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How to avoid a stress headache

Many books have been written on this subject, but you don’t have time to read them, so let’s cut to the chase:

  • Stress dehydrates. Most headaches are a result of dehydration. So, drink plenty of water. Drink a glass of water before you think about reaching for a painkiller (which can also dehydrate). Not tea or coffee or even fruit juice or squash – water. Particularly if you’ve had alcohol, or are planning to have alcohol, or have had / are planning to have vigorous exercise. Which brings me to…

  • Exercise is a wonderful antidote to stress. Whether you exercise at the start of the day to clear your head, at the end of the day to unwind, or in the middle of the day to break up the day, exercise will help you cope with stressful situations. It works in many ways – time away from the phone (ideally), a break from concentration, get the blood flowing and stimulate the brain, the release of endorphins, improve the quality of your sleep, and so on. Even better if it’s combined with being in the fresh air, much has been written about the benefits of being outdoors, even for just 5 minutes a day.

  • Food affects your mood. If you’re not getting the right sort of nutrients into your blood in a 24 hour period then your brain can be affected. That means having enough carbs through the day, and having the right carbs – not fast-releasing short-lived carbs but slow-releasing complex carbs. That way your blood sugar levels are maintained and you won’t get empty and grumpy, or ‘hangry’.

  • Prioritise prioritise prioritise. You can’t make time, you can only work out how to use the time that you’ve got. So constantly ask yourself whether what you’re doing is the most important thing to be done at this point in time. We tend to get drawn to those pieces of work that interest us, but if you do them at the expense of a higher priority you’ll just create stress for yourself further down the line.

  • Talk about it. It doesn’t really matter who you talk to, but not talking about things that stress you will leave you more likely to internalise those issues and leave you feeling isolated. Sometimes the most unlikely people can say something really helpful when you mention to them something that’s stressing you.

  • Be in touch with your own wonderfulness. Be aware of what you’re not wonderful at, and manage things accordingly, and don’t be afraid to accept that you are uniquely wonderful. We all have fundamentally fragile egos, and there has to be a balance – ‘this I’m good at, this could be better, but this is where I'm good’.

  • When it gets too much, step away. If there’s a voice that says ‘I can’t do this’ then acknowledge it and step away. You don’t have to step away for long, maybe a lunch break, maybe just a walk round the office or round the block, but stand back and reassess. When you do that you often see things just slightly differently, adopting a bit more perspective, you might have an idea about how to take a different approach. You won’t do your best work if negative thoughts are starting to bog you down. Step away, and then you can reengage and get motoring again.

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