Look after your body from the physical symptoms of stress

Given we all experience upheaval in our lives it seems fair to assume that many people will experience some kind of trauma that will have an effect on them.

This performance fix offers a day-by-day plan to minimise the negative physical symptoms of stress so you maintain a strong, physical base that will help you cope in any climate.

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It’s useful to remember that highly stressful events produce an immediate, physical response in the body and not just in the mind. As the responses are instant, it’s likely you’ve recently become familiar with some or all of these:

  • lethargy
  • tiredness
  • inability to concentrate
  • fast heart rate.

These are all completely normal responses to what are extremely abnormal conditions. They’re normal because the body produces adrenaline and cortisol in response to an unexpected stress, which then produces:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Stomach problems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle weakness
  • Skin conditions and more.

So, even though we think we’re managing the stress in our head, our body might be telling us a different story, and that’s why some proactive self-care is the order of the day.

If you want you to increase your ability cope in highly challenging and abnormal conditions, then it’s worth taking some steps to reduce any physical symptoms of stress you may experience.

If left unchecked, long term high stress levels and the high level of cortisol can lead to a less effective immune system, high blood pressure, headaches, extreme tiredness, cravings for sugary and starchy foods (and the health problems that come with the inevitable weight gain), dizziness and long term sleep problems. All things that we could really do without!

So, this guide, offers a day-by-day plan to minimise the negative impact of physical stress so you maintain a strong, physical base that will help you cope.

5 Day Plan

Day 1 – Get a baseline and tune into your body

1. Make a note of any physical symptoms of stress you’ve been experiencing over the last week. Tick those that apply:

  • Feeling lethargic
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Feeling tired
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Stomach problems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle weakness
  • Skin conditions that have flared up
  • Any other symptoms

2. Give yourself a score between 1 and 10, with 1 being no symptoms at all and feeling completely physically stress free and 10 being an overwhelming daily experience of multiple physical symptoms of stress.

3. Don’t forget, we’re focused purely on your physical symptoms. The aim is to become fully aware and accepting of YOUR physical response to stress.

Day 2 – And Breathe

Today let’s spend some time focusing on breath and breathing. This will start to help the body relax in a simple and powerful way.

1. Take 5 minutes to lie down on your back. Make sure you are warm and comfortable and will not be disturbed. If you are comfortable, close your eyes.

  • Start by becoming aware of your breath. If it is comfortable for you, close your mouth and breathe in and out through your nose. Feel the cool air as it enters your nostrils and the warm air as it leaves your body.
  • Just notice your breathing
  • Now deepen the breath and breathe into the abdomen. Allow the belly to rise as you breathe in. Gently breathe out and let the belly fall.
  • Breathe into the belly and then let the chest rise as the breath goes deeper.
  • Now breathing deeper. Feel the belly rise, the chest and into the collar bones. Exhale gently; collar bones, chest, belly.
  • Continue this deep breathing exercise for as long as you wish
  • Notice how you feel after you’ve completed the breathing. For the rest of the day, and going forwards, start to be more aware of your breath and whether you are breathing fully into the belly.

Day 3 – Sleep well

Today, give yourself a specific score on how well you’ve been sleeping generally. With 1 being no sleep problems at all and always practicing great sleep hygiene, to 10 being heavily disturbed sleep, every night.

Be really curious about your sleep and make a note of what, if any sleep problems you are having. Now, take a look at the list below and select one or two simple actions you can start doing tonight that you think will increase the chances of better quality sleep:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning
  • Remove all electronic devices from the bedroom – and yes, that does include your phone!
  • Turn off the tv and don’t use any screens at least an hour before bedtime
  • Create a ‘going to bed’ routine
  • Avoid caffeine for several hours before bed. Depending on your sensitivity to caffeine, you might even choose to have no caffeine after midday
  • Don’t do any vigorous exercise for at least 2 hours before bed
  • A hot milky drink and/ or a warm bath can help you relax before bed
  • Add any other behaviours that you know or have heard can help with sleep

Day 4 – I like to move it, move it

Let’s move! There is a reason why the whole world appears to be producing ways for us to be physically active at this time; when we move, our body creates endorphins that help us to feel happier and more relaxed. Exercise can also help you sleep better, concentrate better and feel more in control. Of course there are guidelines as to how much and what type of exercise we should be doing for general health, however, the most important thing is to move regularly to start getting the benefits of being active. So, just for today, get curious. If you already have a great fitness regime, see what you can do to change it up and think about all the things you could do over time to vary your routine or involve other people.

If, like many, you are finding it hard to motivate yourself to exercise right now, get a plan to do something ‘just for today’, and just for today see what activity you can do that gets your heart rate up; how much you can do; when you move, how does it make you feel? Here are a few ideas. (Remember, it really doesn’t matter what you do right now. Just do something!)

  • Put on some music you love and just dance
  • Try a yoga class – there are loads being streamed for free
  • Try random acts of exercise through the day if you can’t face a whole planned session: stand on one leg while you brush your teeth, do some sit to stands while watching tv, work at a standing desk instead of sitting all day, get up and walk around while you are on the phone, stretch your arms overhead while you wait for the kettle to boil.
  • Find an exercise class online – there’s loads to choose from. You can find classes for as little as 10 minutes if you want!
  • Go for a run or a walk/ run
  • Join in with the kids classes if they are at home with you

Once you’ve done something just for today, see if you can use the same approach tomorrow. One day at a time rules right now!

Day 5 – Food Rules

Now start to get curious about the food you are choosing to eat and whether you are drinking enough water.

If you notice you have been getting into bad habits, try the ‘just for today’ idea again to see if you can address just one of those poor habits.

Just for today you might be curious about how much water you drink and whether you can up your intake. How does that make you feel? Do you notice any difference in your energy levels? How about your concentration?

Remember this is not about judgement. It’s about curiosity and making small change that sets your body up a little bit better to manage the stress we’re feeling.

You might find that working through the 6 days on a cyclical basis will help you to keep on top of your stress levels, rather than letting them build up until it’s too late.

Be kind to you body and you’ll find it a lot easier for your mind to be a bigger help too!