This week's blog post is all about reducing stress, because let's face it...it can get the better of most of us. And we have to watch it, because not only is it heavily prevalent in our culture, but it's also one of the biggest triggers and persisters of disease.
Since experiencing a couple of bad stress burnouts, I've been able to recognize the signs more clearly on myself and other people. Once I broke it down, I realized how much stress (and subsequently anxiety) was present in my life that affected my personality and my day-to-day. It explained a lot.
If I asked you whether you experience stress, what would you say? You may not even be aware you have elevated levels of stress. That's because it has a LARGE range of things that can cause stress and many forms of expression.
TYPES OF STRESS
1. Positive (eustress) can be motivational and helpful in certain situations, since you perceive it as something you'll benefit from and as a passing thing. An example would be running a competitive race.
2. Negative (distress) can feel detrimental and insurmountable, since it can leave you feeling anxious and defeated, decreasing your stamina and focus. An example would be having a disease.
The problem: Your body doesn't know how to differentiate between types of stress.
Why I Want to Address Stress Now
I recently experienced a panic attack for the first time in my life. I'm talking the 'I need a paper bag in order to breathe' type of panic attack that, frankly, I never thought I'd experience, but knew was coming my way. Though this year has been one I'll never forget and it's certainly had it's great moments, it's also been an exceptionally hard one for me.
Last December, I decided to quit my day job and focus on starting my business as a holistic nutritionist and Essentrics instructor. As anyone who started their own business knows, this alone can be quite stressful. Throw on top of that the financial struggle of living alone in an expensive city (an understatement to say the least), missing the face-to-face support of my family and friends (who live in a different province), doing some heavy soul searching (and personal growth), enduring relationship struggles (don't we all!), starting new jobs within the focus of my practice (and maintaining a less than regular schedule), and fighting for my independence (at 34...isn't it about time already?), and you can start to see how the last 7 months all led me to my attack.
It's funny, because through it all I've remained positive and for the most part, I've not gotten down on myself. However, I've also been one to avoid facing the tough stuff because I want to appear strong, because I am strong. But, sometimes, especially in the face of new and big challenges, I, too, have to ask for help and admit that it's hard.
How I Came to Write This Post
This week I read an article on how stress can affect your hair and scalp. Having battled with a dry scalp that's been ever-worsening over the past 2-3 years, I've starting to really dig deep and admit where I can do more to better my health. That's right, even though I'm a holistic nutritionist, I struggle with health issues too! I'm only human.
Aside from nutritional changes, topical applications, and lifestyle monitoring (keep an eye out for more on my health battle on Instagram), I know first and foremost that if I don't take care of the stress factors in my life first, then nothing else can happen to change the way I look and feel.
FUN FACT: When the body is stressed, especially once it's been stressed consistently over time and doesn't know how to come down from it hormonally, it will constantly fight to keep itself in tact instead of allowing it to relax, grow, heal, and thrive.
Yesterday, as I was reading this article by Joy McCarthy, I stopped mid-way and wrote the list you see below (sans details), because after managing my own stress and anxiety for most of my life, I have quite a few easy, basically free, and natural tricks up my sleeve to rebalance me. You may have tried some (or all) of them, but for any of you thinking "she missed that one!", I suggest writing up your own list and sticking it on the wall next to your bed so you never need to look far to find a way to relieve yourself from the restraining feelings of stress. Feel free to use my list if you like.
Like I said, I've been managing my stress and anxiety over most of my life, but that doesn't mean I, too, don't need help from time to time (as I expressed above). To come out of that panic attack, I used #'s 23, 24, 41, 2 and 9, in that order.
I strongly believe that in order to heal, you must deal with what stresses you first. That's why I make it a big part of my personal and professional practice to focus on relieving and preventing stress from taking hold so the real work can be done and results can be seen.
On with it, then...
45 Proven Ways to Reduce Stress
(as tested by yours truly)
1. Sex, masturbation, just plain having an orgasm.
I put this as number one to get it out of the way, because I know some of you will be looking for it, but also to stress that this one cannot be understated. Having been in the position where my elevated stress levels depleted my sex drive to the point where I couldn't relax enough to be intimate with my partner, I wish I took advantage of this natural stress reliever long before I was in too deep. My best advice is to find out why you put off having sex with your partner or, if you haven't done it yet, trying masturbation to relieve your stress, and find time to make it happen. You won't regret it. Also, explore how you best relax and incorporate it into your practice. Yes, I said practice. Otherwise you might get frustrated, leading you back into stress mode.
2. Deep Breathing.
Another one that can't be understated, but unlike #1, this VERY EASY method can be employed anywhere! Sitting on the bus, sitting at your desk, in the middle of an argument, during a panic attack, before bed, upon waking, you name it. Simply slow your breath down so you're taking as long of an in breath as you can while gradually extending your out breath. Do this as long as it takes for you to feel at peace.
