For National Stress Awareness Day (1 November) why not take stock of your resilience so that you can ‘bounce back’ when life tries to knock you down? Professor Cooper from NHS inform recommends accepting the things you can’t change like the time the train arrives or what the weather is doing and taking ownership of the things you can control such as building good social relationships, managing your time better and keeping healthy.
Author, Dr Stephen Covey calls this the 90/10 principle. We really have no control over 10% of what life throws at us. Cars break down, trains run late, computer systems crash, people don’t always behave in the way we expect them to and the list of unforeseeable stresses goes on. Accepting that we have no control over this 10% can be a way of coping with stress. Ignoring the remaining 90% can create more problems. You can determine the other 90% by choosing your reaction to what life throws at you and believing, on every occasion, that you can control how you react.
We know that there is a close link between mind and body and that keeping healthy helps to build your resilience to stress. There may be a small number of genetic and biological reasons why people develop coronary heart disease, however, it is estimated that 80% of premature deaths from heart attack or stroke are preventable by making healthy choices like eating well, keeping active and avoiding risky behaviour such as smoking. You could call this the 80:20 principle of heart health. Read our healthy tips on building your emotional and physical resilience.
Taking control of the lifestyle choices you can change will leave you feeling more empowered, better able to bounce back from stress and more resilient to the risks of heart disease.
Things you can control:
Being physically active for 30 minutes on most days of the week improves your physical response to stress and is also thought to improve your mental ability to rise to a challenge, through greater self-esteem and a sense of self control and purpose. Even a spot of cleaning or DIY has been shown to improve mood and all activity that gets you slightly warm and out of breath counts towards your recommended weekly 150 minutes of physical activity. So if you’ve ‘no time for exercise’, grab your feather duster, put some music on and get your heart pumping.
Get some shut eye
We all know that feeling of not being able to cope with life’s mishaps and how many times have you caved in at the last straw simply because you feel too tired? Too little sleep can kick start the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin, driving up your heart rate and blood pressure. Other hormones that help control appetite seem to be disrupted too, leading to an increased risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. It seems that 7 to 8 hours sleep may be the ideal heart healthy slumber and the strongest predictor of mental resilience. Switch off televisions, computers and mobile phones, open a window, fluff up a good set of pillows, chill out to some soothing music or let your eye lids drop over some light reading.
Eat regular small meals and include breakfast
Skipping meals will send your blood sugar levels plummeting, leaving you feeling lethargic, unable to think clearly and irritable. In this state you’re less likely to cope when that unforeseeable stressful work email pings through or one of your kids causes a tantrum. It’s important to have a good breakfast based on wholegrain varieties of starchy carbohydrates such as rolled oats, wholegrain toast or bran based cereal. This will top up your energy for the day ahead, keep good control of your blood glucose and cholesterol and prevent you from starting the destructive cycle of snacking on high fat high sugar snacks.
Avoid artificial stimulants
Caffeine, sugar, alcohol, nicotine and other artificial stimulants like energy drinks provide a quick fix for many people but can ultimately leave you feeling anxious and depressed, disturb your sleep and cause risk to your heart. With plenty of advice available on how to quit smoking, drink sensibly and wise up on sugars and see how much happier and healthier you could feel from ditching the bad habits? Connecting with people and giving to help others through this charity pledge could be beneficial for your mental wellbeing as well as motivate you to make healthier choices.
Turning a stressful situation into a positive one isn’t always possible but sticking your head in the sand certainly won’t make your problems disappear. Whilst exercising and eating healthy won’t make these things go away, this will help you have the stamina and mental capacity to deal with your problems calmly. So take charge of what you can change today and with support from your friends, family and GP, make steps towards a healthier, happier, longer life.