Mind

What experts tell their friends about dealing with stress

Discover the insider secrets about what to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed and tense.

By: Larraine Sathicq

Even if you don't let it slow you down, stress can still affect your health and wellbeing. We asked the experts to share the advice they give their stressed-out friends.

Press pause

"It's important to take time out to recharge and refocus. I advise my friends to schedule one day a week for rest and relaxation. Make a list of all the things that make you truly happy and spend the day on those things, even if it means doing nothing or taking a nap when you feel like it," says Associate Professor and general practitioner Vicki Kotsirilos.

"Once or twice a year, take yourself completely away from your normal routine for a week or so, preferably in nature. A few days at the beach or in the countryside can help clear your mind and make you better able to cope with stress in your life."

"Regular exercise improves sleep, reduces stress, boosts your mood and helps natural fatigue kick in at the end of the day for a good night's sleep. Exercising earlier in the day is best, outside rather than in a gym, so you benefit from the vitamin D, fresh air and natural environment."

"I also recommend starting each day with 10 to 30 minutes of meditation, taking time to be grateful and focus on the positive."

Have your hormone levels checked

"The link between hormones and stress is a two-way street. If your hormones aren't working well it can cause stress and increased stress can switch off hormone production in your body. Stress is sometimes a problem for women who have thyroid problems or at times when oestrogen and progesterone levels are low or all over the place, like just before a period (PMS), after childbirth, during perimenopause or after menopause," explains endocrinologist Dr Sonia Davison Jean Hailes for Women's Health.

"We do need a little stress in our lives but if a friend seems to have trouble coping I would first consider lifestyle clues like work, relationship or sleep problems. If you also have physical symptoms like hot flushes, sweating, erratic or stopped periods, PMS, unexplained weight changes, hair loss, feeling sluggish or fatigued, tremors or changes in bowel habits, I would recommend having your hormone levels checked."

Talk about it

"My friends often come to me for advice about stress. The good thing is they all know that when I become stressed to the point that I'm not sleeping well, I see my therapist. It's so luxurious to have a whole hour of someone giving me their undivided attention and their objective, qualified opinion as well as offering suggestions that I probably wouldn't have come up with myself at those times when it's difficult to think clearly," says clinical psychologist Dr Melissa Keogh.

"Many of my friends have therapists too but for those who don't, I would advise speaking to a trusted friend or confidante – much better than bottling it all up. Another handy tool for stress is the Smiling Mind app, a free mindfulness meditation program, available at smilingmind.com.au."

Speaking to a therapist can be helpful for finding ways to deal with and manage stress. However, if you don't have access to one, speak to a trusted friend instead of bottling up your feelings.

When all else fails, you may have to walk away

"A certain amount of stress is normal and even motivates us to get stuff done - but a lot of stress over a long period can be harmful, even increasing risk for serious health problems like heart disease and cancer," advises clinical psychologist Dr Brian Graetz.

"If stress is affecting your sleeping, eating and drinking or causing you to self-medicate with alcohol, it's definitely time to find the source of your stress and address it. This could mean speaking to your boss about unrealistic expectations at work, negotiating for extra support, taking time off or if all else fails, even looking for another job."

"Whatever else, take action, even if it's only talking to someone because people at most risk for stress-related health problems are those who feel there's absolutely nothing they can do about it."

Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath

"And then another. And keep doing it until it becomes a habit," says Breathwork practitioner and trainer Ann Harrison.

"Your breath is a great barometer of how you're feeling and it can also be used for immediate relief of those 'fight or flight' symptoms associated with stress. When you're under pressure, your breathing often becomes shallow and ineffective, whereas conscious deep breathing delivers more oxygen to your brain and helps you to quickly refocus."

"If possible, go and sit by a stream or fountain, because listening to the sound of gently running water has a calming effect and is a great antidote for stress. I also tell my stressed-out friends to get moving. Whether it's yoga, dancing or a walk around the block, movement activates whole body systems and can change your state of mind."

Taking deep breaths can relieve those feelings of 'fight or flight' when you're feeling stressed.

Your teeth shouldn’t touch

"Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw is a common stress response – and you may not even know you're doing it, especially while you're asleep," says Dr Peter Alldritt of the Australian Dental Association.

"It can damage teeth and cause jaw problems, muscle pain, earache and headaches. The only time your teeth should touch is while you're eating."

"Ask your dentist about jaw relaxation exercises, but if you can't do much about your stress levels and you're grinding at night, it might be time to look at a custom-fitted occlusal splint to protect your teeth and reduce contraction in your jaw muscles. Some people use their splint during stressful periods and others say they can't sleep without them."

If you're feeling stress, anxious or overwhelmed, it is always advised to make a visit to your trusted GP.