How to manage stress: the pillars of lifestyle medicine

Christmas is fast approaching and soon, the end of 2019. As we begin to think about 2020 and what might be in store for us, many people will make commitments to improve their wellbeing.

I thought it would be useful to share my thoughts on stress-management the different aspects that keep you well, and what you can do to improve your wellbeing. These aspects are also known as the pillars of Lifestyle Medicine. I hope you’ll find them useful.

It’s important to understand that not one thing is going to keep you well…it’s a combination of a number of things: exercise, how we relax, what we eat, how much sleep we get, the relationships we have and our purpose in life.

1. Purpose – As a mental health nurse, I find that a lot of people struggle with their mental health when people place their entire purpose on something that can be lost e.g. when a marriage breaks down or they lose their job for example. People are stressed and can feel like they’ve lost everything and there’s nothing left to live for. My advice here is to create a purpose that is just for you, not something someone can take away from you. This could be doing your favourite sport like surfing, hiking being part of a team or hobby such as cooking, artwork or playing music or volunteering for a local cause or charity.

2. Relaxation – These days, our brains are too overwhelmed and are constantly living in fight or flight, with chemicals like adrenaline pumping through our bodies. The only way to reduce this stress is through relaxation and calm. I’d encourage you to carve out time to relax so your brain and body have a chance to reach a state of calm. No screens, no Friends on repeat. Simply time to yourself, walking in nature or chilling out to music for example.

3. Movement and exercise – The benefits of exercise for mind and body are well documented. One thing I would say to think about to truly reap the benefits is to try a group sport. This way, you have more of a purpose and people will notice if you don’t turn up! If going to the gym is more realistic for you to maintain throughout your life then that’s great too as exercise releases more serotonin than medication. Something I think is super important too is to choose an exercise that matches your mood. If you’re feeling anxious stick to a relaxed sport like yoga, but if you’re feeling flat then go for something more high impact.

4. Nutrition – A lot of modern research is proving how low mood is linked to the gut and the microbiome Research what difficulties you have a diet you might need. A lot of our health problems are caused by inflation in the body which stems from our gut, this is so prevalent in western society due to our highly processed diet. My advice would be to not eat foods with more than 3 ingredients  (unless it’s something you’re making yourself) as these tend to be more processed.

5. Sleep -I find it baffling how it’s now seen as a badge of honour if you can survive on little sleep. It seems to be the thing that everyone let’s slip and not prioritise. Sleep is one of our most human needs. It’s vital for our minds and bodies to recover.  Think about when you were a kid, and you had a whole bedtime routine: no TV, a bath, dim lights, bedtime story….what happened to that? I’d encourage you to create a relaxing environment before bed. If you find you can’t sleep early, why not use that as your relaxation time (see point 1)?

6. Relationships – The final pillar of lifestyle medicine I want to share with you is relationships. Humans were built to grow up in communities and never leave, but now everyone flees the nest and therefore that childhood support network. The people we surround yourself with is paramount to our health, they’re our support network. Here I’d recommend quality over quantity… It’s better to have 5 people in your life that you trust than a massive group of friends who don’t notice when you’re unhappy.

To discover more about stress-management, get in touch about workshops or take a look at the stress-management retreats coming up.