Stress isn’t always caused by something big and terrifying. Sometimes it’s the small, daily pressures that get to us. For example, according to the Mental Health Foundation, 12% of people in the UK feel stressed by a need to reply quickly to messages.
Everyday things like this can bring unnecessary stress into your life - some are known to you, while others are secret stress-builders. Would you like to feel more calm?
Read on to discover which of your daily habits may be secretly raising your stress levels and how you can remove them from your life.
Having an extra cup of coffee
Caffeine is a stimulant that can provide an energy boost. But drinking too much of it can have less desirable effects.
Cortisol is a hormone that’s released when you feel threatened or stressed. Caffeine triggers the release of cortisol, which can leave you feeling anxious and depressed. It can also prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine in the average diet; the stimulant is also found in tea, cola, energy drinks and chocolate. This means that you’ll need to cut down on these foods and drinks if you want to reduce stress from caffeine.
Manage your caffeine intake by swapping your favourite drink for a caffeine-free alternative, and replace chocolate with caffeine-free healthy snacks like fruit or nuts.
You may think that smoking helps you relax when you’re feeling tense, but it may be adding to your stress. Nicotine can change your brain’s chemistry, increase your heart rate and blood pressure, and leave you feeling irritable and anxious. Studies show that people who quit smoking have lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
If you’re interested in quitting but don’t know where to start, consider trying nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Speak with a doctor or a local Stop Smoking Service for advice on the different options available to you.
Drinking too much alcohol
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of wine or beer after a long day. However, too much alcohol can increase your stress levels. Drinking more than the recommended 14 units of alcohol each week can affect the production of chemicals in your brain that help you manage stress.
To cut down on alcohol, limit yourself to a small glass at dinner instead of drinking throughout the evening.
If you can’t stomach the thought of breakfast, you’re not alone. According to The Association of UK Dietitians, up to a third of people in the UK miss breakfast each morning. But skipping meals isn’t a habit you want to keep, especially if you’re concerned about your stress levels. Missing meals may mean you aren’t getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need, which can lower your energy levels and leave you feeling tired and stressed.
Take a look at these healthy breakfast ideas (for people who hate breakfast) for inspiration.
Another potential cause of stress is procrastination (putting things off until later). Procrastination can leave you struggling to finish everything later on. This can cause stress, which can impact your health and how well you sleep. Failing to keep up with your priorities can have the same effect. Try to get used to making to-do lists that allow you to prioritise the most important things you need to do. Always keep your deadlines realistic as you make your way down the list.
Sitting down too much
Physical activity can be difficult, particularly if most of your day is spent behind a desk. But the stress-busting benefits of exercise can make the extra effort worthwhile. Even small amounts of exercise can help to combat stress by promoting the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins, while activities like running or cycling can help to focus the mind.
If you don't know where to start, a brisk 10-minute walk can count towards your recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. Fit in additional walking time by going for a stroll at lunchtime.
Developing unhealthy sleeping habits
It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of stress and poor sleep. A tough day may lead to worry, making it harder to go to sleep, while poor sleep may mean more worrying, and another bad night.
Break the cycle by making small changes to your routine. Start by doing something to unwind at the end of the day. Try reading a book under lamplight (not a bright overhead light) instead of turning to screen-based entertainment.
Overusing social media
Social media has its advantages; evidence shows that it can strengthen relationships with peers and enhance awareness of our health.
However, unhealthy social media habits may leave us feeling disconnected, lonely and stressed. It’s also easy to become dependent on using a smartphone to check social media. To break this attachment, limit your social media use to certain hours of the day, and use this time to speak with friends and family instead.
When to see a doctor
While stress can be managed with the self-care tips suggested in this article, always see a doctor if you’re worried about your stress levels.