On National Stress Awareness Day, we speak to the experts about which of our everyday habits could be causing us extra stress and how to deal with them
Today is National Stress Awareness Day and while we are all probably very aware that we are stressed (especially with Christmas coming up) you may be unaware as to the underlying issues.
Mike Fisher, founder and training director at the British Association of Anger Management, has identified five core stresses – pressure, control, not making yourself the priority, approval-seeking, and trust. You might even be dealt with a royal flush and have all of these
According to Anna Whittaker, professor of behavioural medicine at the University of Birmingham, the main causes of stress are caused by major life events – a bereavement, marriage, divorce, moving house, losing your job – but that when under these stresses we are prone to adopting poor lifestyle choices that could be having an indirect effect.
Keeping this criteria in mind we look at some of your everyday habits that you might want to cut out before it’s too late.
1. Rush hour
A study in May 2017, found that of the 34,000 UK adults surveyed, those who had commutes to work over 30 minutes suffered from higher levels of stress than those who did not. This might not be news to any of you city-workers stuck on the circle line back home with a randomers elbow jammed against your cheek, but it’s about time we look towards alternatives and change our mental patterns when it comes to getting into work on time. “There’s the lack of control and approval seeking – that desire to get in on time,” explains Fishers. “But there’s also a trust element – that you can relax, eventually get into the office, and get your day’s work done.”
“When I used to work in central London I used to take the underground and it was incredibly stressful. Then I had a bicycle with the fear of getting knocked over which was incredibly stressful. Eventually, I found a solution and bought a motorcycle which made all the difference.”
But what if there’s no inner Marlon Brando to come out, and a motorbike is a no-go?
“Just remind yourself that if your five minutes late to work then it’s not the end of the world. Trust that it’s going to be okay.” You heard it here first – the world will not end if you miss that Victoria line train (the next one will be along in 2 minutes anyway)
2. Looking at our phones
Are you a slave to your iPhone – constantly waiting on that Instagram icon to light up or your Whatsapp to go off the chain? According to Fisher, this could feed into our need for approval but more importantly it could be a sign of just how stressed we are underneath it all. “When you’re flooded with feeling, you may use social media and emails as a way of distracting yourself,” explains Fisher. “It’s more difficult to just be present in the here and now moment because it creates anxiety. So how do I alleviate that stress? By constantly being active. And what’s the easiest way to be active? By looking at my phone and social media. The paradox is that it just creates more stress and anxiety.” Whittaker agrees: “One of the things we need to do to cope with stress is to have proper rest time. Using technology all the time is never completely switching your brain off.”
3. Drinking coffee late in the day
The UK slurps up 165 million cups of coffee a day, and while coffee is a worthy morning pick-me-up surprisingly rich in vitamins and nutrients beware of drinking it too late in the day. Caffeine can increase cortisol levels (the stress hormone) in stressed individuals, so while you may think it will get you through a difficult moment it is more likely doing more harm than good.
“There’s also the adrenaline rush from coffee,” reveals Fisher. “A lot of people who are stressed out are addicted to adrenaline.” So, if you find yourself floundering during the day, craving that adrenaline roller-coaster from a cup of joe – hit the teapot instead. While tea only has half of the caffeine content of coffee, it’s not as fast releasing, while the caffeine interacts with the amino acid L-theanine in tea so that when it hits our brain it sends it into relaxation mode. Perfect for when you’re needing to ride out a bumpy ride (especially with that dreaded end of day rush hour on the horizon).
4. Staying on your computer before you sleep
While we might be chained to our smart-phone devices while out and about for the day, coming home is all about relaxing and switching off as Whittaker mentioned previously. However, the average person now spends 8 hours and 41 mins on their electronic devices, 20 minutes more than the average night’s sleep.
“You can’t separate stress and sleep,” says Fisher. “What I find in my clients is the more stressed they are, the less able they are to sleep and what happens is for them to actually sleep at night they have to physically exhaust themselves – which means constantly doing things late into the night. All it does is increase their stress levels. Working on your computer or watching films late at night overstimulates us, which means you can never get off that cycle of being stressed.”
5. After-work pint
We may feel like self-medicating our stress with alcohol, and while we would certainly prescribe socializing with friends in certain crises turning to the bottle ain’t a great option in the long term. A 2012 poll by ICM of 2,000 adults found that almost two-thirds relied on alcohol to relax in the evenings, a coping mechanism that can indirectly lead to even more stress says Whittaker. “One thing that really helps when coping with stress is exercising and seeking out social support – mobilising support networks rather than trying to deal with things on your own or ignoring them. If we can choose those coping mechanisms as opposed to going to the pub then it’s obviously going to lead to a more physically and mentally healthier lifestyle. You have to get into a habit of a really healthy lifestyle during less stressful periods so that when you are struck with stress you’re already in quite good patterns and don’t get worse.”
6. Comfort eating
As with your after-work pint, comfort eating is a coping mechanism that leads to a vicious cycle. For Fisher, there is a loss of control in comfort eating – one of the core stresses. You’re not gorging yourself on quinoa and goji berries after all. Like coffee, foods that give you a spike of adrenaline inevitably come with a slump – take the increasing levels of insulin that come with eating refined sugars for example. And with a slump the panic starts to set in, so save yourself from the vicious cycle and give the choccy biccies a miss this time.
And finally, to come full circle on this vicious cycle theme we have procrastination which we are surprisingly more susceptible to when we are over-stressed. “The problem is that we end up procrastinating because we’re just too exhausted anyway from all the thoughts about what if I don’t do this or that. It increases our stress level, but on some level, it immobilizes us, which means that we procrastinate.”
Maybe it’s time to minimise this article then and get back to what you were doing.
I DON’T know how my girlfriend puts up with me. She takes all the verbal abuse I dish out.
We’ve been together for three years and I don’t deserve her.
Things started out well but in recent months I’ve been taking her for granted and treating her really badly.
I’ve never hit her but I do call her horrible names and swear at her. I have trouble dealing with my jealousy. I hate her being with other people.
She’s constantly telling me she loves me but it never seems enough. I’ve figured out for myself I have a huge anger-management problem and I don’t know how to control my temper.
I’m sick of mistreating her and want to give her the respect she deserves. Should I end the relationship for her sake? I don’t want to go on giving her grief.
WHEN you’re angry and abusive, all your girlfriend feels is hostility from having been screamed at. All you feel is shame and guilt.
The first step in changing is recognising you have a problem, so well done on that score.
It’s obvious you love her or you wouldn’t look for a way to improve your relationship and make her happy. She’s probably stuck by you because you also have good, positive qualities that compensate for your bad behaviour. So what can you do?
As children, we’re taught to count from one to 10 when we’re very angry. This can work for adults too. In those 10 seconds before you react, remind yourself how awful you’ve felt in the past after you’ve shown your bad temper.
Start a diary. When you feel angry or jealous, take time to write down your feelings. Let yourself calm down, read what you wrote, then analyse all the emotions and where they come from.
You can’t go on blaming her for your insecurities. How you feel about yourself should never be in someone else’s hands. Try making yourself feel good about who you are.
If you do lose control, acknowledge your mistake right away. Being apologetic and respectful will undo some of the damage if it doesn’t happen too often.
An anger-management course will help you make permanent changes. Get in touch with the British Association Of Anger Management on 0345 1300 286.
Good luck… but if you can’t change, you should walk away from the relationship.