Natural ways to alleviate stress

Jul 27, 2021 — Sean Barker
Natural ways to alleviate stress

Stress is a part of our lives. We can blame it on modern living with its fast pace and social pressures, but human beings have always felt stress as a means to survive. Consequently, it is fair to say that every one of us feels anxiety and unease at some point, and it is the degree of these feelings that makes it an issue or not.

Prevention is the key here, as we take measures to manage the emotional reactions to our frantic lives.

Here we look at how you can manage the natural reaction to pressures and ensure it continues to be a healthy part of your life.

What are your stress levels like?

With any conversation about mental wellbeing, it is good to start by checking in with yourself and understanding your feelings. As there is nothing inherently wrong with stress, as it is a device to keep us safe from potential dangers, it is only a problem if it overwhelms you.

A wellbeing report found that Gen Z is the age group most likely to feel stress often, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the pressure. The stress levels reported are 8.1% higher in 2020 than they were in 2017 and 2019. It is not surprising that we all feel a little more stress, as the impacts of job loss or uncertainty, social isolation, and worries over health are powerful triggers.

Having established it is natural to feel some stress and more people feel overwhelmed by their stress levels: how are yours? How do you feel right now? Acknowledging pent up feelings is a great place to start.
How can you handle stressful situations?

No one in the history of the world has calmed down by being told to calm down. While it is easy to speak the words, it is harder to action calmness. A set of tools can help you cope with high-stress situations, which you can apply as soon as you see the signs of feeling overwhelmed.

First, it is good to regularly stop and take a pause, mentally stepping away from the situation and breathing deeply. Can you see the situation more rationally?

Second, you can physically walk away. Moving away from the cause of the stress can give you the time and space needed to recalibrate.

Third, recognise how you demonstrate your stress. Some people get angry, some tearful, others fall asleep. When you recognise your symptoms of stress, you can do something over time to counteract them.

Fourth, no matter your emotions, react calmly. Your calmness will feed into the situation and take some of the sting out of the stress. This biofeedback is more effective than we realise, for if we ask our bodies to react calmly, our mind often follows.

Five, identify the positives in a situation to help bring about this calmness. There are always positives lurking somewhere.

How do I handle a build-up of stress?

Stress can accumulate in your systems over time. So, not only do we need tools for reacting with calmness in a single situation but also to rid our systems of excess stress accumulated over time, allowing us to maintain a sense of contentment. Here are some potential tools.

Gardening

Nature and being outdoors is a salve to the pressures we feel. Being out in sunlight and surrounded by natural elements releases positive hormones that counter those intended to heighten our stress. Endorphins and dopamine are released as we interact with the outdoors, and these eat up the adrenalin that is causing the heightened emotions.

There is much written about the therapeutic effects of horticulture – and even having a few house plants in your home can do wonders. Plants are thought to reduce stress and have a positive impact on people with severe depression.

Exercising

Gardening is also a top way of spending time outdoors because you are also exercising. Keeping your body active will lower the stress hormones in your body and help with sleep and the release of endorphins. If gardening isn’t your choice of exercise, then try going for a run or taking a swim. While it will take a lot of mental strength to motivate yourself to do it, especially if you are feeling run down, you will feel so much better once the exercise is complete.

Practice self-care

When we are run down, we stop doing the basics well. We muddle up our sleep routine, we eat poorly, and we can turn to alcohol as a means of coping. The more we practice self-care by eating healthily, drinking water, and maintaining our rest and recuperation, we will be better placed to handle life’s stresses. Even when you feel too busy to practice self-care, you need to make the time.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is becoming ever more popular as a means of managing emotions. Underpinning mindfulness is an acceptance of the current situation and making peace with it. It is also about staying in the present and allowing thoughts to flow through you, rather than allowing them to get stuck. While this sounds hard to achieve, it is made simple using apps such as Medito, which take you through exercises and daily practices that really help.

Connect with family and friends

One of the significant reasons for a rise in stress recently is not a fear of getting COVID, though this hasn’t helped. More pressing has been the isolation we have endured and not connecting in person with the people who know us and care about us. A sense of belonging and being part of a community is essential to the release of oxytocin, which is a hormone that relieves stress in your body.

Now there are fewer limitations on our lives; take the time to meet up with people and enjoy the company of others.

How will you seek your calm?

All these strategies work at different levels with different people. The route to successful stress relief is to build your toolkit, the one that works for you. You can work this out by investigating the strategies here and choosing to apply those where you felt the real benefit. Yet, it’s also important to stop and check-in to see if these prolonged periods of debilitating stress are going away with your efforts alone. It might be that there comes a time to seek the support of your family practitioner, who can offer medical intervention.


Author bio:

Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality polytunnels and fruit cages to gardeners across the UK.


References

Eurostat, 2021. Hours worked per week of full-time employment. [Online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/tps00071/default/table?lang=en
[Accessed July 2021].

Gonzalez, M. T. et al., 2009. Therapeutic horticulture in clinical depression: a prospective study. [Online] Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19999748/
[Accessed July 2021].

gov.uk, 2021. 2. Important findings. [Online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-mental-health-and-wellbeing-surveillance-report/2-important-findings-so-far
[Accessed July 2021].

HelpGuide, n.d. Benefits of Mindfulness. [Online] Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/benefits-of-mindfulness.htm
[Accessed July 2021].

Mana, n.d. Handling Stress In the Moment. [Online] Available at: https://www.mana.md/handling-stress-in-the-moment/
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