When we feel under pressure, our bodies react in a stress response called “fight-or-flight”. Our nervous systems instruct our bodies to release stress hormones including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol to alert and help us cope with threats of danger.
When left unmanaged over time, chronic stress can lead to serious physical problems like stomach ulcers, stroke, asthma and heart disease. It can also lead to weight changes, eczema and allergies.
Stress can contribute to mental and emotional disorders like depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. This emotional stress can make it difficult to focus, make decisions, think things through or remember things.
Stress is also hard on the digestive system. It influences how quickly food moves through your body, and can lead you to eat more or less than you normally do. The disruption of your body’s natural digestive processes can cause nausea, pain, vomiting, heartburn, constipation, acid reflux or diarrhea.
In today’s world, stress is almost inevitable. We feel stressed from different factors such as work, family, and lifestyle, and it affects us physically and emotionally. Stress isn’t always bad; it’s often necessary for productivity and for survival. However, when we’re constantly stressed and don’t know how to manage it, it can negatively affect our health.
When under pressure, people often adopt harmful habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol excessively, taking drugs, or turning to social media to relieve stress and essentially escape. But these behaviours only lead to more health problems and risks to our wellbeing.
Mindfulness: “Bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment.”
Mindfulness has become a buzzword and there is a reason for that – because it works. It has been scientifically proven as one of the best ways to prevent and relieve stress. The world has become so fast-paced. We’re all getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and we forget to make time for ourselves to just breathe and live in the present moment.
Exercise and nutrition have become essential to our personal growth, but we also need to add daily mindful exercises to complete the trio. Mindful practices allow us to become more conscious and can influence our mental, emotional, physical state and lower of our stress levels.
Here are things you can do to reduce stress levels:
Breathing is the quickest way to bring our stress levels down.
If you find yourself in a stressful situation, simply take 5 deep belly breaths. When breathing, we tend to breathe from our chest but we need to ensure we breathe right into our belly. The best way to do this is to put your hands on your belly and when breathing deeply, ensure your belly rises.
Breathwork instantaneously rises to alter states of consciousness. Concentrating on our breath is a powerful tool that can be used anywhere, at any time. If you’re looking for a little bit of a deeper practice, Box Breathing is a very simple stress-management exercise that involves exhaling to a count of four, holding your lungs empty for a four-count, inhaling at the same pace, and holding air in your lungs for a count of four before exhaling and repeating the pattern. This is a great tool to keep in your back pocket for times when life becomes too overwhelming and you need a little something to keep you grounded.
2. Change your perception, change your mindset
We have to realise that we create our own stress. Stress derives from pent-up emotions, and we often attach ourselves to those emotions. We have the power to change our mindset. We all have negative thoughts where we get caught up in a ‘story’ our mind is trying to tell us. One of the best ways I have found to stop those thoughts is to count back from 5. So – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Then our mind forgets the story it was telling us. This is a very powerful tool to keep your mind on track.
3. Express yourself
Don’t suppress your feelings. One of the best ways to get thoughts out of your head is by journalling. This can be done either handwritten in a journal, typed on your computer or even in the notes area in your phone. Expressing yourself can also be done through art by simply drawing using colours that resonate with you in that moment. The words we speak can have a deep impact on our mood. So communicate by choosing your words wisely, as they truly affect the way we feel. Turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts. Eg “I’m having a terrible day” to “I love today”.
4. Music and movement
Dance is a great way to express ourselves. Moving our bodies can help us release pent-up emotions. So when you’re feeling stressed, turn up the music and DANCE. Dance allows you to move closer to yourself, to your feelings, needs and dreams. It will bring you closer to inner peace by quietening the mind. It will also make you smile, laugh and be happy.
5. Nourish your body
Food is medicine, so what we put on and in our bodies is so important for our overall health. Nourishing your body with wholesome foods and clean filtered water is so important to lower stress levels. Eg, if you are eating too much sugar, that can play havoc on your emotional and physical health. Good nutrition is one of the best ways to put your mind, body and soul into alignment. Avoid eating foods that are highly processed and deprived of nutrients.
6. Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is just as important as what you are eating. Don’t eat on the run. Mindfully sit when eating your food and think about every single bite. Each piece should be chewed 20 times before you swallow. Think about where each ingredient in your dish came from. Think about how it was grown, picked, transported, packed and made. Try to relax before and during your meals as stress affects digestion and absorption of nutrients.
7. Stay hydrated
Stress dehydrates the body, and dehydration creates stress in the body. Our body is mainly made of water so staying hydrated is very important to function properly. Water helps to boost energy, relieves fatigue, and helps us to be more alert and focused. In general, we should be drinking about half of our body weight in ounces of water, every day. Try for 3-4 litres per day. Excessive consumption of alcohol can dehydrate the body, so 1-2 glasses of alcohol with water in between is plenty.
Exercise is one of the best things we can do to relieve and prevent stress. If you don’t know where to start, pick an activity you enjoy doing – walking, running, boxing, weight training, yoga or pilates. Commit to an exercise and schedule time in your diary so you don’t forget it. If you don’t exercise, start by walking more, and preferably outside in nature. It’s better to do a little than to do none at all. If you’re feeling stressed, get out of the house or office and walk around the block. Take a few moments for yourself. Breathe in the air and chill.
We’ve all heard of meditation, but how many of us commit to a daily practice? The best way for beginners to start meditating is simply to close your eyes and concentrate on your breath. You can start with a few minutes and work yourself up to 10 or so minutes of mindful breathing each day. The idea with meditation is to ensure you commit to a regular practice, just meditating once or twice won’t allow the full benefits to take place.
Meditation is not about stopping thoughts from coming in, it’s about giving your mind space to process those thoughts. There is no such thing as a bad meditation. You just need to show up every day and do the work. Your mind with thank you with endless gratitude.
Once you are ready for a little more, there are many brilliant meditation teachers and apps which teach you how to meditate. Some of our favourites are:
– @1giantmind: a FREE app which takes you on a 12-step meditation process
– @kat.john : Kat has a brilliant online tribe and community you can join with live Facebook meditations daily that you can watch in your own time
– Other good apps are Calmapp, HeadSpace and Smiling Mind
It sounds so simple, but appreciation for the good things in our lives is one of the keys to true happiness. By recognising all of the wonderful things we have to be appreciative of, rather than dwelling on the negative, we can make those ‘not so wonderful’ things seem not-so-bad after all.
A great way to practise gratitude is to write down three things you’re grateful for. You could do this every night before bed or first thing in the morning or even at dinner time (I do this with my four-year-old son).
A daily gratitude practice – or appreciation for the good things in our lives – is one of the keys to true happiness. It can increase your long-term wellbeing, build a stronger immune system, and improve mental health, overall physical health and quality of sleep.
11. Get adequate sleep
Adequate sleep is crucial for proper brain function. If you have trouble sleeping, put a few drops of lavender on your pillow, take a warm bath with Epsom salts, drink a warm cup of tea, or read a chapter or four of your favourite book. Avoid sucking before bed. To allow your digestive system According to Ayurvedic principles, the best time to go to bed is just before 10pm. Switching off technology an hour before bed is recommended also.
12. Spend time directly in nature
Research has shown that spending time in the great outdoors lowers our blood pressure and eases muscle tension, so get outside whenever you can. Go somewhere green and peaceful like the Botanical Gardens or a local park. Sit in your garden with a cuppa. Go for walks or to a dog park. It doesn’t have to be a wilderness or jungle, just get outside into the fresh air and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you.
13. Bring nature into your home
Of course you can’t always get out into nature, but you can bring it to you. Indoor plants are a great way to get your nature fix because they clean and purify the air and help breathing. They help deter illness and boost healing, and help you work better. The bacteria we have in our bodies is similar to those of plants in that we both carry trillions of good and bad bacteria.