Life

Stressed out? Here are some healthy alternatives to your Friday night vino or pints

Try relieving stress without resorting to the pub, with these relaxation tips, writes Liz Connor

Have a cup of herbal tea before beddy-byes – rose, valerian or lavender are calming

OUR always-on culture makes it almost impossible to leave worries at work and switch off after a crazy-busy day. From unanswered texts to unopened emails, there's plenty that can play on your mind, eat into your precious downtime and negatively impact your sleep.

When Friday night arrives, it can be tempting to reach for a bottle of wine to de-stress, but there are healthier ways to make sure you get your chill on at the start of the weekend. Here's some expert advice:

1. Get outdoors: "I work from home, so for me it's all about getting outdoors, and nothing beats a hearty walk armed with a coffee bought en route," says nutritionist Rob Hobson of Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk). "I find cooking hugely relaxing, and I often start looking for supper inspiration first thing in the morning as a nice work distraction."

Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll (drmegarroll.com) agrees in the power of the great outdoors. "I nurture my mind and body with nature," she says. "This doesn't mean going on an hour-long ramble. I simply take a moment outside and observe – what can I see, hear, smell? Even on cold winter days, there will be many sensations that you can tune into. This very quick ecopsychology technique helps me to release the tensions of a busy week."

2. Take a hot bath: "Stressful days can mean the sympathetic wing of our nervous system is always switched on," says personal trainer Nicola Addison. She says that to wind down and become relaxed, we need to activate our parasympathetic nervous system. "Having a hot bath will do the trick, as the muscles relax when they become warm," she suggests. If you struggle with insomnia, add a few drops of essential oil, such as lavender, rose or geranium oil, to the water, to help better induce sleep afterwards.

3. Write a gratitude journal: "At the end of a long day, I relax in bed with a cup of tea and a notebook," says psychologist Dr Aria (dr-aria.com). "Writing down a list of things that you're grateful for changes your mindset, which impacts your body's biochemistry. Research shows that practising gratitude can also reduce blood pressure, boost your mood and improve your sleep – it's proof that the pen is mightier than a pint."

:: Avoid stress-inducing foods: "Stress can be triggered or mediated by certain foods in our diet, producing symptoms such as allergies, anxiety to wakefulness and insomnia," adds Ross. "So if you are already trying to manage stress, it can be really useful to track your food intake and note any post-eating symptoms. This will help you to reveal patterns and remove any stress-inducing foods."

Common food stressors include sugar, caffeine and alcohol, as they stimulate stress hormones, creating an unnatural stress response.

6. Set a sleep schedule: Between work commitments, Netflix and social occasions, it's all too easy to find yourself slipping out of healthy sleep habits. If you want to better your chances of getting that all-important eight hours of shut-eye, Ross suggests setting a sleep schedule and sticking to it.

"If stress if interfering with sleep, set up a healthy sleep/wake plan. Go to sleep at a similar time each night, sip a calming tea before bed, such as rose, valerian or lavender tea and make sure wake up at the same time every day too."

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