I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the modern world is a pretty stressful place to live at the moment. Every day the news is full of doom and gloom. If it isn’t political division, it’s the rise of nationalism, once in a lifetime storms, civil wars, climate change or even impending monkey flu epidemics. Eek!
That’s the big stuff, we haven’t even got to all the things we have to be stressed about in our own small corner of the world. Traffic, work, getting the car fixed, paying the bills, health insurance, finding a good school for the kids, making enough time to take the dog for a walk. It’s all frankly exhausting and so stressful that sometimes it feels as if your head is going to explode.
Stress is bad for our health. When we worry about things the body is flooded with cortisol, also known as the ‘stress hormone’. Cortisol is the bad boy of the endocrine system, raised levels of the hormone have been linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease and even cancer. Yikes!
So reducing stress is no only preferrable it’s actually critical to your longevity. Fortunately there are some very simple and very effective measures we can all take to reduce our stress levels and give our health the chance it deserves.
Regular exercise and a healthy diet are both hugely important and are often referred to as the two pillars of good health. Sleep however, is the very foundation on which these two pillars stand or fall. No single thing has a bigger impact on our overall mental and physical health than sleep.
More sleep, equals less stress.
There is a small almond-shaped collection of nuclei buried deep in our brains frontal temporal lobe, it’s called the amygdala. While very small in stature the amygdala has a oversized impact on how we deal emotionally with external stimuli.
When we sleep badly the amygdala becomes upto 60% more responsive to negative inputs, hence the irritability, mood swings and stress. For this reason, and many others, prioritising sleep is essential for getting control over your stress levels. It’s something the team at the Sleep Advisor discuss all the time.
Now, just knowing you should get more sleep and actually doing so isn’t always the easiest task to achieve. Stress often works to keep us awake at night, which in turn makes us more stressed. A cruel cycle indeed. Fortunately there are a number of things you can do during the daytime to destress and also help you sleep. One is simplifying your pre-bed routine. More on that below.
The Simplify Matrix
If you’re prone to stress do me a favour, take a sheet of white paper and write in big letters the word ‘simplify’. Then stick it up where you can see it. Be it on your fridge in the kitchen or in your cubicle at work. Better yet, take a photo of this sign and set it as your laptop and smartphone screensaver. This one word is going to act as a visual prompt for your new attitude to life from this moment forth.
Now every decision you make has to pass through what I call the Simplify Matrix. Ask yourself, ‘how can I simplify this’.
Stress is generally that feeling of being snowed under. The sensation that there’s simply too much going on and we can’t keep up. In reality, there is much more time in the day than we often realise we just have to use it more wisely.
Taking that split second to think before you act will not only save you time, it will save you a lot of physical and mental energy. The boffins in Silicon Valley are always talking about, ‘don’t work hard, work smart’. This is what they mean.
Simplifying your pre-bed routine will have a huge impact on how well you sleep. Instead of rushing around trying to do a hundred different things, pick two or three activities that you can replicate every single evening. Your brain will learn to associate these acts with sleep and you’ll soon find that it’s not so difficult to drop of at night.
More sleep, equals less stress.
Get your list on
Every night before bed make two lists. These will take no more than five minutes each once you’ve got the hang of it.
The first is a to do list for the following day. This can be as detailed or as simple as you want, I suggest keeping it pretty basic. Note down all the things you feel you have to do then run them through the simplify philosophy. Are they actually important? Do they have to be done tomorrow? If not, scratch them off. Then number the remaining items by order of priority.
Not only does this process of listing help you enormously to predict and avoid possible stress causing events the following day, it will do wonders for your sleep. The simple act of getting your thoughts onto paper seems to help clear them from your mind, meaning your head is that little bit empiter when you lay ear to pillow.
More sleep, equals less stress. I think I may have mentioned that already.
The second list is even simpler. Just make a note of three things you are most grateful for from the day gone past. This can be anything from the big to the very small. Maybe you’re grateful that a loved one recieved some good news from the doctor. Maybe you’re grateful that the sun came out for your walk home. Don’t overthink this, it’s purely an exercise in positivity. An effective one. Gratitude lists are proven to help retrain the brain to look for the positives in life rather than the
Well, there you have it – three ways to help reduce your stress levels and with it improve your overall health.