Sometimes all it takes is 3 minutes of undisturbed sitting with my eyes closed or standing at the water's edge on the beach and I'm back on track. This one can be a hard one to get into, so if you can't zone out enough, tie in some deep breathing to rein in your mind.
With yoga, it's the practice of the breath that calms me. The types of yoga that relax me the most are yin and restorative, but a good vinyasa flow will also center me. Try a few and see what works best for you.
5. Moving & Exercising.
Getting your body moving and your heart rate going brings more oxygen to your body and clarity to your mind. Stress can leave a bogged down feeling, an internal pressure that can sometimes only be relieved by a really good run, a fast-paced bike ride, or hitting a punching bag until you're exhausted. I'm right, right? Get moving, give yourself energy and wring your brain out from the negative effects of stress so you can get on with your day.
Though similar to #5, with walking I mean just walking. You don't need to increase your heart rate with this one, just move your legs. This alone will clear your head and kick any food cravings that, if satiated by junk food or stress eating instead, may lead you back into that stress spiral.
I'm specifically talking about walking in the forest, underneath canopy, away from the sounds, sights, and distractions of the city. Take a friend, take a dog, take a group of people and just go. Get out there. The longer the better, because even though a good, daunting hike can be physically demanding, your body will feel more balanced once you've completed it. Pick a location with a good viewpoint midway so you have something to look forward to. Plus, the shock and awe of the view will render you speechless, erasing all your worries on the spot.
8. Grounding or Earthing.
Take your shoes off and walk barefoot on a natural surface of the earth (sandy beach, green grass, forest floor) and ground yourself by receiving negatively charged ions from the earth that will balance your overflow of positively charged ions that build up during stressful periods. All you need is 20 minutes a day to feel rebalanced. And trust me, it's worth it.
It's summer, so this one should be easy. And no...I'm not talking about sticking it out for a few hours to get a tan. Find a healthy time of day to sunbathe, so you can flood your cells with vitamin D, fuelling your body and mind with positivity!
10. Eliminating technology.
This one is such an important one and is part of my every day routine. Here's how it goes for me: My phone is on airplane mode overnight and I frequently don't take it off until at least 9am, or later if I haven't started work yet. On a good day, I'll only check my email and social media twice. I try to avoid my computer unless I'm doing work and if I'm lucky, I'll have a streak of a few days without Netflix. Some days I spend more time on my phone or computer than I'd like, which are usually the days that lead to more stress and a short fuse. That's when I cut back and substitute with #'s 11, 16, 17 & 19.
11. Spending time with close family and friends.
You know that high you get from spending time with those you love? They somehow seem to put things at ease and allow you to forget your troubles, right? Well, there you have it. Spend more time with the people who make you feel that way and you'll feel right as rain in no time.
12. Playing with dogs.
This one's obviously my favourite!! A lot of you know my stance on dogs (can't live without 'em!), or know the joy a pet can bring to your life, especially when you take the time to really just "be" with one. Whether playing in a park, walking, cuddling, or petting, you're soaking up the oxytocin or "feel good" hormones from your furry friend and it feels gooooood :)
13. Spending time with kids.
Being around young people helps fuel my childlike personality and reminds me to think simple, ask questions, be creative, and act goofy once in a while!
14. Going to an amusement park and riding allll the rides!
Forget this one if you're not an amusement park ride type of person, but I grew up on these things and will forever associate them with pure joy and thrills that bring immediate euphoria that lasts for weeks!
15. Farming or Gardening.
Getting my hands dirty connects me to nature and allows me to appreciate its intricacies and beauty. It really slows things down and makes me appreciate what I have in the world around me, instead of focusing on the minutia of my life...that when I think about it, isn't really that big of a deal after all. See where I'm going with this?
This may not be your jam, but I love connecting with the food I cook to create a piece of art that I can enjoy. It's an appreciation for how fortunate I am to have an abundance of healthy, whole food at my fingertips, and to be able to grow as a chef as I play with the natural nourishing and healing capabilities of the foods themselves.
17. Reading a fictional book.
It takes me away from the stories I've created in my mind that stress me out. Period.
18. Receiving a phone call from Mama.
A few of you have heard me say this before, but a phone chat with Mama always helps me poop! To me, that signifies that I'm relaxed. I can't count the number of times I've had to end a phone conversation with my Mama because I just couldn't hold it in any longer! As soon as I hear her voice it's all gravy (not a pun, sorry for the mental image).
For me, this includes sewing, embroidering, and making homemade care products. It helps me focus on a task instead of ruminating over my ever-growing anxious mind. It also trains my brain to do new things and I'm always up for a challenge!
