Charlie Thompson, co-founder and managing director of The Massage Company, shares his tips on dealing with stress and anxiety in a hectic post-pandemic world.
Why is the ‘new normal’ more hectic than life before the pandemic? Maybe it’s because we’ve fallen out of practice dealing with the usual hustle of everyday life. Maybe it’s ongoing covid fears. Most likely, it’s a mix of both, but whatever the reasons, the overwhelming consensus when I speak to clients, friends and acquaintances is that life right now just feels more stressful.
When we’re feeling stressed, we’re often advised to avoid the things that are causing it, but for most of us that just isn’t realistic. We’re adapting to life after a world-changing event – it’s going to be stressful. That doesn’t mean that we have to accept a constant feeling of stress as part of our lives. Here, I share a few tips on how to tackle stress and prevent it from stopping you from living life to the full.
Force yourself to have fun
In her book, The Power of Fun, science author Catherine Price argues that having fun is far from a frivolity – it’s an essential part of a happy, healthy life, and an excellent antidote to stress. This doesn’t mean that we all need to become 24-hour party people: it’s about injecting some lightness back into your life, which, following the pandemic, doesn’t come as naturally to many of us as it once did. Start with small things – talking to a friend, cooking something nice, watching a film – then start to look at the bigger things you enjoy and make sure you have time for them. A big one for me is sailing and spending time outdoors. The more you find your fun, the better equipped you are to counter the stresses that life throws at you.
Yes, you will have heard this before, but it really is so important to conquering feelings of stress and anxiety, especially when you feel your time spiralling out of control. Shallow breathing stops us from expelling cortisol – the ‘stress chemical’ – and creates a ‘catch 22’: it’s both a response to and a cause of feelings of stress.
Stopping that cycle takes more than an occasional deep breath: instead, try retraining your breathing pattern with the help of an app like iBreathe or Calm. There are also stretches that reduce tension in your chest, back and stomach muscles to help you breathe deeper – suggestions over at Everyday Health include the seated spinal twist, which is a particularly good one to try when you’re at work.
Find other ways to reduce your cortisol levels
Aside from deep breathing, there are other ways to reduce cortisol, even when avoiding stress isn’t an option. A good sleep routine is a big factor (though not always practical for everyone), as is diet. Unhealthy eating will raise cortisol levels, but it’s not just about cutting out what you don’t need – it’s about getting the nutrition you do need as well. Don’t overlook supplements: some that are commonly prescribed to regulate cortisol include magnesium, vitamin B12, folic acid and vitamin C, but you should discuss with a doctor to get the right ones for you.
Another, often overlooked, method of reducing our cortisol levels is regular massage. If you’ve had one, you’ll know how relaxed you feel afterward: this is because massage therapy has a big impact on our biochemistry, reducing cortisol while boosting those so-called ‘happy hormones’ serotonin and dopamine.
Put yourself first
Why is it that when we’re feeling stressed, the first things we bump off our lists are the things that make us feel less stressed? Most of us tend to de-prioritise self-care at times when we need it the most, yet focussing on our wellbeing will actually help us to perform better when we’re under pressure.
Elevated stress levels can impede our memory, attention span, information retrieval and decision-making. If you don’t tackle your stress before you tackle your to-do list, you’re setting yourself up to fail, further perpetuating that cycle of stress.
Set time in stone for whatever self-care is most beneficial to you. A membership, class or subscription can help you stay accountable to that time and prioritise your own wellbeing. A lot of our members say that having a massage therapy subscription helps them to maintain regular ‘me time’ where it would otherwise easily fall off their list – with over a quarter (26.2%) experiencing reduced stress as a result.
We all experience stress sometimes, but it should never feel constant or unmanageable. If stress is becoming a problem, don’t ignore it – prioritise dealing with it and you will notice a positive impact across all areas of your life.