Stress Management: 11 healthy ways to help you get through tough times

Stress!!

We have all been through this:

You are stuck in the traffic and you have to be at a meeting in 10 minutes time, which you are really not prepared to have. At the same time, you got this angry customer sending big image files through on Whatsapp to show you everything that’s wrong with your product. Wait, there’s that email reminding you that your bills are due in the next 24 hours.

You pick up the phone, it is the babysitter. You can hear your baby crying at the back, and babysitter just goes on and on about how she has tried every known ways to human to calm your baby but to no avail.

What a disaster!

Does this sound familiar?

According to global workplace provider Regus’s online survey, 70 percent of Malaysian workers are reporting more stress-related illnesses. 48% of Malaysian respondents reported that their stress level had risen and 42% had experienced difficulty sleeping due to work worries.

Also, it was revealed that Malaysians are having a higher level of stress at 63% compared with the global average of 53% .

Stress- how to manage it?

Definition of stress: What is stress anyway?

In simple terms, stress is what you feel when you have to handle more than you are used to.

Think of your brain as an alarm system. When your brain perceives a threat, it releases chemicals to your whole body to prepare for “fight-or-flight”. After the stressor is gone, your body then reverts to its normal state.

So in general, a little stress is okay. The chemicals help you stay focused mentally and give you a temporary energy boost.

But the situation in today’s world is different, the stressor rarely disappears. In today’s fast-paced world, most people are constantly being bombarded with problems after problems. Technology advancement has also made the situation worse. Email, smart phone, instant messaging applications, you can never really leave work. Sure, you can turn off you computer, switch off your phone, but you know the consequence if you do that – you have to pay back the next day when you turn them back on.

What happens if you are constantly under stress

Stress - 11 stress management ways

When you are under stress, your

  1. Heart beat and blood pressure rise
  2. Blood sugar level rises
  3. Inflammation markers such as C-reactive proteins increase – more likely to get inflammatory conditions such as mouth ulcers, sore throat etc. (note: Some older folks call this heatiness)
  4. Immune system becomes highly sensitive (part of the reason for increased inflammatory activities)
  5. All other body systems get affected. For example, digestive system slows down and reserved energy is converted to ready energy (hence the increase in sugar level). This explains why you don’t feel hungry when you are under stress. Brain gets more glucose supply, hence become more alert.

Basically, your whole body gets out of balance when you are in a “fight-or-flight” condition. Your body prioritises the elimination of stressor over any other activities.

When the stress persists for a long time, it starts to affect you – in very very bad ways. Studies have shown that chronic stress may worsen or increase your chance of getting:

  1. Heart disease
  2. Obesity
  3. Diabetes
  4. Stomach related problems
  5. Asthma and Eczema
  6. Headaches
  7. Depression and anxiety
  8. Alzheimers disease
  9. Accelerated aging

 

Stress Management: Simple relaxation techniques to overcome stress

Relax - 11 Stress Management ways

It’s basically impossible to avoid stress in today’s face paced world. If there is no way to avoid it, then what we need are ways to live with it.

Exercise

Exercise reduces the effect of chronic stress on you body, especially the heart and circulatory system. Exercise also pumps up your endorphins – making you feel good and feel less stress.

We understand that sometimes, it’s just hard to find time to exercise. Here’s an interesting app that I recently started using and have been enjoying so far

7-minute work out app IOS / Android 

The whole set of exercise takes a bit over 7 minutes only, and it does help relieve stress. Just give it a go.

Listen to music/white noise

Listening to music has been shown to reduce the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure and decrease the level of stress hormone. Experts are now exploring ways to use music as a calming treatment for anxiety patients.

Another option is to listen to white noise. White noise gets its name from white light – which is a result of combining all different frequencies of colours. White noise is a combination of different frequencies of sound we are able to hear. Popular sources of white noise includes the sound of rain, ocean waves, waterfalls etc.

White noise can help you mask unwanted sounds in the surroundings and sometimes can even help calm down your inner voice.

Recommended tools/apps

Spotify: Almost unlimited music to choose from. There are also many curated lists by other users. Here’s one specifically for relaxing your mind.

Relax Melodies IOS / Android:  This is an app that allows you to combine all your favourite sounds to create your own unique white noise.

Write it all down

Sometimes stress is caused by you having too many cluttered, unorganised thought. Sometimes you feel stressed because there are too many options available to you, you don’t know what to do.

