Evening Standard Feature: 5 simple ways to improve your mental wellbeing and manage stress

Evening Standard Feature: 5 simple ways to improve your mental wellbeing and manage stress

Friday 4th October 2019
Alex Pedley

Some days seem to fly by. You rush out of the door in the morning, grab breakfast on the way into work and then it is non-stop all day. By the time you have made your commute home, finish a few chores and sit down - it is nearly time for bed. Then you realise that this is first time you have relaxed all day.

If this sounds like your normal day, then you are not alone.

At MVEMENT, we assess our client's heart rate variability (HRV), to get an insight into their stress levels during the day and how well they recover. We have found that many professionals spend the majority of their day with little mental downtime.

HRV is the measure of the variation between heartbeats. Higher variability signals that someone is in a relaxed state, well recovered and generally fitter. A lower variability signals that a person is highly stressed, poorly recovered and generally has a low fitness level.

Research has shown a relationship between low HRV and depression and anxiety. It is also associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease.

A low HRV over an extended period of time also signals that stress may become chronic.

How do you spot if you are becoming chronically stressed?

There are signs of chronic stress that you can look for such as having unusual mood swings including increased emotional reactions, withdrawing from social situations or experiencing a loss of motivation, commitment and confidence.

To avoid this outcome here are some strategies that you can integrate into your day that will improve your HRV so that you become more resilient to stress.

1. Improve your aerobic fitness

Low intensity cardiovascular exercise such as going for a brisk walk, a swim or cycle ride will not only improve your mood but also increase your tolerance to stress.

A study in Sports Medicine showed that low intensity cardiovascular exercise increases your parasympathetic activity (rest and digest) leaving you feeling calmer and more durable.

2. Aim for 7 hours or more sleep each night

Sleep is often sacrificed when we are busy but this can lead to more stress and actually make it harder to sleep the following night.

This is because our body boosts its levels of stress hormones when we do not sleep well. Also, when we sleep poorly, our body keeps pumping out stress hormones because the brain chemicals that signal to the body to stop the production are activated in deep sleep. The following day, you may feel more stressed, and that night you may find it harder to fall asleep, and this cycle can continue.

To improve your sleep quality, aim to keep a regular sleep pattern, going to bed and waking up the same each night. Reduce bright light before bedtime and avoid caffeine in the late afternoon to aid sleep quality.

3. Deep breathing

Breathing deeply and mindfulness helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system triggering the body to secrete hormones to decrease blood pressure and heart rate, inducing a relaxation response.

Simply taking a few minutes to take some deep breathes between tasks will leave you feeling calmer and more focused.

4. Eat a whole, real food diet

Consuming a diet high in fruit and vegetables, especially the green leafy variety, and Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish is shown to improve HRV according to a study at The Department of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan School of Public Health.

5. Enjoy some relaxation time

Try to simply relax whenever possible without using any technology.

We now live in a society where we are constantly switched on with little downtime. A poll by Ofcom showed that on average we check our phones every 12 minutes. The same report showed that 40 per cent of the nation checks their phone within five minutes of waking up with 37 per cent checking their phones before switching the light out before bed.

This allows little time to completely unwind without any mental stimulation.

We have the power to control stress and safeguard our mental wellbeing. It begins by taking time to evaluate how your lifestyle is impacting your health. This may be the difference between burning out or burning brightly in a world that is more switched on than ever.