Well, that was stressful…

  • Why the election was bad for your health
  • The link between daily stress and mobility problems
  • The most important health decision you can make in 2020

So that was the Christmas election, then.

Ho ho ho!

Now, I’m not going to get into politics – don’t worry.

But whatever side of the fence you were on, you’ll have to admit, that was quite a stressful time, wasn’t it?

Right before Christmas, too!

Instead of gushing over John Lewis ads and worrying about the festive number one pop single, the country was whipped into a frenzy about the NHS, Brexit, climate change and who knows what else.

The media was full of all kinds of dirty tricks, hysteria, accusations, weird interviews and bizarre behaviours.

…and there was so much NEWS!

…constant news…

…not just on TV but on social media.

For many of us who are plugged into smart phones and tablets (myself included) the news followed us wherever we went.

Much of the news is negative stuff – and we human beings aren’t built to deal with it day after day.

Our brains aren’t equipped for constant stress.

The point of our body’s stress response was to make us alert and ready to get out of danger on special occasions – escaping a sabre tooth tiger, responding to a ferocious enemy attack, or sensing fire in the forest.

When our brains picked up trouble, a flood of hormones would get us ready to either fight… or flee.

But we live in a time of constant, drip-fed stress.

News of extreme weather events, terror threats, and political turmoil… money worries, including debts, mortgages and monthly bills… family crises, health problems and tragedies… health concerns, job concerns, you name it.

This kind of stress and negativity is really bad for our health.

The link between daily stress and mobility problems

In 2011, research at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, found that negative feelings can damage your metabolism, immune system and organ function.

Leader of the research, Professor Carsten Wrosch said: “Persistent bitterness may result in feelings of anger and hostility that, when strong enough, could affect a person’s physical health.”

More recently, research published in Psychological Science, looked at the effect of stress on health in later life.

Elderly participants in the study reported how well they could carry out tasks like getting dressed, climbing stairs, carrying shopping, and walking the distance of just a few streets.

The study found that those who had persistent worries and stress in their lives were more likely to struggle with these tasks.

The authors said that the people at risk of mobility problems in later life were those who got particularly negative emotional responses to stress… and then carried that stress over to the next day.

Kate Leger of the University of California said:

“When most people think of the types of stressors that impact health, they think of the big things, major life events that severely impact their lives, such as the death of a loved one or getting divorced. But accumulating findings suggest that it’s not just the big events, but minor, everyday stressors that can impact our health as well.”

And this is what so many of us forget when we obsess over diet, nutrition and exercise.

All these things are important, of course.

But one of the biggest health threats you face is stress – not the stress of a big event or life challenge (which is what stress is designed for) – but those constant, daily niggles, worries, fears and irritations.

These can have as much effect on your health as smoking.

Now, while I’d love to be able to help you clear up all the stress in your life, that’s a little beyond the capacity of this letter.

If I could be your fairy godmother I would happily wave a wand to remove your stress.

(I’d say ‘fairy godfather’ but that sounds like I’d be Marlon Brando in a tutu, which is slightly disturbing.)

There is no magic quick fix solution, I’m afraid.

However, as it’s Christmas, with New Year coming up fast, there is an opportunity to start addressing this problem…

The most important health decision you can make in 2020

One of the great things about the turn of the year – and in this case, turn of the DECADE – is that it gives you a psychological opportunity.

It’s a chance to make a fresh start and draw a line under the problems of the past decade.

Once you do that, you can set yourself some fresh goals.

Lots of people will instinctively think about weight loss diets when they make their New Year’s Resolutions but I’m going to recommend a ‘stress loss’ diet.

Because stress could be more of an issue for your long- term health than any other factor.

A stress loss diet means taking a look at the problems that are causing you constant, low level worry… and dealing with as many as possible.

Not all at once, of course.

You need to first address them, then make a proper constructive plan about how to remove or reduce them.

Start by writing down all your current worries and their causes – even the small niggles that play on your mind, like the mess in the garage or the snoring of your loved one.

Next, take each issue, one by one, and see if there is a way to switch them off, or ease them in some way.

Come up with a practical solution for each. These solutions might be simple cases of doing some admin, making phone calls, arranging meetings with bank managers or bosses.

Others might be more difficult – confronting a loved one, giving up something you enjoy, jettisoning a bad relationship, leaving a job.

You must understand that there will be some issues you cannot control – and, if so, then you should stop trying to change those things and focus on what you CAN control.

For instance, there are some positive things you can start doing in the new year to reduce stress:

  • Go on regular long walks
  • Get out into nature more often
  • Take regular, long breaks from smart phones and social media
  • Take up meditation, or simply find a spot to be still and silent for at least ten minutes every day
  • Start a new hobby or learn a new skill
  • Make new friends

These are probably better New Year’s resolutions than most because they’re not gruelling or intimidating – they’re fun! – and so you’ll probably stick with them.

Anyway, that’s my best advice as we head into the festive season.

And if you are seeing family and friends in the next week, try and enjoy that time if you can!