The best way to deal with this, is to write everything down. If you can draw, try drawing a mind-map. Start by writing down/drawing out the core problem, and followed by listing down all your available options.

You will find that by listing everything down on a piece of paper, it lightens your brain. As if everything that was in your head, are now moved onto the paper. And you can start looking at your problems in a third-person view.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy has been shown to carry many benefits in terms of wellness and stress relief. It is a very useful tool for stress reduction. It has little known side effects, and can easily be combined with other stress management methods such as meditation.

You can now easily various aromatherapy products from the pharmacies, or even local grocery stores.

There are many different scents available and different scents have different functions:

  • Lavender: mild sedative and has a calming effect. It’s also known to help improve cognitive performance.
  • Rosemary: Might be your scent of choice if you still have work to do after the aromatherapy session. It has a positive effect on mood and performance, without causing sedation
  • Peppermint: Another good scent to have in the office. It helps improve alertness, performance and memory.
  • Ylang-Ylang: Has a relatively strong calming effect. Best used at the end of the day to unwind and de-stress.

Power Nap

Napping in the afternoon is a powerful way of stress management, especially if you have had a stressful morning. More and more studies are showing positive evidence to support the benefits of napping at lunchtime.

Taking a power nap in the afternoon has been shown to have these benefits (1)

  • reduce stress
  • improve immune system
  • reverse the negative health effect of not having enough sleep the night before
  • Improve memory
  • Increase mental alertness, performance and productivity

Meditation

Meditation is gaining popularity amongst the working population all around the world. More and more scientific research are being conducted on meditation exercise.

Meditation can be the most effective stress management tool you will ever need, if you know how to do it.  Various studies done over the years indicate that the practice of meditation reduces the grey-matter density in areas of the brain related with anxiety and stress. (2,3,4)

The best part is, meditation is simple. You can do it anywhere, and for any length of time. Here is a great article that will help you get started.

The next time if you are feel under pressure again, try:

  1. Look for a quiet spot around you
  2. Sit down and close your eyes
  3. Stop worrying and start focusing on just your breathings
  4. Try to breathe in and out very slowly and very deeply
  5. Your mind will wander and IT’S OK. Just gently bring your attention back to your breathing
  6. When you are ready to end the session, open your eyes and stand up slowly. Stretch your body a bit.

Guided visualisation

If you have trouble focusing your attention during meditation, you should try guided visualisation or guided meditation.

Guided visualisation exercise is very similar to meditation. Both exercises demand you to take your mind off things around you and focus on your breathing. The difference: As the name suggests, guided visualisation is a guided experience. During guided visualisation, you will typically  be asked to visualise a peaceful scene in nature or see yourself accomplishing a goal.

Guided visualisation is not only useful for relaxing and unwinding, it can also help increase your chance of achieving your goal.

Here’s an interesting study:

An Australian psychologist took a group of basketball players and tested their abilities to make successful free throws. He then split the players into three groups

  • The first group would practise for 20 minutes a day
  • The second group would only visualised themselves making free throws for 20 minutes a day
  • The third group did nothing.

30 days later, the groups were tested again.

The first group improved by 24%.

The second group improved by 23% without touching a basketball!

The third group did not improve which was expected.

Guided visualisation is a powerful exercise for both de-stressing and empowering. Here is a great app that provides free guided meditation/visualisation:

Calm meditation (Apple version) and (Android Version)

Have a coffee or tea

I believe a lot of people are already doing this. Caffeine in the coffee/tea will provide you a boost in energy.

This should not be your only way of de-stressing though. Too much caffeine is bad for you!


 

Supplements For Stress Management:

Supplements to help stress management

Here are some supplements that you can get in Malaysia to help stress management:

BRAND’S ® Essence of Chicken

You wouldn’t believe what this traditional remedy can actually do for you.

Chicken essence is very rich in anserine and carnosine. Both are strong antioxidants. Supplementation with carnosine/anserine has been shown to improve cognitive function and physical capacity in animal studies and on elderly people (5)

Essence of chicken has also been shown to reduce stress and mental workload. In this study, participants were divided into two groups: one group was given placebo while the other was the Brands Essence of Chicken for consumption daily in the morning.

The conclusion:

The group that consumed Brands Essence of Chicken performed better in mental examinations, had a lower level of stress indicators and had better moods.

Here’s another similar study done here in Malaysia on the effect of Brands Essence of Chicken as an anxiolytic (a remedy used to reduce stress).

