10 ways to reduce stress and become more resilient
‘Stress’ may be quite an overused term and it can take many forms as we all experience it differently. In general it can lead to reduced resilience - our ability to cope with challenging and stressful situations. Here are some tips how to best reduce stress, increase resilience and as result to become more resourceful instead.
Everyone can experience ‘stress’ but it may mean different things to different people. In fact how we perceive stress is relative and varies from person to person due to our unique histories which leads to different levels of resilience.
Many of us have grown up with the saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”, however research shows that this is incorrect. Hans Selye looked at the “fight or flight” model for stress which still holds up and gets taught at universities today. His main findings were that stress is cumulative over our life time.
Research from epigentics (an area of research that looks at how our environment affects our genetic expression, which includes thoughts and feelings) shows that early childhood stressors and trauma can lead to reduced resilience later on in adult life.
However, sometimes adversity and initially reduced resilience can also turn around in some people to jumpstart increased levels of resourcefulness. So some people can be more adaptive and turn adverse situations into more positive, creative and resourceful states sooner than others.
We don’t fully know yet exactly what makes one person more resourceful over another as it will depend on a number of factors unique to each individual (e.g. personal history - emotional, cultural, biological, genetic, social, psychological, spiritual).
For example, marginalised or minority groups in society will experience societal challenges that have been named elsewhere ‘minority stress’. However, interestingly some studies found that some minority groups, e.g. LGBT+ communities, show surprising levels of resilience. Clients from this community can be remarkably creative in finding ways of transforming hardships into opportunities, and continue to make significant contributions to society despite being denied access to a variety of support that most other groups would receive.
What ever the hardship or stressors in our lives it is important to recognise where we are on the ‘resilience spectrum’ at each point in time and seek help and support to get us through this.
Where ever you find yourself at this point in time here are some Top 10 Tips of how to reduce stress and increase your resourcefulness:
1. Get enough sleep
This is really a key first step. Without sufficient levels of sleep our mind won't work effectively, our emotions run havoc and our bodies are challenged on various levels (e.g. suppressed immune system, disrupted digestion, low libido, skin break outs, emotional hunger). An average of 7.5 – 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is normally recommended but it does depend from person to person.
2. Breathe more (better!)
When have you last noticed your breath? Is it high or low? Shallow or deep? If you hadn’t noticed until just now - you are not alone, most of us don’t. On top of that most of us don't know what it means to breathe properly. It’s just something that happens! But how we breathe can affect our bodies and minds dramatically. Research by the Institute of HeartMath has shown that by practicing how correct breathing we can improve levels of resilience, reduce stress hormones and increase immune system strength, reduce depression, anxiety anger and stress. Breathing coaches, meditation and yoga can help which consciously focuses on breathing. You can practice mindful breathing by yourself at home, look at HeartMath®’s breath and heart rate variability (HRV) training app*, HeadSpace a great guided meditation course (first ten sessions are free), or Calm an excellent mindfulness app.
3. Eat a rainbow
Good nutrition plays an important role for our whole body and mind. Eating mindfully is also important, so not just what we eat but also how we eat. We need a good variety and ideally as colourful as the rainbow every day (which means adding as many different vegetables and fruit to your diet as possible). It is important for our immune system, skin, digestion, mood and mental health.
4. Move mindfully
Moving more mindfully, e.g. not rushing everywhere, but purposefully moving. Too often we can become disconnected from ourselves when stressed. Doing some regular yoga exercises, can get us back into our bodies to connect with ourselves. If you can't get to a yoga class, try to move about more, taking the stairs, going out for a walk. There are also some great apps and online classes that you can do at home, e.g. YogaStudio and Movement for Modern Life.
5. Connect with nature
Going out for a walk or spending time in nature is crucial to our physical and mental health and wellbeing. Research has shown improvements in depression, anxiety, mood and self-esteem when walking in nature. Walking in a green environment is not only a beautiful calming sight it can also be meditative and grounding, getting us more mindfully back into our bodies with many other health benefits.
6. Connect with others
Connection with others, friends, family, community, or finding our soul family or tribe is more important to our mental health than we may think. Particularly for those having a hard time to trust or tend to be very independent believing they don’t need anyone. It is actually connection – or relationships – that can go wrong early in our lives where trauma and wounds can be formed. However, it is also relationship and connection where these wounds get a chance to be healed again. This may be difficult to imagine for some and it also needs practice.
To be able to do this it may be important to do some relationship ‘detox’ – to re-evaluate our existing relationships. Which relationships no longer serve us? Who are the really supportive people that unconditionally love and accept us and support us? Who makes us feel drained and full of self doubt after a conversation? With who do we feel energised, validated and motivated? It is important to surround ourselves with people that can ‘see’ and ‘hear’ us, that ‘get us’, that are supportive and can provide us with nurturing energy.
7. Share more (about your ‘Self’ )
Part of the process of connecting is also to share more about ourselves - who we really are. Not who we think the other person wants us to be, or performing to live up to some kind of unrealistic expectations that we have set for ourselves. It can feel scary to open up and be more vulnerable. Or even meeting strangers: can they find me ‘interesting’ enough, do they really want to hear what I have to say? Each person’s story is fascinating even if it doesn’t feel like this to us – having lived it. Maybe there is something about regrets, shame and lack of purpose that makes our story feel fake, unreal or unworthy. However, this is often our own projected feelings and beliefs about ourself speaking - rather than those of others!
8. Understand your boundaries and needs
These are some of the most important aspects to become aware of. For some of us only through relating with others and particularly ourselves can we even grasp what this means and 'feels like'. Having healthy boundaries means to be able to say no without feeling guilty or bad. Saying no when it doesn’t feel right to us. Being persuaded by someone to do something for them that we don’t want or that makes us feel uncomfortable is a boundary violation. It is also about recognising our needs, what they are and what is needed to fulfil them.
9. Find your voice
Becoming more aware of our needs, boundaries, what to share of ourselves and what connections or relationships feel good and which don’t - goes hand in hand with being able to verbalise these to others. Rather than running away or hiding from certain relationships or situations, it is learning to stand up for ourselves and speak out. Expressing our needs and wants honestly, but als what inspires you, what drives you. It is also learning when to ask for help and support when you need it.
10. Dare to risk
It may take guts to get here. This list of top ten things seemed perhaps simple at first but it may feel quite daunting by now, as most of us may get stuck on some of these items. It is about daring to be 'seen', daring to risk the fact that some people may not like it and may even put blocks in our way. It might also mean letting go of certain relationships, your need to please, your need to be needed, and to not take it personally if someone else takes what you express, feel, experience or believe personally! It is daring to walk away from certain situations when it is no longer serving you. And ultimately to dare and risk to shine! To show your true colours, to grow, to move forward, to fly – to live your dreams.
If this all sounds too good to be true - try it! But what if it seems to 'fail'? What if somehow there are always things that seem to get in the way (e.g. time, effort, work, environment)? What if we get stuck on some of these points? We may all need a bit of extra support at times to help us move through things.
Walk & Talk therapy lead by an experienced therapist can address and combine many of these aspects above.