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Mental Health Month: 5 easy tips to manage everyday stress

By Mylie Sell – Clinical Psychologist, Higgins.

All of us struggle with stress at various stages in our lives.  The unpredictability of 2020 is putting a mental strain on many of us, often compounding the work, financial and relationship situations that cause stress and anxiety.  We’re right in the middle of Mental Health Month which is a great time to take a deep breath and reflect on our stress levels and those around us.

I’ve put together 5 great tips to help you manage stress, based on years of experience with my patients here in Canberra.  Important to remember that these are general in nature and when it comes to stress and mental health we’re all a little bit different.  Find strategies which work for you and please reach out to your GP or specialist if you’re having a tough time.

  1. Learn and Practice Self-Compassion

Ever noticed that you’re way harder on yourself than you are on your best friend?  That the compassion and understanding that come so easily when someone you love is in a tough spot is so much harder to apply to yourself?

Self-compassion is an essential component of mental health.  It starts with learning to acknowledge when you’re not yourself and then expands to a mindset of self-kindness, not self-judgement.  We all have challenging times and we all make mistakes – learning to give yourself the benefit of the doubt in these moments is an invaluable skill.

Self-compassion.org is a fantastic source of information and strategies to help you learn and practice self-compassion.

  • Exercise Regularly

The relationship between physical and mental health is much stronger than many think.  Exercising releases chemicals which improve our mood and can reduce stress and anxiety, as well as often providing a better night’s sleep. 

Of course, the world of exercise itself can be stressful – needless to say not all of us feel at home surrounded by dumbbells, lycra and protein shakes!  Find ways of exercising that you enjoy and remember that a simple walk around the block is often enough to clear the mind.  Now that summer is on the horizon try to get outside when you can, if you have friends or family who like to join that’s even better.

Our region is full of great nature reserves to explore – offering both a workout and precious peace and quiet.  The walk up Mount Painter – not far from our Macquarie clinic – is a personal favourite of mine.

  • Take a deep breath

It’s said so often that it can sound cliched, but deep breathing is a crucial part of stress management.  A deep breath sends a message to the brain to slow down when it’s trying to race at a million miles an hour.

Deep breathing can take many forms, ranging from personal practices to formalised classes.  Taking a couple of minutes at your desk to breathe in the course of a busy day is a great trick to ease stress and regain focus.  You don’t need to take a long time out of your day to do it – the secret is to sit comfortably, close your eyes, breathe slowly, and focus on your breathing.  Just a couple of minutes can make a big difference to your day.

Yoga classes are a fantastic way to practice breathing and also a great form of exercise.  Meditation is also an incredible way to manage stress, if you haven’t tried it before I’d recommend to download either the Smiling Mind or Headspace app to your phone and give it a try – they can both be tried for free!

  • Try floating to release muscle tension

Muscle tension is another reflection of the complex and reciprocal relationship between mental and physical health.  Massage is a proven method of managing stress and for many of us an hour or two with a masseuse is the perfect way to put our mind at rest.

There are other approaches however that aren’t as well known.  One that I personally really like is called floating.  In short, floating involves a private water tank loaded with healthy salts that make floating inevitable – like a brief escape to the Dead Sea, if you will.  This not only provides the perfect setting to drift off and truly relax mentally, but the magnesium in the salts is said to improve sleep and release muscle tension.

See the folks at Astral Float Studio in Bruce if you’re interested to know more – they’ve been kind enough to offer a $15 discount to NHC members for their first 1 hour appointment, just use the code COOPHEALTH when booking online or over the phone to redeem.  Please review their information on pre-existing medical conditions prior to booking an appointment and ask your doctor if you have any questions.

It’s not for everyone, but many of my patients have found they love it.  Whatever floats your boat, right?

  • Don’t cut out fun in times of stress

When you have work, bills, and other sources of stress on your mind, there is always a temptation to cut out fun and social activities to allow more bandwidth to resolve these dilemmas.  This is definitely the wrong approach, as doing the things you enjoy is one of the best defences against stress.

Hobbies are really important.  There is no hierarchy when it comes to hobbies, it really just comes down to what you most enjoy to do – it might be gardening, craft, reading or sport.  Try to establish a routine and commit yourself to dedicating at least a couple of hours a week to your passions.

2020 has provided us all with a lesson on the importance of social connection. Human beings are social creatures and time with close friends and family is one the best antidotes for stress and anxiety, even just a half hour coffee catch up can quickly turn around a challenging week.