Our practical tips will help you reduce your stress levels and stay calm under pressure or if you find yourself struggling.

We all get stressed sometimes. What’s important is what we do to release that stress by taking action. This can guard against the long-term effects of mental or physical ill-health. Follow these practical tips to reduce your stress to manageable levels if you find yourself struggling.

Breathe deeply

One simple strategy for overcoming a stressful situation is to take a few deep breaths. It’s a powerful way of lowering your heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Aim to completely fill your lungs. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then breathe out through your mouth. Repeat three or four times. You’ll probably notice a calming effect.

Exercise

A bit of aerobic exercise will get your heart rate up. See if you can find just 20 minutes a day for a brisk walk, a swim, or some cycling (cyclists are 40 per cent less stressed than other commuters according to one study). You’ll find exercise boosts those brain chemicals, endorphins, and improves your mood. It will also have a calming effect on your mind and lower those stress hormones.

Eat well

Fuel your body with a balanced diet to maintain your health and build resilience to stress. Include fruit, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet. Foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges and grapefruits, can help lower your stress hormones too. Omega-3 found in salmon and other fatty fish, as well as nuts and seeds, may also have a calming effect. If you fancy something sweet, dark chocolate can do the same.

Engage in positive self-talk

We’re all guilty of making a stressful situation worse sometimes by being negative about our own efforts. But rather than add insult to injury, try turning those negative statements into positive ones. Change ‘I can’t do this’ into ‘I know I can do this’. Or try saying: ‘There’s something I can learn from that’, rather than ‘That went badly’.

Learn to relax

In theory, everyone knows they need to relax sometimes. But in the midst of a busy schedule relaxation often slips down the agenda, allowing us too little time to recover from work. Often, the root cause is not giving ourselves permission to relax in the first place. So give yourself permission to switch off, and then do something you know works for you. Grab a tennis racket and hit the court, jump on a mountain bike, pick up a brush and paint, or have a warm bath to relax.

Why do we get stressed?

Most of us will recognise when we’re feeling ‘stressed out’. Neighbours blasting out music next door, a driver cutting you up on the road, your boss yelling - all these things can raise your stress levels and put you on high alert. But why should we feel that way when most of the things we encounter in our daily routines are not actually a threat to life or limb? The answer lies in our evolutionary history. Our minds and bodies have not evolved that much since the time we were hunter gatherers.

Back then, we had to fend off threats to our physical survival from bears, wolves, or a hostile member of a rival tribe. These situations would induce a ‘fight or flight’ stress response. But once the threat had passed, our bodies would return to their natural resting state. The problem in our modern lives is that the nature of the threats is often psychological, and we can’t just switch them off. The sources of our stress are unlikely to change overnight, because we are stuck with our neighbours or a difficult commute. And we don’t have much control over what other people do – it is this lack of control over the environment that can cause our stress levels to increase.

In practice, this means that our stress response system may keep on getting activated. We may never quite achieve that resting state like we once did in the age of the hunter gatherer. But by recognising the symptoms of stress and following some of the tips provided here, we can fight stress and guard against its long-term effects better.

One helpful tip here is to draw up a list of the things we can control, and a list of the things we can’t. As a rule, if we stick to working on the things that we have more control over, we’ll end up feeling happier. We may not be able to change what other people say or do, but we can make a choice to take action ourselves. Is something bothering you at work that you can’t fix yourself? Try reporting it to someone who can do something rather than let it cause you stress. If your concern relates to health, wellbeing or safety and you don’t feel able to raise it internally then remember that CIRAS is here to help. This way, you may be able to influence the situation because companies often take action when we send on your concerns.