ultimately, our body’s response to stress is the same, whether it’s work stress, emotional stress, physical trauma, environmental stress, exercise stress or psychological stress.

READ MORE: Manage lockdown stress the natural way

Managing stress

While some degree of acute stress is beneficial because it forces the body to adapt when we overload our system with multiple forms of stress over prolonged periods of time, something will eventually give, and that’s normally our health.

Accordingly, overloading your system with multiple stresses will have serious implications. However, this is becoming more prevalent in lockdown as we juggle homeschooling and a blurring of work-life balance as more people work remotely.

Leaving your stress unchecked can lead to various health issues, including hypertension, a chronically elevated heart rate, irritability, anxiety, depression, indigestion and heartburn, insomnia, erectile dysfunction, a suppressed immune system and hormonal imbalances, to name just a few.

We need to manage stress and find ways to deal with it, in all its forms, to achieve and maintain optimal health and wellness. Follow these steps to take control over rising stress levels:

1) Don’t sacrifice sleep

A lack of adequate sleep has been directly linked to a host of health-related issues. Firstly, it hampers our immune response – not ideal in the current environment.

And cortisol levels – the stress hormone – also rise. Too much cortisol breaks down muscle, increases fat storage, hardens arteries (which causes hypertension), accelerates bone loss, compromises immunity and has been linked with depression (cortisol reduces those feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in the brain).

You can improve your sleep by:

  • Exercising daily for at least 30 minutes.
  • Increasing your exposure to sunlight during the day.
  • Reducing exposure to blue light from screens at night – it helps people fall asleep faster
  • Reduce your sugar and/or caffeine intake.
  • Implement a regular sleep schedule to go to bed and wake up at regular times each day.

Naps can also help. A small study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism determined that a 30-minute daytime nap was able to restore hormonal function and raise levels of proteins involved in stress management and immune system function back to normal following two nights of severe sleep deprivation.

READ MORE: Break bad bedtime habits to sleep better

Get moving

Some yoga or some light exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise, is another great way to deal with your stress, without adding the additional stress of intense exercise.

Physical activity helps to calm the nervous system and it releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that improve your mood. Exercise also releases tension by distracting you from daily worries, while the improvements it makes to your cardiorespiratory system enable you to cope with daily stress more effectively. And activities like yoga help to clear the mind and relax the body.

READ MORE: These potential health benefits of exercise run more than skin deep

Try intermittent fasting

Studies show that intermittent fasting – limiting food intake to an 8-hour window each day – can benefit your body by reducing oxidative stress.

Fasting reduces the amount of oxidative free radicals that accumulate in cells, which helps to prevent excessive oxidative damage to the cellular proteins, lipids and nucleic acids associated with ageing and disease.

Eating this way also increases your resistance to stress. Fasting induces a cellular stress response similar to that caused by exercise. This process up-regulates gene expression in cells, which increases the capacity to cope with stress and resist disease and ageing.

READ MORE: Scientific support for intermittent fasting grows

Meditate

Meditation is a powerful tool that can help you arrange your thoughts and relax your mind to gain better control of your thoughts, emotions and feelings.

Regular meditators experience various benefits, including improved stress tolerance, less anxiety and depression, better mental clarity, concentration, focus, calmness, and emotional positivity.

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