Recommended:

Take 1 bottle of Brands Essence of Chicken daily for 14 days straight and see if you feel more alert and energetic. It works for me and many other people.

Magnesium

Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in our whole bodies.  The main function of Magnesium is to monitor the flux of calcium in and out of the cell. Normally Magnesium stays within the cells while Calcium remains outside of cells. When the cells need Calcium inside (to perform functions such as moving a muscle or firing a nerve impulse), Magnesium opens up the channel and let Calcium in.

During stressful events, your muscles tense up and your nerve becomes more alert – your cells are filled with calcium. Once the stress is gone, Magnesium helps to push the calcium back outside the cell, so that your cells can go back to the normal, relaxed state.

So think of Magnesium as a muscle “relaxant”. It is used to relax muscles during labor, it can be used as a laxative to relax bowel muscles and it is also used as a muscle relaxant for conditions such as night cramps.

Other than being a muscle relaxant, Magnesium is also important for stress relief. Studies have actually found links between mental disorders and magnesium deficiency. (6,7)

Magnesium supplements can be found at your local pharmacies. Here are a few brands available in Malaysia

Kordels Magnesium

Ingredient: Magnesium Amino Acid Chelate 750mg (equivalent to Magnesium 150mg)

Direction: Take 1 capsule twice daily with food

Live-well Magnesium

Ingredient: 350mg Magnesium oxide

Direction: Take 1 tablet daily after meal.

One other tip:

Epsom Salt (Magnesium salt)bath is also a very good way to unwind and relax your tense muscles after a stressful day. Just fill bath tub with warm water and put two big spoons of epsom salt into it. You can also add in a few drops of essential oil for aromatherapy if you wish.

B-Complex vitamins

B-complex vitamins supplements are perhaps the most used supplement for stress management here in Malaysia.

There are in total 8 main types of B-vitamins: namely Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), B6 (pyridoxine), Biotin (B7), Folic Acid (B9) , and Cobalamins (B12).

B-complex supplements are normally tablets that contain all eight vitamin Bs. It is in my opinion, a must-have supplement for all busy working young adults. Together, they help our body to derive energy from food.

  • Thiamine (B1) is known as an anti-stress vitamin and energy vitamin. It helps the body to derive energy from food
  • Riboflavin (B2) is an antioxidant to help fight free radicals during stressful period. Riboflavin is also involved in the energy production for body.
  • Niacin (B3) also helps to extract energy from food and increase “good” cholesterol
  • Pantothenic Acid (B5) helps to manufacture various energy (CoEnzyme A) and stress-related hormones (Steroid)
  • Pyridoxine (B6), Folic acid (B9) and Cobalamins (B12)helps regulate our mood and sleep patterns – it helps body produce serotonin (a mood hormone), melatonin (a sleep hormone) and noradrenaline (a stress hormone)
  • Cobalamins (B12) works with Folic acid and together with iron, they produce red blood cells – for carrying oxygen (with it comes energy!) to various parts of the body (including the brain)

Common Multi-B supplements available in Malaysia

Blackmores Executive B

Bio-life Executive b

Surbex Zinc

So, what do you think about the stress management techniques/supplements listed? Which one is your favorite? Tell us more in your comment.

Reference:

  1. Bushak, Lecia. “Napping Is Actually Really Good For You.” Medical Daily. Medical Daily, 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 9 Jan. 2016. <http://www.medicaldaily.com/health-benefits-napping-resting-can-help-reduce-stress-and-protect-immune-system-321580>
  2. “76 Scientific Benefits of Meditation | Live and Dare.” Live and Dare. 7 Jan. 2015. Web. 11 Jan. 2016. <http://liveanddare.com/benefits-of-meditation/>.
  3. Miller, John J., Ken Fletcher, and Jon Kabat-Zinn. “Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders.” General hospital psychiatry 17.3 (1995): 192-200.
  4. Peterson, Linda Gay, and Lori Pbert. “Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders.” Am J Psychiatry 149 (1992): 936-943.
  5. Rokicki, Jaroslav, et al. “Daily carnosine and anserine supplementation alters verbal episodic memory and resting state network connectivity in healthy elderly adults.” Frontiers in aging neuroscience 7 (2015).
  6. Seelig, Mildred S. “Consequences of magnesium deficiency on the enhancement of stress reactions; preventive and therapeutic implications (a review).” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 13.5 (1994): 429-446.
  7. Jacka, Felice N., et al. “Association between magnesium intake and depression and anxiety in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health Study.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 43.1 (2009): 45-52.
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