We all have our ways that we “deal” with stress. Commonly, it’s a very tried and very tested autopilot response by which our brain and nervous system “cope” under pressure to meet the demands of our daily lives. But tolerating stress all the time is tiring (literally).
Here are 6 things you can do today to help you feel more ease, rather than stressed, and restore more of the good feelings in life:
1. B-R-E-A-T-H-E deep into your belly. Allow your belly to fill with air and expand like a big balloon. Then release… This is an instant de-stressor to both the body and mind. Do this 1 time, do it 3 times, or do it as many times as you need in order to clear your head and create a circuit-breaker. The more often we can practise this technique, the more we will feel the benefits of “un-plugging” from our stress response. I know I’ve said it a bunch of times when it comes to dealing with stress, but this is arguably the quickest way to do so.
2. Go easy on the caffeine. I’m sorry to say this - I am :), but the physiological impact of that coffee is like actually drinking a cup of liquid stress; this is the hormonal impact it has on the body as it activates a stress (hormone) response. Interestingly, when we’ve been in stress mode for an extended period of time our adrenals start to flag and we find ourselves on a seesaw of stress and fatigue, so our caffeine intake (e.g. from coffee, black tea, chocolate, soft drinks and energy beverages) can become a crutch to help get us through the fatigue and keep pumping, or at least, remaining functional. Unfortunately though, the way caffeine (and also, sugar) is broken down and metabolised in the body creates a substance called lactate (you may already be familiar with lactate build-up in your muscles after exercise). A build-up of lactate in the system has been shown to elevate stress and anxiety levels, and to even induce anxiety attacks in some studies. That caffeine hit usually gives us the sense of relief from our stresses momentarily, but it acts like a credit card in the sense that it gives us energy we don’t actually have. “Borrowing” energy and stimulating the adrenals in this way “buys” us time and keeps us steaming along in survival mode to do what we need to do. But it comes with extra interest, and we pay that price when our adrenal glands become so depleted that instead of playing on that seesaw of stress and fatigue we eventually just hit the wall -with fatigue, poor mood and a decline in mental and physical function. The hormonal and metabolic pathway of caffeine in the body also places stress on the liver, spikes blood sugars, raises cholesterol levels and places the body in fat-storage mode, leading to unhealthy weight gain. Initially, even the idea itself can be difficult to come to grips with, but it’s worth noting that forgoing our usual caffeine intake can dramatically decrease physiological stress levels with each fix we choose not to have. Of course, having something to substitute it with is equally important. You may like to trade it for a herbal tea -for example, roasted, unprocessed dandelion root or peppermint; a lemon or lime water; fresh vegie juice or a homemade energy ball snack.
3. Take a closer look at your blood glucose levels and try to manage them appropriately. Dishevelled blood glucose levels are a major physiological cause of stress in the body that also causes havoc on our hormones. Stress activates adrenalin and cortisol to initiate the release of glucose into the bloodstream which causes blood glucose levels to spike, and then crash. Thus perpetuating the physiological stress response as well as the energy deficit. Making sure you don’t leave too long between meals and keeping meals and snacks well-balanced with a portion of protein, healthy fats, fresh vegies and other complex carbohydrates such as brown rice or quinoa are good rules of thumb to start with.
4. Get your hands on some Lemon balm -Fresh or dried leaves or the essential oil itself -scrunch it, inhale it, dab the oil on yourself or steep it in hot water and drink as a tea. The aromatic essential oils of Lemon balm (aka Melissa Officinalis) are calming and rejuvenating for the head, heart and nerves, lifting the spirits and helping to ease stress and emotions.
5. Do a brain dump -This where you blurt out (through writing) all that’s stressing you and playing on your mind. Much of our stress these days is perpetuated by a psychological element that involves the way we perceive, think and feel about things being directly processed by our nervous system all the time. So it can be helpful to get all your stresses, worries, thoughts and feelings out onto paper. For a more constructive and perhaps effective version of this: try a mind map. If you’re not familiar or have a limited understanding of exactly what mind mapping is and how it works, there are some excellent online sources that will take you through how to do it and explain the many benefits. It can be an effective stress-busting exercise whereby we lay out a detailed roadmap of the issues at hand; you can see what’s going on and what needs to be addressed more clearly, and begin to understand how things are tied together. You can then do another one for all the potential solutions. Try to remain open to new possibilities that may arise during this exercise. It’s a powerful clarifying tool and good a way to stop your stress from “swimming” around in your head and body like a big, accumulating stormcloud running amok. It’s helpful to finish by redirecting your thoughts to workable solutions that you can act on now.
6. Go out of your way to treat the physical: Book yourself a bodywork session -whether it’s craniosacral therapy, massage, acupuncture, or a Yoga, Zumba or Tai chi class. Perhaps taking a hike (and a picnic) up one of Canberra’s many mountains, booking in for a trail ride on a horse, or doing some gardening is just the thing. We can also affect the finer physiology of our brain chemistry and nervous system activity by going back to step one and focusing on stress relief through the breath; listening to a guided meditation or visualisation can also give us some much-needed mental space; or some helpful binaural tones that directly change the electrochemical activity through specific audiotones that can induce relaxation throughout to improve resilience, mood, sleep, and cognition.
Here’s a bonus tip that works: Make yourself hold a smile and breathe deeply for as long as you can. This will change the tone pretty quickly. Even if initially it feels ridiculous; it may feel ironic, somewhat exasperating or outright absurd -it may probably even feel like a little of all of the above. This is because it feels incredibly counter-intuitive to be smiling away when you’re in the middle of a stress-out! When we’re under pressure and most need to use this trick we’re also likely to resist it madly. But if you can persevere, even just for a minute or two, you may just find it does the trick to get you into a better frame of mind or have you feeling a bit silly and more able to laugh at yourself and your problems rather than get stuck in a mental loop about them.
I encourage you to try one (or all) of these tips for yourself the next time you’re feeling stressed. They will not only help to create a bit of space from your experience of stress, but they help facilitate a mental and nervous system shift so you can then redirect your energies and change the way you’re feeling for a better outcome.
Naturopathic support is always a game-changer when it comes to feeling stressed, and I can help you to naturally enhance your resilience and to feel, and cope better. So if you feel you could do with a bit of a “tune-up” or you’re ready to just not-feel-this-way anymore, you can call Live Well to book an appointment, or use our online booking system and find a time and day that suits you.
P.S Check out my Little Things You Can Do To Unplug for some extra useful ways to tackle the stress in your life.