20. Eating a balanced diet rich in nutrients and anti-inflammatory foods, void of stimulants, and sprinkled with adaptogenic herbs and adrenal-supportive ingredients.
You had to see this one coming. After all, I am a holistic nutritionist! Whenever I'm feeling stressed, I know I need to watch out for my diet. When stressed, my body searches for simple carbohydrates to subsist off of, when it should be looking for complex carbs and fats instead. So, that's what I try to eat as much of as possible, so I don't go off the deep end into a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, or a pail of ice cream. Knowing damn well that these foods are also inflammatory, which keeps my physical stress levels elevated, I have to avoid them in order to keep the peace from the neck up. I also know that whatever I start my day with will usually determine my stress and anxiety levels AND my food choices throughout the day, so I have to watch out for that.
Additionally, when I'm pressed for time, low on sleep and subsequently low on energy, I lean toward a stimulant like coffee or matcha to get me through my day, and if I'm not careful I'm back on the stimulant bandwagon. Instead, I forget about the coffee and use maca and/or MCT oil (one is hormone balancing, the other brain boosting) to keep my energy levels stabilized and my head on straight.
I've said it before and I'll say it again...my thoughts aren't fully felt until I put them down on paper. Then, they somehow disappear! This type of journaling - expression of feelings and working through problems, rather than jotting down the day-to-day - can be very therapeutic. I don't even read my journal entries once they're done. And once a journal is done, I recycle it. Done and gone.
22. Expressing gratitude.
Taking stock of what I'm grateful for in my life - the things that exist without me even trying, like love from my family, friends, and my partner, or mother nature and all its bounty, or my favourite music, or thunderstorms - make me realize I really do have it good. Happiness is everywhere if you just look hard enough. And positive energy is reciprocal. Give it out and it'll come back at you in return.
23. Crying & Emoting.
Becoming a blubbering child is one of my favourite things to do to help relieve my stress. Crying is typically associated with being sad, but I find when I'm really angry or frustrated about something (usually something I'm stressing about), it helps to let it all out in the form of tears. It's a way of succumbing to my feelings and allowing them to be expressed in full effect. Plus it feels so darn good to let it all out!
24. Being honest with myself and others.
This one's hard in the beginning, but it feels good once it’s over and that weight of holding in my insecurities is lifted off my shoulders. Sometimes life is hard, really hard, and if we don't own up to our feelings they can weaken us. Only once we unveil and admit our fears can we move forward.
25. Making a to-do list.
A lot of my stress seems to come from my ever-evolving life. You dig? I used to pack in as much as I could and because of that, I'd freak out that it wouldn't all get done. And again, most of the times all the things I thought I needed to get done were ruminating in my head instead of being put on paper, which would have helped realistically plan out my days/weeks/months/years so I knew what was most important and what could have waited. When I started making realistic to-do lists, I found that most of what I thought I needed to get done wasn't actually that important at all.
26. Listening to music while singing and dancing without a care.
Let loose! This can be very freeing as it allows my soul to be expressed, which can feel diminished or ignored during stressful times.
27. Educating myself.
Ever heard the saying 'knowledge is power'? Sure you have. Well, whenever I start to freak out about something in my life, more specifically related to my health, I educate myself. Education and knowledge drown fear and when fear (and stress) subsides, action can ensue and healing can take place.
28. Taking a vacation.
Have you met someone who was struggling to get pregnant, then went on holiday and BAM, got pregnant? What did I say before about stress interrupting normal function of the body? Not that I'm trying to get pregnant, but whenever I need to take a real break from life I set a vacation. I get done what absolutely needs to get done, then I F-off somewhere and forget I even have a phone. Sometimes I travel with someone, sometimes alone, whichever gives me more peace of mind and a chance to regroup and realign with how I want to live my life, allowing me to return with a new perspective.
29. Talking to someone.
I mean someone I don’t know, a non-biased party, like a counsellor. It's much easier to be completely honest with someone I don't know personally and they're better able to help me because of that.
30. Laughing as loud as possible for a really long time.
31. Sleeping more than I think I need to.
Sleep is a major way the body regenerates and when it's sleep deprived, it goes on the defense. My waking hours become less efficient and I start to crumble mentally. So, I get my beauty sleep. It's good for more than my looks ;)
Have you tried floating yet? If not, you really should. Basically, you float on ten inches of heavily salted water, naked, in the dark. No sound, lights, or distractions, and no use of any senses. It's a chance to really focus inward and clean up whatever's ailing you upstairs. And it's unreal.
I sit with my eyes closed and envision something I want to have, feel, or do. Sometimes I put up photos on the wall of the same things. Then I start doing the things that will get me there, putting myself in alignment with the right energy. Soon before I know it, I don't feel as much physical stress, because my mind is on the right track and my body is becoming more familiar with this new feeling.
