This Mental Health Awareness Week, try our easy tips to make sure you aren’t neglecting your wellbeing
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 13.3 million working days are lost each year to stress, depression and anxiety. When pressures, commitments and worries pile up, it’s easy to ignore self-care and fall into bad habits, the negative effects of which quickly accumulate to the point that we feel overwhelmed and burnt out.
When we reach rock bottom, pulling ourselves back up can seem like an insurmountable task. The key is not letting it get that far, which is easier said than done, we know! So to help you out, we spoke to the experts to discover the best ways of staying afloat and looking after yourself when the going gets tough.
Believe it or not, there is actually some truth to the phrase 'laughter is the best medicine'. “Laughter is a great remedy for stress as it triggers healthy changes in our bodies,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, one of the UK's leading nutritonists (marilynglenville.co.uk). “Studies have shown that laughing boosts our energy, reduces stress hormone levels, improves immunity and eases pain. It also triggers the release of endorphins, the natural feel-good chemicals that make us happier and more relaxed.” Time to get giggling!
When stressful situations arise, be it at home or work, we can develop a tendency to skip meals or reach for sugary, processed comfort foods. However, it's more important than ever at these times to take care of our bodies and eat the right stuff. “Balancing blood sugar is essential in lowering stress because the crashes in sugar levels which happen throughout the day (as a result of long periods without food and a poor diet) stimulate the release of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol,” explains Marilyn. “Ensure you eat a small meal containing protein every 2 – 3 hours (breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack). This will help to stop roller-coaster emotions and energy levels as well as cravings for sweet foods – because your blood sugar isn't dropping, your body won't be demanding an unhealthy quick fix. As your blood sugar levels steady, so will your mood, as reduced adrenaline makes us happier and calmer.” Caffeine is also a no go, as nutritionist Cassandra Barns explains. “There's no denying that caffeine can give you a surge in energy, but it actually has a stress-like effect on the body, including raising your stress hormone levels. So, if you're already stressed and anxious it can make things worse and cutting down is a wise move. Switching to matcha tea may also be beneficial, as although it is slightly caffeinated, it also contains theanine, an amino acid with relaxing properties.”
Taking supplements is another effective way of improving your mood. “Certain nutrients can be very helpful in combatting stress,” says Marilyn. “B5 is good for stress relief and energy, chromium for balancing blood sugar, l-theanine for anxiety and Siberian ginseng for the adrenal glands.”
If you are struggling to find respite from your worries, it might be worth getting out of the house for a bit and doing some exercise. “Getting the balance right is important when it comes to exercise,” says Cassandra. “Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins and can also help us to sleep better, which makes it easier to cope with stress. If you are very tense, however, be careful with the type and duration of exercise you choose. It might be best to avoid endurance activities such as long-distance running or high intensity ones like spinning, as hardcore exercise can increase stress levels and make us more anxious and tired. Good options include weight training, moderate intensity aerobic exercise (e.g. cycling), fun team sports and relaxing activities like yoga.”
One of the most common feelings associated with stress is a lack of control. Even a simple exercise like sitting down to write a list of your priorities and how to manage them can help to clear your mind and lift some weight off your shoulders. “There is nothing more important than your health,” says Marilyn. “Learn to say no if you think you've taken on too much – being assertive is invigorating and empowering! There are always things that can be left on the back-burner while you sort yourself out.”Click here for more ways to boost your mental health and wellbeing
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