What are the best ways to manage stress? It’s Stress Awareness Month and we want to help raise awareness of the issues with stress management and mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, throughout our lives, there are many causes of anxiety and stress, and this is especially true with healthcare professionals. A variety of contributing factors cause undue strain on these workers and can lead to huge struggles in stress management.
At BSLM, we are supporting those struggling with mental health issues by advocating proven lifestyle medicine measures that result in positive outcomes and drive real change in health and wellbeing. Here are five essential lifestyle medicine tips that can be used to improve mental health.
Mindfulness is seen as the non-judgemental attention to the present moment1 and is used to improve our mental wellbeing. This involves helping us deal with issues around stress and anxiety, allowing us to enjoy the world around us more2. So, how can mindfulness be used to improve stress management?
This can be achieved in a variety of ways:
Yoga or Tai Chi – Performed at various levels, this serves as a relaxing method to ease your mental burden, while also providing many physical benefits such as increased strength and flexibility.
Meditation – A calming influence on any form of stress, freeing up a small amount of time each day to meditate can benefit mood and anxiety, while evidence also suggesting that it will bring improvements to physical conditions such as hypertension. 3
Spending time in nature – A simple thing, but during our packed schedules, we rarely find time to enjoy the beauty experienced in nature. Prescribing nature can be a very effective way to improve mental wellbeing.4
Often the greatest source of stress for people comes at work, particularly with healthcare workers. That is why for Stress Awareness Month, we are providing free video content from our member-exclusive webinar archive, that addresses mindfulness at work and can help with stress management.
Disconnect to Connect
The online world has never been more prominent in our lives. Whether it’s mind-numbing scrolling on our phone, endlessly staring at a screen during work, quickly checking your next day’s schedule or even renewing your car license, there is rarely a time where we are not using some form of technology. While often essential or even for convenience, it is important to ensure that screen time is being managed, and reduced where needed. Rather than spending your spare time on social media, try increasing meaningful social connections by meeting a friend.
Not only does low mobile phone use correlate with lower levels of stress, but it is also associated with improving sleep quality.5 Furthermore, should you limit your time on mobile devices, you will likely find more time to form meaningful connections, which can be hugely beneficial to reducing stress.
Avoid Unhealthy Habits
It is first important to acknowledge that there can be a lot of socio-economic determinants that lead to poor lifestyle habits and ultimately poor health. Often, the consumption of harmful substances, such as drinking alcohol or smoking, are seen as coping mechanisms for stress. However, in the long-term this only worsens both our mental and physical health. It can be extremely beneficial to reduce, and eventually remove these toxic substances from our lifestyle.
The British Society of Lifestyle Medicine therefore advocates for a non-judgemental, supportive and compassionate approach to this important pillar of Lifestyle Medicine.
The tools and techniques of Lifestyle Medicine can offer real hope to people experiencing difficulties in this area of their lives – and BSLM advocates for its wider use in harm reduction and prevention strategies in this area.
You can learn more about these approaches and techniques used in Lifestyle medicine to address this here.
There are mental health benefits gained from physical activity, with studies showing that being active can have a positive impact on brain health and cognition and reduce the risk from dementia. It can also help to reduce stress, improve anxiety & depression6 – and can help us to sleep better.
There are so many ways in which physical activity can be integrated into our lifestyle, including:
Swimming – Getting in the water can sometimes be ‘far more powerful’ compared to other healthcare interventions, as seen through the new ‘Swimming as Medicine’ series launched by Swim England.
Yoga – This activity is a terrific way to relieve stress through mindfulness and varying levels of physical activity.
Movement as Medicine – Whether it’s running, jogging, walking, or any other form of movement, integrating movement into your daily routine can go a long way to improving your mental health.
Improve Sleeping Patterns
Sleep is essential for restoring our energy levels and giving our bodies a much-needed rest. We are becoming increasingly aware of its wider health benefits – as well as the harmful effects of poor sleep and sleep deprivation.
With stress and mental health, good quality sleep is essential. We know that high cortisol levels are associated with anxiety and stress – and that getting the right amount of sleep can help to lower these.
Sleep can also reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, PTSD and the long-term effects of grief. Sleep does this by helping us to process difficult emotions and experiences, giving us a better chance of staying resilient, positive and happy.
Key tips for improving sleep:
Maintain the same wake and sleep time each day.
Ensure your bedroom is dark, cool and quiet.
Avoid caffeine after 2pm and limit alcohol consumption.
Try to spend some time each day outside in natural light to ensure your body gets a good dose of the melatonin it needs to sleep well. This also helps your hypothalamus to understand the difference between light and dark, triggering your natural body clock and helping you sleep better.
Keep active: ensuring you are physically active can help you to enjoy better sleep.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: past, present, and future. Clin. Psychol. Sci. Pract. 10, 144–156. doi: 10.1093/clipsy/bpg016
NHS. (2023). Mindfulness. [Online]. NHS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/tips-and-support/mindfulness/ [Accessed 18 April 2023].
Cramer, H. et al. (2016) “Prevalence, patterns, and predictors of meditation use among US adults: A nationally representative survey.” Scientific reportsvol. 6 36760. 10 Nov. 2016, doi:10.1038/srep36760
Nguyen et al. (2023). Effect of nature prescriptions on cardiometabolic and mental health, and physical activity: a systematic review. The Lancet. 7(4), [Online]. Available at: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(23)00025-6/fulltext#seccestitle10 [Accessed 18 April 2023].
Thomée, Sara et al. (2011) “Mobile phone use and stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression among young adults–a prospective cohort study.” BMC public health vol. 11 66. 31 Jan. 2011, doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-66
Singh B, Olds T, Curtis R, et al (2023) Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety and distress: an overview of systematic reviews British Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 16 February 2023. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2022-106195