What to consider
Mindfulness and Meditation have long been known for reducing stress, making you calmer, more focused and resilient. Sit in silence and imply become aware of your breath or follow a meditation practice for guidance. Mindfulness can also involve engaging in a really simple activity that fully occupies you such as cooking, gardening, colouring, knitting or even doing a jigsaw puzzle!
How to do it
- Apps – The Calm app or Headspace app for guided meditation. I sometimes listen to a sleep meditation at night.
- Bressie- we mentioned Bressie’s mindfulness on Spotify before. His Walk Up/Wind Down is definitely worth checking out
- The Stress Solution Book by Rangan Chatterjee
- Meditation with Boho Beautiful on You Tube
Sleep is crucial for our brains to function efficiently, think clearly, and make the best decisions. Aim to get between 7-9 hours per night for an optimal night’s rest. Increase your awareness about your sleep times, duration, and quality by creating a bed time routine and sticking to it. Lack of sleep is one of my triggers for 'things going haywire' so I have to prioritise sleep and I am often in bed before the kids😁
- Sleep Cycle or other tracker apps to monitor.
- ‘Why we Sleep’ book by Matthew Walker.
- ‘Sleep smarter’ book by Shawn Stevenson.
- Increase light exposure during the day (go for a walk, look out of the window at work) and reduce blue light exposure in the evening (use night time mode on electronic devices, or try blue light blocking glasses).
The breath has a direct impact on stress by accessing our parasympathetic nervous response. Spend 5-10 minutes focusing on breathing deeply every day.
Follow this simple breathing technique:
- Inhale 4 counts
- Hold 4 counts
- Exhale 4 counts
- Wim Hoff Method/The Breathing apps.
Movement is key for de-stressing and reducing anxiety. Daily movement can impact your mental state, release endorphins and relieve tension. If you are not a fan of going to the gym, try different types of exercise (group classes, yoga, tennis, football, running etc.) to find something you enjoy.
- Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.
- Bodyright Physiotherapy have pilates classes via Zoom
Reframe your Mindset
Learn to be more present and appreciate the simple things in life. Acknowledge your top priority and the more important tasks and delegate or come back to less important tasks where possible, to reduce the load.
This will give you the time necessary to spend doing what will serve you best, such as being with loved ones, being out in nature or simply taking a much needed relaxing bath. My colleague in Bodyright Physiotherapy Karen put me onto gratitude and it really does make a difference.
- Write a daily gratitude journal (you can buy one such as ‘Daily Greatness’). Start the day by thinking of 3 things you are grateful for, or just try to make it a habit to notice small things that make you happy.
- ‘Kintsugi’ book by Tomás Navarro.
- ‘Japonisme’ book by Erin Niimi Longhurst.
- ‘Inside Out Revolution’ book by Michael Neill.
Vary your Experiences
We need to engage all of our neuroendocrine systems in a proportional way by engaging in different sensory experiences to stimulate the whole brain and its activity. Some degree of positive stress is also important (eustress). All these train our nervous system and help us to be more adaptable in daily life full of challenges.
- Engage all your senses – conversation, touch, sound (listening to/playing music, singing).
- Forest walks –immerse yourself in nature, listen to the sound, smell the forest. I love this recommendation, you always feels so much better after a walk in the forest.
- Have a relaxing bath with essential oils and Epsom salts/magnesium flakes. Lavender, ylang ylang, chamomile or frankincense work well. The magnesium in the Epsom salts have such a lovely calming effect.
- Try other therapies such as massage or reflexology.
- Cold water therapy - try standing in a cold shower for up to 1 minute upon waking, or if you dare an ice bath! Bodyright Physiotherapy have a cryotherapy spa. Try getting into the sea! I'm not brave enough yet to do these but my brother is a sea swimmer all year round and he raves about the benefits.
What to consider and how to do it.
Reduce stimulants and alcohol☕️🍷 (I know, I know)
Avoid or at least reduce stimulants and depressants such as alcohol and caffeine, which can feel good in the moment, but can have lasting effects.
They wreak havoc with our hormones (does anyone else notice that alcohol affects them differently in their 40's?🤔), depletes nutrients, dehydrate the body, and become addictive mentally and physically.
- Opt for herbal teas such as; chamomile, lemon balm, and green tea.
- If you have coffee, make sure it is good quality and have it before lunch.
- For an alcohol alternative, try kombucha or alcohol free alternatives, such as Seedlip (alcohol free gin) – very expensive though!.
- Think about the triggers that make you reach for alcohol/wine o’clock🍾. Sometimes it’s to signify the end of the day or when the kids are in bed. Is there another activity you could do instead to create a new behaviour? Go for a walk, talk to a friend, have an Epsom salts bath, online yoga etc.
Balance Blood Sugar
Eating too many carbohydrates, processed food, snacking and eating mindlessly or on the go can throw our blood sugar levels out of balance and even make us insulin resistant (when we have high blood sugar levels that can’t enter the cell) in the long term.
Having high blood sugar is a stress to the body, so it will produce stress hormones in the same way it does in other stressful situations.
- Reduce your intake of refined sugars, found in cereals, biscuits, chocolate and cakes.
- Don’t snack before bed as this can be too stimulating causing a spike in blood sugar.
- Eat some protein at breakfast to reduce tendency to snack (eggs, fish, nuts, protein shake etc.).
- Lower sugar snack ideas: dark chocolate, dates with nut-butter, oat cakes and hummus.
- Focus on 2 or 3 balanced meals that contain plenty of protein and fibre from vegetables and whole grains.
Reduce toxic load
Environmental toxins are another big stressor, damaging cells which requires a lot of nutrients to promote elimination. Detoxification is also involved in processing and clearing excess neurotransmitters and hormones produced during a stress response.
- Buy organic produce if and when possible.
- Filter your water – reverse osmosis systems are inexpensive these days.
- Use glass and stainless steel for food storage – Ikea, Dunnes and other places are good for food containers and water bottles. Don't heat plastic/Tupperware in the microwave.
- Switch to natural cleaning products and skincare if you can.
- Don't smoke!
Optimise and tailor your diet
Do you need to reduce pro-inflammatory trigger foods? Does your gut bacteria need support – the gut/brain link? How is your methylation?
Methylation is a vital process that is heavily involved in nervous function, hormone and neurotransmitter metabolism. This function is reliant on many nutrients including some of the B vitamins.
Some Specific Nutrients that can help with Stress
Magnesium - A natural relaxant for the nervous system. Magnesium becomes heavily depleted during times of stress. In a supplement, opt for a form that can further promote relaxation, and support better sleep such as magnesium taurate or glycinate.
B vitamins - B vitamins also get easily depleted during stress. Key in supporting multiple biochemical pathways and particularly important for regulation of mood, stress and energy. In particular vitamin B6, B12 and folate which are involved in methylation.
Lemon Balm - Can reduce anxiety, stress and insomnia and further improve cognitive function whilst increasing GABA (our calming neurotransmitter). Take alongside L-theanine for an additional calming effect.
L-theanine - Found in green tea. Theanine is shown to reduce physiological and psychological effects associated with stress. Theanine has also been shown to reduce salivary cortisol levels. Opt for a dose around 200mg per day for a therapeutic effect.
Phospholipids and Essential Fats - these make up our cell membranes and are crucial for proper communication between cells, exchange of nutrients, and reduction of inflammation. Phosphatidylserine has been shown reduce our stress hormone, cortisol.