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Stressed Woman


Stress is an important and necessary part of life but balance is key. Problems occur when stress becomes chronic. If your body is stressed, it activates the ‘fight or flight’ (sympathetic nervous system) mode, which triggers numerous physiological changes and over time this can have negative effects on the body.  The stress response increases blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar as well as reduces digestive function and suppresses the immune system. Stress can be emotional, mental or physical and can be caused by many factors including poor sleep, illness, overtraining, work pressures and social isolation. It can also be triggered by negative thoughts, anxiety or a perception of a threat, even if it is not real. It is important to practice stress management techniques in order to flick the switch from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’ (parasympathetic nervous system), which gives the body a chance to recover.

Prioritise time for relaxation and stress management:

  • Deep breathing exercises. Belly breathing helps to trigger the ‘rest and digest’ recovery mode.  Breath in for the count of 4, hold for 4, breath out for 4, wait for 4 and repeat. Repeat this regularly throughout the day. 

  • Optimise sleep. Quality sleep is crucial for recovery and stress reduction. See Sleep optimisation tips on separate sheet. 

  • Yoga increases the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, to calm the body and reduce stress. 

  • Meditation quietens the sympathetic nervous system and can help to reduce heart rate, blood pressure and ease anxiety, reducing stress and the calming the mind.

  • Time out to switch off. It is important to take opportunities to switch off, whether this is 5 minute break a few times a day, or a day off. It is important to prioritise time for yourself to relax and switch off. It is important to take a few minutes to relax before eating, to activate the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic system, in order to digest your food properly. Deep breathing exercise practiced for a few minutes before eating is beneficial for digestion. 

  • Holidays. Working for long periods without breaks increase stress and exhaustion, reduce productivity and can lead to burn out. It is important to give yourself time to recover and replenish your resources by taking time off. 

  • Take regular breaks throughout the day (5 minutes of deep breathing or a quick walk can help to rebalance the body and allow periods of recovery). If you feel stressed or tense, go for a brisk walk as this can help to reduce the elevated stress hormones

  • Do things you love

  • Gratitude journal. Daily gratitude practice can reduce negative thought and lower the stress hormone cortisol. 

  • Acknowledge situations that increase your stress (such as being stuck in traffic, or working to a tight deadline) and try to change your perception of this stress by practicing stress reduction techniques.  You can control your body’s physical response to stress by implementing some of the above techniques to turn off the ‘fight or flight’ response.

  • Reduce or avoid stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or sugar as these stimulate the release of stress hormones. 

  • Address any underlying causes of physical stress, such as nutrient deficiencies, infections, food intolerances as these can all activate the stress response.

  • Try a Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment to understand how your body responds to day to day challenges. 

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