March 14, 2024

We Deep Dive Into Stress (And How To Manage It)

Stress is normal and there’s no shame in suffering from it, even in today’s self-care-centric world. Consider this your ultimate guide to recognising it and easing it. And no, you don’t need to be a meditation pro.


How stressed do you feel right now? Sure, it’s not a straightforward question, but there are giveaways. Think about what your face is doing, about whether your muscles are relaxed, or your brow is furrowed and your jaw clenched. And your breathing. Are you taking slow, deep breaths? Or short, sharp, shallow ones? Mostly Bs? This feature is for you.

The trouble with modern day stress is that it hides in plain sight. Symptoms start out subtle, a snappy reply here, a restless night there. Burnout rarely gets the attention it deserves until the effects show up in the mirror or fatigue ruins weekend plans. And fun fact: women are more susceptible to it than men. A study that looked at stress over the period from 2018 to 2020 showed that despite beating out men in the overall health stakes—applause please—more women experience high stress levels. Why? The incapacitating weight of mental to-do lists. Ada Ooi, Chinese medicine practitioner and facialist to both royals and celebrities, says “the constant need to get everything done can be overwhelming and as a result the very first signs of stress are easily ignored.”

Periodic spells of stress are manageable, our bodies are built for them. “An acutely stressful event results in a healthy stress response,” explains Dr Anita Sturnham, dermatology specialist and expert in adrenal and mitochondrial fatigue. “Cortisol,”—our stress hormone—“and adrenaline levels increase as part of our fight-or-flight mechanism to prepare our bodies for escape.” As soon as the trigger passes, our bodies return to normal. But what if that stressor sticks around?

Today, our adrenaline surges are more likely to power us through unrelenting work deadlines, dating dilemmas, family arguments and social obligations than a physical getaway. Modern day triggers are recurring and our body’s response to them—if left unchecked—can impact our wellbeing. “Stress starts in the mind,” explains Ooi. “As it lingers there, it builds and travels to the body, causing more visible symptoms.”

Skin Signals

“Cortisol can set off a cascade of inflammatory reactions in the skin,” says Dr Sturnham. “Collagen breaks down more quickly, skin barrier function is impaired,”—this can exacerbate dryness, rosacea and eczema—“and our oil glands can go into overdrive too, making us more prone to congestion and breakouts.”

Cycle Switch-Ups

Cortisol can wreak havoc with our menstrual cycle too. The hypothalamus—the part of our brain that regulates our periods—is very sensitive to stress. Increased levels of cortisol can lead to delayed periods or even no periods at all.

Muscle Memory

“Muscle tightness around the neck and shoulders is a key indicator of stress,” says naturopathic osteopath Nadia Alibhai. “This is often caused by prolonged shallow breathing.” Stiffness across the neck and shoulders can lead to frequent tension headaches too.

Scattered Sleep

Stress and sleep have a two-way relationship. The hypervigilance caused by stress prevents sleep and the less sleep we get, the less chance our body has to recuperate and overcome stress. “Most people forget that stress consumes energy,” says Ooi. “The more we stress, the more rest our body needs to function well.” Enter: vicious circle.

How To Manage Stress

The trick is framing stress management as an enjoyable and achievable form of self-care, not as an extra bullet on your to-do list.


“Simply make undivided time for yourself and the things that you enjoy,” advises Ooi. “Take a walk, listen to music, write, watch sport, cook or talk to a friend.” Stress relief shouldn’t be complicated.


Dr Sturnham recommends integrating breathing techniques into your daily routine. “This turns on our parasympathetic nervous system,” explains Dr Sturnham. “The rest-and-digest processes that slow our heart rate and lower our blood pressure.” Find a 10-minute online yoga class that you enjoy or download a guided breathing app.


Factoring in a two-minute face massage a day pays dividends if skincare’s your thing. “It helps to release facial muscle tension and encourage slower, deeper breathing,” says Ooi. Keen to get more granular? There’s an acupressure point for that. “I tell clients to massage their Yin Tang—the area between your brows—with their knuckles to calm the mind.”


Alibhai recommends cutting down on stimulants like refined sugar, coffee, alcohol and energy drinks. “Processed sugar and caffeine both trigger the release of cortisol,” Alibhai explains. “Instead, buy foods that reduce inflammation like organic dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, bananas and broccoli.”


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