When was the last time you had a completely stress free day? Not just a relaxing day off, but a day when you felt no pressure from work, friends, family or yourself to do more, be better and generally succeed in life? 

If you can answer honestly that is  quite recently, then you are one of the lucky ones!

For most of us, stress is such a common everyday occurrence that when we are not experiencing it, we often create reasons to feel stressed! Whether it be to excel in work or studies, juggling family and friendships, a desire to perform well in personal pursuits or the pressures society places on us to be fit, attractive and successful, life can be more than a just little stressful at times!

Sure, a little stress in life is to be expected, it can even help motivate us to be the best versions of ourselves! However, too much stress can take it’s tole and have a serious impact on our health in all areas, whether it be emotionally, mentally or physically.

Did you know that chronic stress has been linked to numerous serious health conditions including obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's, asthma, gastrointestinal diseases and depression? Then there are the more common, even if (slightly) less serious, symptoms of headaches, anxiety, insomnia as well as making you look and feel, tired and haggard!  

Finding ways in which you can work to combat your stress levels can be all that stand between you feeling on edge first thing each morning, and living a long, healthy and life.

Here are 6 key areas in which you can reduce your stress levels, improve your health and enhance your overall quality of life:

 Exercise - Have you ever noticed how everyday responsibilities are much easier to cope with when you are feeling fit and healthy? Keeping yourself physically active goes a long way towards managing the many stresses that life might confront you with. Practising regular exercise does more than keep you physically fit and healthy, it also stimulates the function of your endocrine system which is responsible for the production of all the different hormones and neurotransmitters in your body. Some of these, including endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine not only alleviate your mood, motivate you and make you feel confident and content, they also work to reduce your levels of cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) in your body. 

Eat Well - Your diet plays a huge role in how well you are able to cope with the stresses and strains that life throws your way. Coffee and muffins might seem like a good option. They taste good, they fill a hole and they give you a temporary energy boost. However, in the long run, you are going to be left feeling more lethargic than before and nutritionally deficient. By eating a healthy and balanced diet, rich in fresh foods, you can ensure that you are getting all the nutrients you need to be healthy and grounded, both physically and mentally.

Take Time Out - Making time each week, or better still on a daily basis, to focus on things that make you happy and allow you to unwind, is integral to creating a balanced and stress-free life. Whether you prefer to enjoy time alone with your thoughts or participate in activities such as yoga, sports, gym, art, dance or even martial arts, taking time out is important for your health both physically and mentally. On a chemical level, participating in things that make you happy stimulates the release of dopamine into your body, which is great because dopamine is a ‘reward’ neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy and motivated - basically the opposite of stressed!

Reach Out - Spending time with the people you love and care about is important for maintaining general wellbeing. When we feel loved and content, our body releases more oxytocin into our brain. This hormone is directly linked to human connection and also plays a key role in your happiness. The happier you are, the less stressed you are going to feel, so make time each day to be around the people that make you happy! 

Be Assertive - Learning to say “no” may just be one of the most important life skills you can acquire, in relation to avoiding stress. For some people being assertive comes quite naturally, whilst others may find it to be a little challenging. Yet learning to recognise when you already have enough on your plate and politely declining when asked to take on more, will not only help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed and stressed, it will likely help you gain some respect. As long as you are being polite and reasonable, assertiveness is actually quite an admirable quality. 

 Practice Mindfulness - The art of mindfulness involves drawing your attention into the present moment and becoming aware of how you are feeling both physically and mentally. This non-judgmental attitude includes an observation of thoughts and how your thoughts and feelings are shaped by your external world, just as your experience of the external world is shaped by your different thoughts and feelings. As you begin to cultivate more mindfulness into everyday life, you will start to notice that you are able to respond to stressful situations from a slightly more grounded and calm perspective. This will not only help reduce the stress you may potentially experience, it will also help you cope better with stresses that are unavoidable and generally enhance your overall quality of life.