34. Staying positive.
I'm not talking about cheering myself on, although I do that too. I'm talking more so about choosing to look on the bright side of every situation. That's all I need to say about that, because a positive mind can take me a long way!
35. Having faith in myself and my body.
This includes verbally telling myself I love myself. Go back to #27 and pair it with #'s 33 & 34. If you're going through a scary time in your life because you think your body has let you down, trust in me when I say it hasn't. It's always doing the best it can with what it has to work with. This is your chance to own up to the way you feel and help correct it while remembering that your body can work wonders. And give yourself a break! You're doing the best you can with the information you have. Trust that you will do what's right for you, too.
36. Reorganizing or Cleaning.
Oh boy, am I familiar with this one! Whenever I'm stuck with a hurdle in my life, a real 'should I do this, or should I do that' type of moment, I reorganize. Either that or I clean or cut my hair. Maybe it's because they're the only things I feel I can control and that reorganizing my life or cutting my hair will instil some change that I actively made happen, which can be comforting. Or maybe it's just something to do until the dust settles. I truly think it's because it takes my mind off of the problem long enough to give clarity of mind on the topic, helping me make a decision and overcome my anxiety quicker.
37. Eliminating noise and external stimulation.
As I'm sitting here at my desk typing this out, there's a plethora of noise going on outside my building. Someone's using a table saw beneath me. Another is power washing a building across the street. The crows are undergoing their daily cawing battle for territory behind my building. I'm enduring this because it's lovely outside and I want to have my windows wide open, but after 1 hour it's already taking a toll. Be careful of how much external stimulation you let into your life and know when to cut it out to feel like you can think again.
38. Doing a jigsaw puzzle.
A tough one! It takes a focused mind to do a puzzle. Focused enough that I won't have any head space left to think about the things that were stressing me out in the first place. What were they again?...Exactly.
39. Playing cards or board games with friends and family.
A little friendly competition can really be fun and fun is the opposite of stress and anxiety, at least for me anyway. I like to live it up old school style, without phones or televisions, allowing me to focus on the people and situation right in front of me.
40. Stoping, thinking, and feeling.
In the middle of a burst of stress or during the constant pulse of anxiety, I like to remember there is ALWAYS time to breathe and I'd like to extend the same to you. If you find yourself in that situation, stop yourself, remove yourself if you have to. It's okay. Your health always comes first for you and if others don't accept that then too bad. Think about the situation you're in and what's most important to you about it. Lastly, ask yourself how you're feeling, how you got that way, and how you can get yourself back to feeling like you again. Why not try another item on this list?
41. Asking for help and support.
This includes an admission that you need it. You are only one person and can only do so much. Resect that and stop to ask for directions when you need to. You have my permission.
42. Taking "me" time.
Every. Damn. Day. 5, 10, 20, 60 minutes or more if I have to. Once I stop, I notice my time vanish and my personal health start to suffer. Clearing my head once a day can go a long way in preventing stress and anxiety from building up in the first place. This means eliminating all distractions - technology, other people, sounds, and chores - and focusing on something that calms me down, like # 12!
43. Slowing down.
This is different than #40 in that I mean this act to be more of an overall slowing down within my life. I remove things from my plate that don't need to be there and when I question removing them, I ask why they're so important in the first place. If it doesn't relate to me, specifically, then I ditch it. Trust me, no one notices.
44. Meeting new people.
This may be an act that causes you social anxiety, if so then avoid it. Otherwise, get out there and meet someone new today! New people give me new perspectives and I always seem to meet the right people just when I need to most.
45. Caring about something other than myself.
Over the past couple of years, I've felt the need to relinquish those monotonous, cyclical, self-centered thoughts that keep me stuck inside my head stressing about what's happening and anxious about what's happening tomorrow. I'm starting to really put my focus where others need it instead.
Listening to nature sounds.
I've only tried this one a handful of times, and not really on purpose, but my mama uses it all the time and swears by it. My theory is that the calming sounds of water lapping up on a shoreline, or birds peacefully chirping in a field, or rain dripping down on a rooftop are gentle, whereas everyday noises in a city, for instance, to tend to be harsh and distracting, clouding the mind, which can be stressful. Hence, my feeling overwhelmed in large cities.
These tips have worked wonders for me for both preventing and relieving stress and anxiety. However, I would also highly recommend checking in with yourself on a daily basis to address how you feel to know how well equipped you are for the day ahead and how much you need to tailor your activities to get you back on track over time. It's also pertinent to look to the root of what's causing you stress in the first place and whether that thing's worth keeping in your life.
If you find you're unable to bring yourself back to normal, like you're stuck in a state of stress or anxiety, contact me to discuss how I can help.