Among the most popular resolutions people make at this time of year is to become less stressed. But how do you go about it? Rick Pearson speaks with Jannis Haddon to find out
It’s official: us Brits are stressed out. Research has estimated that between 1.5 per cent and 3.6 per cent of the UK population – between 1 million and 2.2 million people – suffer symptoms which meet the medical definition of an anxiety disorder. These figures have been rising since the credit crunch and, with 2013 shaping up to be another challenging year, they’re unlikely to start falling anytime soon. So how can we fight the stress?
According to HR guru Jannis Haddon, the key is to listen to your own body. “When it comes to dealing with stress, we all have different levels of resistance,” she says. “What one person finds stressful, another will find motivating.”
However, Jannis says there are some simple things everyone can do to reduce their stress levels – the first and foremost being taking regular exercise. “This will raise your endorphin levels, lower your blood pressure and make you feel healthier. It will also burn off some of that annoying adrenaline and help you to sleep better.” You don’t have to go and run a marathon, either. According to Jannis, a brisk walk or lunchtime swim will all help to reduce stress levels.
The second most important thing is eating and drinking healthily. “Drink plenty of water throughout the day and eat foods that are high in vitamin B, such as leafy greens and turkey,” says Jannis. “Lots of people turn to junk foods and alcohol when they’re feeling stressed, but these are just short-term cures. A healthy, balanced lifestyle is what you should be looking for.”
It’s also worth thinking about your breathing. Most of us tend to breathe from the top of the chest – and the more stressed we get, the shallower our breaths become. Instead, when you’re feeling anxious or stressed, Jannis advises taking a ‘belly’ breath. “Place your hand on your stomach and breathe in deeply. If you’re doing it correctly, you should feel your hand move upwards. Then breathe out, and your hand should move back down. Ideally, you should try to breathe in for seven seconds and out for 11. If that’s too difficult at first, aim to breathe in for four seconds and out for six. And remember: it’s the outwards breath that’s really important.”
A lot of people don’t realise they’re stressed until it’s too late, so it’s important to look out for the symptoms. The more immediate ones include a raised heart rate, an increase in sweating and a dry mouth. The long-term effects of stress can include trouble sleeping, raised blood pressure and becoming more irritable. “It’s vital that you realise when you’re becoming stressed and take action sooner rather than later,” says Jannis. “The longer you allow yourself to be stressed, the worse it will get.”
Us Brits are notoriously bad at talking about our feelings, but the simple act of telling someone that you’re stressed or anxious can go a long way in mitigating the symptoms. “No one will think any worse of you for saying you feel anxious,” says Jannis. “If you don’t feel you can tell a friend or colleague, then you can always speak to a professional. You don’t have to suffer in silence.”
Jannis Haddon has over 25 years’ experience in HR, management consultancy and life coaching
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 25, January 2013