Can you believe it’s the end of June already? I don’t know how we’ve got here, nor do I know how this is the last in the stress management series already! It’s flown by.
If you get my weekly emails (thanks for signing up!) you’ll know it was summer solstice on June 21stand we had a full moon a couple days before. I’m telling ya – things get funky at that time!
I certainly found myself having to adopt some stress management techniques to offset some crazy decisions I’ve made and to put up with the craziness of the world around me interrupting my zen!
Today, I’m going to share some techniques that are not only evidence based and recommended by the smart science people but ones that I personally use myself in order to help calm the stress. If you haven’t checked out the posts on what stress is and how it affects you read parts one and two of this month’s series as it’s going to help give you a foundation and make this part, make much more sense!
Firstly, I’d like to preface this post by saying that this is by no means an exhaustive list of things that may or may not help you get through a stressful period. It’s a bit of trial and error with these things and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. Worth giving them a shot regardless though as you never know what’s going to be the best thing for you until you try it out.
Change your environment
Such a simple yet often overlooked place to start is your environment. When you start to feel stressed, for whatever the reason may be, it’s quite difficult to get in to any of the other recommended techniques before you’ve moved from where you physically are. So, if this is at your work desk for example, get up and grab a drink or walk to a communal area; if it’s at home after an argument with your partner in the living room go upstairs to the bedroom or in to the kitchen. Once you’ve found somewhere that’s allowing you some mental space, it’s time to start with some of the following.
We all breathe every day without thinking about it but when we start to put some intention behind our breathing (in this case stress reduction) it’s amazing the clarity we get. I find the following breath pattern really helpful so it’s something I’d recommend you try:
- Inhale for a count of 4
- Hold for a count of 4
- Exhale for a count of 8
It doesn’t really matter what numbers you put on the inhale, the hold and the exhale as long as the exhale is longer than the inhale it should help!
Best thing about focussed breath work is that nobody even knows you’re doing it so it’s a really easy one to add in to a working day or when you’re in a situation where you’re surrounded by a lot of people and unable to change your environment as easily.
It keeps cropping up doesn’t it!! Exercise releases endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine which are all natural feel good hormones – also, interestingly, the same ones released when people take cocaine.
Now when people hear the word exercise they instantly think of the gym or some vigorous form of activity. Whilst it’s true that the definition of exercise is carrying out activity for a specific purpose e.g. improving health, improving strength, flexibility or endurance, we don’t need to go to the gym to gain the exercise benefits for stress relief. Something as simple as going for a walk, swimming or casually riding a bike is going to do the same thing. Likewise, and a personal favourite of mine, yoga.
Yoga is a spiritual practice that connects you to your body and your breath. It’s a time for you to understand yourself and a time for you to leave the outside exactly there. Yoga can be done anywhere as well. If you haven’t tried yoga before it’s something I would definitely recommend!
Diet and nutrition
We all know the benefits of a healthy diet on our physical health but what about our mental health and wellbeing? We’ve already discussed how stress increases our blood pressure. The micronutrients (effectively vitamins and minerals) we get from eating healthily – polyphenols, B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin E in particular – have hypotensive properties helping to reduce our blood pressure as well as inflammation which is also heightened during periods of stress. Remember we spoke about gut health as well and how it gets thrown out of kilter when we’re feeling under pressure? Well, by keeping your digestive tract healthy we can reduce the likelihood of stress developing. Eating foods rich in fibre will aid this.
What about the macronutrients – protein, fats and carbohydrates? How do they impact stress?
All carbohydrates prompt the brain to develop serotonin which we already know is a feel-good hormone. For a steady supply of this, it’s better to eat complex carbs which take a longer time to digest. For fats, we should lean towards those foods high in fatty acids (Omega-3s) as this can prevent a surge in cortisol as well as protecting against depression. As for proteins, they tend to be high in tryptophan which has been found to have a calming effect as well as aid the production of serotonin.
Some examples of stress busting foods:
Berries, green leafy veg, bell peppers, oranges, dark chocolate, fish, poultry, nuts, avocados, red wine, oats, yoghurt, milk and seeds.
Massage has been shown to improve all of the physical signs of stress – blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate to name a few – as well as improving the release of our endorphins, oxytocin, dompamine and serotonin. The power of touch is calming in itself (how often do you feel like you want a hug when you’ve had a crap day?) as it helps you feel safe during a time where you are on high alert perceiving a threat. Massage, like yoga, really is something that treats the body and the mind.
Probably one of the most under-utilised things for recovery gains is sleep. Adults should be aiming for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night in order to capitalise on all of its wonderful benefits. I’m going to do a full series on the benefits of sleep as it deserves a whole section of its own! In a nutshell though, when we’re stressed, we often find it difficult to turn off our internal chatter which can make it troublesome to relax enough to fall asleep. Sleep is our bodies time to rest and replenish so it really is key. Have a great evening routine and you’ll probably find sleep a lot easier. I also love a nap – it’s not just for kids!
Deal with it
Once you have managed to come down from stress and start putting strategies in place to help you stress less, it’s really important that you put some time aside to deal with the stress you’re under. It might be working out how to leave the job you’re in or how to better manage your pregnancy or how to say no to the things you don’t want to do. Only once we’ve identified and dealt with the stressors at play will we truly be able to move forward. I like journaling as a way to do this and recently purchased a bullet journal which I’m loving.
There we have it! Some simple, quick ways to help manage periods of stress. Try incorporating some of these in to your week and see what difference it makes.
As always, any questions just get in touch!
Until next time x