How happy hormones can help fight stress

Mental fitness is just like physical fitness – with regular practice it helps keep us fit and strong. Managing stress is an important aspect of this. We asked Natasha Devon, mental health campaigner and author of Yes You Can Ace Your Exams Without Losing Your Mind to give us some tips and advice.

When you feel stressed it's like an alarm going off in your body. There's a tiny part of your brain about the size of a pea, called the hypothalamus that alerts your body to release “stress hormones”. These help to prepare your body so you're ready to face whatever danger is sounding the stress alarm. Our stress response can be really helpful. Your mind and body are working together to keep you safe from danger. Stress can put you on hyper-alert, responding quickly to protect yourself and really focus. Although, sometimes our stress response can also make it hard to problem-solve or think things through.

If you’re constantly feeling stressed this may cause some problems. Over the long term, stress hormones can damage your brain function, and so decrease your ability to learn and remember things. But don't worry, there is something you can do to fight back, and that's to create happy hormones.

Happy hormones – like endorphins – can help you feel less stressed and you can make them yourself by simply exercising, relaxing, or doing creative things you enjoy. Don’t wait until you feel stressed, make it a daily habit. It's a bit like brushing your teeth to prevent gum disease – only useful if you do it consistently.

Find things that make you feel contented, calm or totally engaged, and then try to get into the habit of doing them, ideally for up to an hour every day. Go for a run, or walk. Do yoga, dance, bake, play a video game, listen to or make music, spend time with a pet, listen to a podcast, or, if you like reading, wind down every evening with a book.

These kinds of activities are really important. Do them regularly and you’ll be able to feel those happy hormones chasing the stress away, helping you stay mentally fit and strong.

If you need support

You should always tell someone about the things you’re worried about. You can tell a friend, parent, guardian, teacher, or another trusted adult. If you're struggling with your mental health, going to your GP can be a good place to start to find help. Your GP can let you know what support is available to you, suggest different types of treatment and offer regular check-ups to see how you’re doing.

If you’re in need of in-the-moment support you can contact Childline, where you can speak to a counsellor. Their lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

There are more links to helpful organisations on BBC Action Line.

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