Tips for Stressful Times
This morning I came across an "inspirational" Facebook post that read something like: 'Worrying doesn't prevent the bad stuff from happening, it prevents you from enjoying the good stuff.' Well... I call bluff! If it were that simple, we'd all be happy-go-lucky all the time. And, really, what would be the joy in that? Our experience is human because of the range of emotions and sensations we get to feel!
We have all lived through stressful times, and perhaps some of us feel better equipped than others when the metaphorical dial is turned up. In the past, I've always felt I could rely on my yoga and meditation practices to help me settle in agitated times, and this continues to be true. But something recently has shifted in me, and I've had to explore other ways to support myself through the busy-ness and upheaval.
Though our minds may be capable of rationalizing stress, our hearts can sometimes tell a different story (if we give ourselves permission to listen). Over time, even when there seems to be mental clarity and a good capacity to hold stress, our bodies receive the impact too. Our nervous system becomes affected, which can in turn affect everything from our digestion to our sex drive! With prolonged stress, we can begin to feel anxious, overextended and tired, which may be the result of adrenal fatigue.
Here are some ways to support your body and your soul through stressful times.
Needless to say, a varied and balanced diet provides us with a wide range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals that can support us through stressful times. Some foods can aggravate the symptoms of stress (think sugar for example!) while others (like avocados) can counteract them.
Reduce the sugar and caffeine
Sugar and highly processed foods can affect our mood and make us feel stressed. Have you ever spelled 'desserts' backwards? Because sugary foods take next to no time to digest, they are quickly absorbed into our blood stream and cause a spike in insulin, which sends our blood sugar levels on a rollercoaster ride for hours. This has a direct affect on how we feel, taking us on highs and lows in a matter of minutes. As our blood levels fluctuate, we start to rely on sugar more and more, to feel those highs again. It's a bit of a vicious cycle... When we are stressed, we release a hormone called cortisol that actually makes us crave 'comfort food', like desserts, which release a (very) temporary rush of serotonin, our feel good hormone. Over time, our body gets used to the effects of the sugar, and we need more of it to produce the same results!
When we drink coffee, our brain signals the adrenal glands to secrete adrenalin, which gives us a temporary rush of energy, and is also part of our nervous system's "fight or flight" responses (basically, our nervous system's stress response). Once the effect of the caffeine is gone, we feel a drop in energy and reach for another cup. This cycle can eventually lead to adrenal depletion.
Avoid side effects by reducing your intake of caffeine and sugar gradually, rather than going cold turkey!
What to eat instead?
Berries and vitamin C rich foods: Foods like blueberries, raspberries, yellow peppers and dark leafy vegetables are packed with vitamin C which can help us deal with physical and psychological stress. These fibre rich foods also help stabilize our blood sugar levels.
Nuts and vitamin B rich foods: B vitamins are amazing stress busters and adrenal supporters. Get your Bs through a small handful of nuts and seeds, an egg (the yolk is like a powerhouse of nutrients, vitamins and minerals!), nutritional yeast (a vegan source chock-full of Bs, including 100% of your daily requirements for B12 and B5 in just one tablespoon), split peas, beans and lentils.
Avocados and magnesium rich foods: Magnesium helps us feel calm and relaxed, naturally supporting the production of serotonin. You'll find it in dark leafy greens, bananas, avocados and dark chocolate (yay!)
Other Ways to support yourself
Have food on hand!
Spend an hour on the weekend portioning out a few snacks like nuts and seeds, or cutting up veggies and making your favourite hummus and salad dressing. Prepare 2 or 3 servings of quinoa. Even open a can of chickpeas and store it in the fridge. This way, you'll be able to put together a nutritious meal in seconds.
Find little ways to nurture your heart
Love taking baths? Schedule some time in your week for it. Make it a date with yourself... set the mood with candles and music, use a drop of your favourite essential oil and be with yourself for even just 10 minutes!
Know that your mind needs some forest time to get clear? Write it into your calendar like you would a business meeting. Put your shoes on, breathe in deeply, listen to the crackle of branches and leaves underfoot, touch the earth and talk to the trees!
If you're having trouble finding time to take care of yourself, treat self-care like a to-do list. Pick 3 or 4 little things you love, and block off small chunks of time in your week to do them. Tick your list off as you go. They don't have to be huge things to make a huge difference. Start by making a list of what might feel nurturing to you... Don't hold back, even if your ideas feel unrealistic at first! Sometimes it can be hard to think of ways to nurture ourselves, so go wild. From there, pick one or two things and do them.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Cuddle with your fur-kids (or your friend's fur-kids).
- Light a candle and take a few deep breaths before every meal to create a mindful environment as as you eat.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes and do some stream of consciousness journaling.
- Sit or stand with a long spine and feet planted. Take 5 to 10 deep breaths, feeling your feet connecting to the earth. With each inhale, imagine creating space around your stress, with each exhale, imagine creating softness around it.
- Even if you've never done it before, try a creative outlet. Do it not for the outcome, but instead for the process (no judgment!): painting, poetry, even inventing a new recipe!
- Put your favourite tune on and dance your heart out in your kitchen.
- Schedule a massage or other body or energy work.
- Make time in your week for a yoga practice.
- Turn your tea into a ritual. Be present as you wait for the kettle to boil, put your tea in and wait for it to steep. Enjoy the aromas, flavours and warmth.
- Take a 10 to 20 minute nap for maximum benefit.
- Sing in your car!
- Give yourself a foot massage.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes and meditate. If you need guidance, try one of these.
- Smudge with cedar or sage.
Most of all, learn to be gentle with yourself, and to give yourself permission to rest.