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Stress has become an almost normal part of today's life. The demands of work, family and social life can become overwhelming at times. Interestingly, in many cases, stress is however not purely the result of external influences, but caused by our own bad habits. The good news is, that as you change your habits, you can considerably reduce the level of stress in your life. Below we have included some habit changes to help you regain control of your life:

Eat and drink sensibly.

Try to cut back on any food or drinks containing caffeine or alcohol. Many people use alcohol and food abuse in an attempt to reduce stress. However, caffeine is actually a stimulant and heightens your level of stress rather than reduces it. It can make you feel anxious and jittery.

Alcohol is a depressant when taken in large quantities, but acts as a stimulant in smaller quantities. Hence, using alcohol as a way to alleviate stress is not ultimately helpful.

Exchange caffeinated and alcoholic drinks for water, herbal teas, or diluted natural fruit juices and aim to keep yourself hydrated as this will enable your body to cope better with stress.

Also try to avoid or reduce your intake of refined sugars - they occur in many manufactured foods (even in savoury foods such as salad dressings and bread) and often lead to energy crashes which can lead you to feel low and irritable.

Tip: It is advisable to eat a healthy, well-balanced and nutritious diet, which will support your general wellbeing.

Sleep well.

A lack of sleep is a common cause of stress, which, in turn, also interrupts our sleep as our busy mind stops us from relaxing and falling asleep.

Rather than resorting to the use of medication to achieve a good night's sleep, your aim should be to increase your relaxation before going to sleep.  Make sure that your bedroom is a quiet place with no reminders of the things that cause you stress. Do less mentally demanding work the last hours before going to bed so that you can give your mind time to calm down. Take a warm bath before bed to relax your body and help you forget about your worries. You can also try to tire your eyes by reading a calming book. Put down your phone for the last hour before sleeping.

Tip: The best approach to get your mind and body to adjust to a predictable bedtime routine is to go to bed at about the same time each night and sleep for a similar amount of hours.

Exercise regularly.

Try and integrate physical exercise into your lifestyle as it can be very effective in relieving stress. It might seem contradictory, but putting physical stress on your body through exercise can relieve mental stress. The benefits are strongest when you exercise regularly. In the long run, exercise decreases your body’s levels of stress hormones, including cortisol. It also helps release endorphins, which are chemicals that improve your mood and act as natural painkillers.

Exercise can also improve the quality of your sleep and self-esteem. When you exercise regularly, there is a good chance that you will feel more competent and confident in your body, which in turn promotes mental wellbeing. Activities, such as walking or jogging, that involve repetitive movements of large muscle groups can be particularly stress relieving.

Tip: Even just going out and getting some fresh air, and taking some light physical exercise, like going for a walk to the shops can really help.

Take control of your problems.

Stress can be triggered by a problem that may at first sight seem impossible to solve. Learning how to find solutions to your problems requires effort and courage, but will ultimately help you feel more in control, and thereby lower your level of stress.

One problem-solving technique involves writing down the problem and coming up with as many possible solutions as you can. Decide on the pros and cons of each and select the most feasible one. Write down each step that you need to take as part of the solution: what you have to do, how you will do it, when you will do it, who is involved and where it will take place.

Tip: Control what you can and let go of what you cannot control.

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