Dr Roger Henderson March 10, 2016

‘Stress can lead to a whole host of health issues, such as poor digestion and a weaker immune system amongst others’, says Dr Roger Henderson.

Here are the experts' top 20 best ways to combat stress and improve your overall health...

1. Sleep Well

‘Sleep deprivation is often linked to stress,’ says Dr Roger. On average, we need seven hours of sleep per day, though you may find you do better with less, or a little more.

2. Eat more… bananas

Eating a healthy, balanced diet can play a part in reducing stress. While all fruits and vegetables will have a positive effect on your general health, bananas have been found to contain ‘11 per cent RDA of magnesium and 15 percent RDA of vitamin B6, which are key to helping the body deal with stress,’ says nutritionist Angela Dowden.

3. Exercise regularly

Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, swimming or riding a bike, five times a week can reduce stress levels and risk of depression by 30 per cent, according to the NHS.

4. Connect with people

Surrounding yourself with family and friends is a sure-fire way to alleviate the symptoms of stress. According to Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster, says ‘the activities we do with friends help us relax and have fun which is an excellent stress reliever.’

5. Be catty

It’s official – watching funny online clips of cats boost energy and positive emotions, and decreases anxiety.

6. Have some ‘me’ time

While the idea of taking some time away from everything else and focusing on yourself may feel like you’re neglecting your responsibilities, spending time on yourself when you feel overwhelmed is thought to improve focus and boost concentration levels.

7. Stretch it out

Yoga and Pilates, which focus on boosting mindfulness and improving your breathing have been proven to reduce stress levels in those that take part for at least an hour once a week.

8. Think positively

If you’re a constant worrier, thinking more positively can be easier said than done. Traditional herbal remedies, such as St. John’s Wort, “have been found to lift mood in those suffering with mild to moderate depression”, says nutritionist, Rob Hobson.

9. Boost the happy hormone

You may find you benefit from a 5-HTP supplement, “it helps your body’s production of serotonin, otherwise known as the ‘happy hormone’,” explains Rob Hobson.

10. Prepare yourself

If you find yourself worrying about being late or forgetting something important, take the time to prepare things in advance, or leave extra time to keep stress levels at bay. Simple things, such as allowing an extra 10 minutes to walk to work will help to keep you calm and allow you to feel more in control.

11. Do something for others

Helping others is a great way to reduce stress levels. Consider volunteering at a local charity branch, such as Help the Homeless, which will allow you to meet new people as well as make a difference to your local community.

12. It’s a dog’s life

Time to walk the dog? “Recent studies have found that those who spend time with dogs have lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress levels than those who don’t”, says psychotherapist Sally Brown.

13. There’s an app for that…

According to the Mental Health Organisation, “People undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.” Headspace, available for free on the app store, provides 10, 10 minute/ free meditation sessions that can be done whenever you feel necessary.

14. Treat your gut

We’ve long known there’s a connection between the gut and emotions – who hasn’t felt all churned up when stressed? Now Dutch scientists have shown that boosting good bacteria in the gut by taking a supplement containing Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus for four weeks has a positive impact on mood.

15. Feed your good bacteria

One study from Oxford University, found that boosting your intake of prebiotics – food for your gut’s good bacteria – lowers levels of the stress hormone. Garlic and onions are natural sources of prebiotics, or try a supplement.

16. Take up the tango!

According to new research from Queen’s University in Belfast, people who start to exercise regularly feel better about their bodies within two weeks. “The best exercise is one you enjoy and can do regularly, but take up the tango and you’ll calm feelings of stress and anxiety,” say researchers.

17. Eat the Med Way

People who eat a Mediterranean diet are less prone to depression, according to a study from Spain, which tracked 15,000 people for 10 years. Think lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, fish and health fats, such as olive oil and nuts, with moderate amounts of lean meat and dairy products.

18. Smile!

Consciously activating your smile muscles lowers the stress response and releases ‘happy’ chemicals in the brain just as effectively as a spontaneous smile.

19. Drink plenty of water

‘Even mild dehydration can alter a person's mood, says nutritional therapist Martina Watts. Hydration experts say that our thirst sensation doesn't usually appear until we are 1-2 per cent dehydrated already. By this stage our mind and body performance have already felt the impact.

20. Ask for help

Isolating yourself will lead to higher stress levels. If self-help methods don’t seem to be working, speak to your GP who may recommend visiting a councillor or joining a support group. Never feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help; according to the NHS, ‘Mental health issues, including stress, anxiety and depression, are the reason for one-in-five visits to a GP’, so you are not alone.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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