According to several research studies, black women tend to minimise the seriousness of their stress levels by dismissing some serious symptoms as ‘ just the blues’. The truth is, we all feel down sometimes. Claire Muffett-Reece explores some of the symptoms of stress and looks at simple – yet effective – ways to help banish those blues.
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Be honest – how many of you have reached for the takeaway menu because you’re too stressed to cook, before opening a bottle of wine in the hope you can drown those worries away? “It’s normal to turn to comfort food when feeling overwhelmed,” says Rebecca Kane, author of Turn Your Shine On – Your Raw Food Journey to Health and Happiness.
“However, these foods are often laden with fats and high in sugar, meaning that while you may initially feel better, they are hard for your body to digest, resulting in you feeling more tired than before. Healthy food choices are guaranteed to improve your coping mechanisms, so make it a habit to opt for whole foods such as potatoes, brown rice and oats, that release their energy slowly and keep you going for longer. Remember – the food you eat literally creates you, so choose vibrant meals bursting with colour and snack on fruit and vegetables rather than crisps or chocolate. It really does make a difference!”
Healthy food choices are guaranteed to improve your coping mechanisms… it really does make a difference!
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After a busy day at the office the last thing you fancy is a gentle jog around the park, but statistics show that light exercise is a surefire way to improve rising stress levels. “When faced with stressful situations your body reacts in a number of ways,” explains fitness expert Chris.
“Cortisol – the stress chemical in your blood – increases and adrenaline is secreted from the adrenals to spark the body with energy to make its decision. Exercising intensely when stressed can actually add further stress to the body, so I suggest a more relaxing method to getting fit, such as a 60-minute walk during your lunch hour, breathing in the fresh air and exposing your body to much-needed vitamin D. Swimming or yoga is also a great stress-reliever, releasing endorphins into your blood and positively affecting your sense of wellbeing. Finish with a bout of meditation before bed and you’ll soon see those stress levels diminish.”
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Feeling under pressure is bad enough as it is, without the stomach-churning thought of a desk piled with papers and a disorganised home that hasn’t seen a duster in weeks. “If you are disorganised and living in chaos you are more likely to succumb to stress,” says life coach Rasheed Ogunlaru.
“Having a tidy life is, in many ways, the outcome of having a calm, clear mind, helping you to feel relaxed and letting you focus on the things most important to you. Organise your work and home life, writing lists, recycling and giving things away to make yourself and others feel good. It’s not just the physical organisation that’s important – you should also concentrate on your emotions, too, realising the kind of friends and contacts you want and letting go of relationships that don’t help you to shine. Overall, make sure you know what’s really important in life and focus on that rather than all the noise and nonsense.”
The washing needs doing, the kids’ homework needs checking and you’ve still got to finish that report for your meeting first thing. When on earth are you going to make time to run a bath and paint your nails? “Taking time out is an effective way to reduce stress, as it decreases your heart rate and relaxes your muscles,” says Stress Management Society’s Neil Shah. “However, using short-fix solutions such as drinking tea or coffee isn’t the answer – instead a more rewarding type of break is when you can distract the mind and truly recharge, such as reading a book or catching up with friends.”
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THE WORD ‘NO’
It’s human nature to be a people pleaser, but there are times when you have to grit your teeth and say ‘no’ in order to manage ever-rising stress levels. “Saying ‘yes’ all the time is a vicious and stressful circle,” explains consultant counselling psychologist Dr Michael Sinclair. He adds: “Worrying about how to handle the conflict or sense of rejection you may experience means you are more likely to cave in, however, it’s vital you put your own needs ahead of others in order to devote more energy to more important aspects in your life. Be both assertive and empathic in your approach, explaining that you understand that person needs your help, but being clear surrounding your reasons for refusing at that time. They may not like to hear what you have to say when you are being assertive, however being around people that say no makes us feel safe in the parameters and certainty that they demonstrate.”
Sharing a problem helps you recognise that we all have different challenges going on in our lives, as well as bringing up solutions that you may never have considered in the first place.
A problem shared really is a problem halved, with talking through your worries a vital tool in combating stress once and for all. “Ninety five percent of what you feel and experience is based on how you are communicating with yourself at any one time,” says author and therapist Dominic Knight “However, you can change the way you represent things to yourself by discussing it with a friend, whose perspective will be different and whose loving encouragement and support can turn anything around. By not sharing the problem you are actually creating a greater build-up of anxiety because you are not actively seeking a solution, so confide in a friend or colleague and see those stress levels disappear. Sharing a problem helps you recognise that we all have different challenges going on in our lives, as well as bringing up different solutions that you may never have considered in the first place.”