The effect of one night of sleep deprivation on your overall wellbeing is significant. In this episode of AIA Voices, sleep and mental health experts Olivia Arezzolo, Kate Yan and Asher Low explain what happens when we get less than adequate sleep.
Your relationship with your dog brings stress relief. It increases the levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. (Credit: Getty Images)
There are many products and techniques on offer to help us reduce our daily stress. Have you seen the bubble wrap phone cases that you can pop or squeezable phone holders that also work as stress balls? As helpful as these products may be for stress relief, they are not enough to drive away negative thoughts.
Stress makes your brain go through chemical and physical changes that affect its overall functioning. When left unmanaged over time, stress can lead to the development of other health problems – including stroke, asthma and heart disease.
Learning about your stress symptoms can help ensure your mental wellbeing. Situations like pressure at work or conflict in a relationship can negatively impact your mental state. When this happens, you may experience following symptoms:
- Inability to focus
- Becoming easily agitated or irritable
- Difficulty relaxing and quieting the mind
- Having low self-esteem
- Random bouts of crying
- Persistent low energy
These symptoms can also be accompanied by physical discomfort, from headaches to upset stomach and skin rashes.
How to relieve stress
You need coping mechanisms to manage your stress. Here are five ways to relieve pressure or tension and build emotional resilience.
1. Ground yourself
Grounding is a mental or physical exercise that helps distract you from anger, sadness or panic induced by stress. One example is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. It asks you to give your full attention to whatever you're doing – for instance, popping that aforementioned bubble wrap phone case. The idea is to engage your senses, so the feelings of stress do not overwhelm you completely.
The World Health Organization (WHO) shares an example of the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Before starting, take slow breaths with your feet flat on the floor and your hands on your side or clasped together. Once you're calmer, ask yourself the following questions and answer them mentally:
- What are the five things you can see?
- What are the four things you can feel?
- What are the three things you can hear?
- What are the two things you can smell?
- What is one thing you can taste or touch in your environment?
This technique is helpful when you feel your brain is going into a fight-or-flight response.
2. Name your negative feelings
Stress can worsen negative feelings and amplify insecurities. It may lead to unhelpful thinking and negative self-talk. Work stress, for example, may make you jump to conclusions about your inadequacies and compel you to criticise yourself.
How do you mentally turn your back on negative thoughts? According to mental health experts, you shouldn't push them away. Instead, notice and name these negative feelings:
"I notice this is a painful memory."
"I notice this makes me angry."
"I notice I am having difficult thoughts about my family."
The process of acknowledging and naming difficult emotions helps you realise it's just part of being upset. It also asks you to shift your perspective. Will this negative feeling go away eventually? Whatever is happening now, will it matter three to six months from now?
The next time you're beating yourself up, find an empty room and state aloud what you would say to a friend who was stressed. Then give yourself the same advice in a kind and gentle voice.
3. Give yourself permission to cry
Think of crying as a release valve for your pain. It is a soothing form of stress relief that calms you down right after. (Credit: Getty Images)
We cry out of frustration, sadness or rage. A good cry can make us feel better, allowing us to find the words to express our emotions. Crying helps refresh the mind, giving you the energy to think clearly about what you need to do next.
Your body releases stress hormones and endorphins when you cry. The feel-good endorphins that follow offer physical relief, helping you relax.
4. Get your body moving
Exercise is a scientifically proven stress-buster for the body. It is an effective tool in reducing the risk of stress-related illnesses like obesity, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and sleep problems.
Research findings show someone can feel calmer after 20 minutes of cardio training or aerobic exercise. The calming effect can last for several hours. Breaking the activity into two 10 to 15-minute sessions can help combat work stress throughout the day.
Your body (and mind) can recover from stress and recharge with the current health recommendation: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week.
5. Set aside time to relax or disconnect
Find that one person whose company makes you laugh, an excellent stress reliever. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Do not underestimate the stress-relieving power of simply taking a break. Experts recommend setting aside 10 to 20 minutes a day to perform an activity that helps you release tensions in your body.
If time is a barrier, try meditation – which can be done anywhere, even during your commute. Schedule a date with a friend who isn't from work during your lunch hour (virtual or not!). On weekends, try soothing rituals like switching off social media or booking a spa appointment.
If a few hours won't cut it, request to take a mental health break from the office. Studies have shown that job performance suffers when you're in an "emotional storm." It may not resolve what's stressing you, but it will help you take a step back, quiet your mind and reflect on your next moves.
Researchers say positive people are better protected against the inflammatory damage of stress. Positivity also helps them make better health and life decisions. However, that positive outlook on life does not mean ignoring pain or negativity.
Stress relief management is about how well you recover from and get through a tense event. Preparing can make a difference, so find the stress-coping technique you are comfortable practicing. Invest in a self-care plan that includes medical protection to lessen your worries about unexpected sickness or financial distress in the future. And don't forget the most important thing: building mental toughness starts by being kinder to yourself.
AIA Voices is a community of influential and educational voices from around Asia to talk about life, health and wellness. A platform to educate, motivate and inspire people to make positive behavioural changes on their health and wellness journey. Providing an opportunity for communities across Asia to connect, collaborate, and learn from each other. Designed to drive AIA One Billion, our ambition to engage a billion people to live Healthier, Longer, Better Lives by 2030.
World Health Organization. 2020. Doing What Matters in Times of Stress: An Illustrated Guide [online] [Accessed on 14 June 2022]
Harvard Health Publishing. 2021. Is crying good for you? [online] [Accessed on 14 June 2022]
Psychology today. 2020. What Is Centering? What Is Grounding? [online] [Accessed on 14 June 2022]
National Health Service (UK). 2018. 10 stress busters [online] [Accessed on 14 June 2022]
American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Journal Stress. 2013. Relief: The Role of Exercise in Stress Management [online] [Accessed on 14 June 2022]