Stress is the health epidemic of the 21st century, experts warn.
Three-quarters of Brits – a worrying 49 million according to a Mental Health Foundation poll – suffered stress last year.
Work, money, health and lack of sleep were the main factors and 39 per cent experienced stress every day.
Doctors warn stress is linked to onset of obesity, insomnia, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure , cardiovascular disease, strokes and even Alzheimer’s.
Neil Shah – founder of the Stress Management Society and author of bestselling book, The 10 Step Stress Solution – says: “We are in a stress epidemic.
“Every day I see patients who are literally stressing themselves to an early grave.”
Neil has devised this four-week plan with tips to bringing stress under control.
We need a daily digital detox and the first thing we should do is turn off our phones, ideally between 8pm to waking up.
Step one has to be to disconnect and reconnect with those around, as well as ourselves.
Many people don’t realise that by implementing small changes to their routine they can reduce stress. People are getting stressed about feeling stressed.
I’m a big believer in lists. Written down, it feels like a do-able list to achieve.
And, as you tick things off as you go, you feel better emotionally.
Take it slowly. Write a list about what gets you overwhelmed.
Children? Work? Write down your daily schedule and then write down what you would like to fit in. Brainstorm. Work out where you’re being stretched.
I recommend avoiding a technology overload, spending time outdoors and using breathing and meditation just to reconnect.
Good sleep is vital – it’s nature’s healer and is just as important as eating healthy and exercising.
Poor sleep is linked to weight gain, higher risk of stroke and a lower level of immunity. Get a routine for bedtime, improve your sleep hygiene and reign in screen use in the hours before bed, to allow yourself to switch off.
We should treat ourselves as children who need to wind down. And that means no sugar at night too.
Diet is super-important and has a direct correlation with our mental wellbeing.
What we put in affects us greatly. Ready meals, takeaways, crisps, biscuits, sweets and anything with a long line of ingredients can have a terrible effect.
The same goes for alcohol and too many sugary drinks. Sugar can literally shock and scare the body.
Two hours after a high sugar meal, you will have a crash – and this can lead to the stress-inducing fight or flight response.
We need a balanced breakfast, regular meals and five portions of fruit or vegetables a day, ideally.
Start small. Introduce a healthy breakfast, get that to be a habit. Then cut down snacks. Bit by bit you will see a huge difference.
And try new foods. You may gradually find you love things you’d never have thought about eating.
Start putting these changes in place, to help ease you into a more stress-free phase of your life. Ready for the next step? Breathe easy… literally.
I highly recommend people take time out to just slow down and meditate. We can spare five minutes a day… before bed, when we get up, whenever suits best.
Use this five-point technique to get comfortable with stress-busting deep breathing:
- Sit or stand in relaxed position, spine straight.
- Count to five as you slowly inhale through your nose.
- Hold the breath for five to 10 seconds.
- Count slowly to eight as you fully exhale.
- Repeat several times
If you are over-stretched in your life in any way, saying ‘No more’ can have a lasting impact on health and stress levels.
You might take on too much, try to cram too many activities into too little time and are constantly rushing from one thing to another.
If that’s the case it may help to work on your assertiveness.
Saying No doesn’t mean you’re selfish. It allows others to step up and lets you manage your time and abilities to be the best version of you.
Keep these new behaviours up for a month and they’ll soon become your new, healthy habits. It takes 28 days for a human to create a new habit. You are learning along the way.
Try buddying up with someone and your chances of success can grow tenfold.
It can be hard to constantly think about prioritising health. Life is busy and most people have to juggle work and home life.
To have a long-term benefit on health and stress levels, it is critical to make a plan and hold yourself accountable. Don’t try to change everything at once, it will be too overwhelming.
If you lapse, get right back on the wagon. We are all human – you need to give yourself a break.
There are times when we make poor choices and we do things we know are not good for our health. Put that out of your mind and get back on track as soon as possible.
Finally, make time for the new you, ensuring you follow through and are committed. You are changing behaviours you have had for years, so it will take time and dedication to stay on track.
Take time out every morning to note all the positive behaviours you are committing to for the day.
If you do this every day your thoughts will become your actions and your actions will become your habits.
- Neil Shah runs the Stress Management Society. For more helpful hints and tips visit