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03 April 2018

#StressAwarenessMonth blog: 10 top tips to stress less

Blog by FSB member Naomi Murray, Co-Owner of Botanica Health

naomi murray photo

As April is Stress Awareness Month, I thought it was a good time to stop and take stock of how stress can impact our daily life and what we can try to do to avoid it.

I have come to the conclusion that stress in this modern life is often inevitable. Maybe living in a remote part of the world, perhaps in a cave high in a mountain stress can be avoided or escaped from.  Perhaps not, as loneliness can also be stressful though I am sure if you have chosen to live a life of solitude you find it suits you perfectly. Of course this is not going to happen for any of us and why should we live in a cave to avoid stressors, don’t we just have to learn to cope and adapt. The famous quote “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change”, is surely most apt in these times.

There are people, and I have met quite a few, who just don’t appear to suffer from stress. They live in the present moment; they have a ‘like water off a duck’s back’ attitude. They don’t burden themselves with the problems of others, though they are still compassionate and kind. They don’t stress about the stress. They live life simply by taking things in their stride. They adopt a laissez-faire attitude to life.

But for the rest of us stress – whether it’s work related, from running our own business or related to our home life – house moves, changes in the family, a new baby or even a new puppy can all be the source of stress. 

We often create our own stress and stress is sometimes perceived as a sign of success. If you are not busy, chasing your tail, doing, achieving, meeting deadlines you just aren’t cutting it. Stress is seen as normal, almost something to be revered, but it is not normal and only creates suffering. Don’t be sold the lie that to be in a constant state of stress and anxiety and busyness makes you a high-flying successful being. What it really shows is the ‘present’ is missing, you have gone off track and are in an unhealthy state both physically and mentally.

What we forget when tensions run high is the negative impact on our emotional and physical wellbeing that stress, if handled badly has on us. A stress reaction no matter how big or small initiates a cascade of 1,400 biochemical events in the body. We know that stress can cause us to have an upset stomach, to sweat, sleep badly, over-react, snap and generally feel unwell.

Left unchecked stress makes us look older, drains us, lowers immunity opening us up to ill health and impairs cognitive function. A stressful event can leaves us feeling poorly and often a cold or virus follows. In fact very often when we see people in the clinic with poor immunity it can often be traced back to an unaddressed stressful event. Scientists say that stress can age us by over a decade. This can be rolled back so don’t lose heart!

I thought as it is Stress Awareness Month, it would be a good time to look at 10 ways to reduce stress in your life:

Identify the stress: Who and what are stressing you the most? Take time out to identify people or activities that create a state of unrest. Can they be weeded out, eliminated or are there ways to make them less stressful. Make a list, as the act of writing is a healthy way of validating your feelings towards these stressors. Don’t harbour worries or ruminate for days. Don’t feel the need to rush in and make a rash decision. It is ok to wait, think and take time. Write down your concern so as to relieve the mind and body of the burden.

Don't create stress: Ask yourself, do you really need to add this in to your already burgeoning commitments. Many people strive to have a full diary and schedule. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a day of utter freedom from unnecessary commitments? There are people who simply have to fill their day, leaving little time to perhaps face why they really must fill all time and space.

Learn to say no: This is a tricky one that takes time and practice. How often have you been asked to do something, meet someone or go somewhere when your body is crying out no but yes comes out of your mouth. It is ok to say no and feels extremely freeing. Of course we all have to sometimes do things we don’t want to and it is sometimes right to do so and to be giving to others but often we have every right to say no if we really don’t ‘feel’ right about it, and not to feel bad about making that decision.

You can't control everything: When we try to control people and situations it only brings about anxiety. Learn to let go and accept that we all do things differently. Being controlling is a negative emotion and only brings about unrest. Letting go of controlling others and situations is one of the best ways to eliminate stress in your life. We have all met people who have to be in control of everything. The most important thing is to work on yourself before trying to control others! Learn to delegate and give up some control.  Being controlling also shuts other people out. We all need to feel we have a role and purpose in life.

Identify the 'drains': We all know who and what they are and I would go far as to say, cut them out. When we are growing up we feel we have to do things and be with certain people because that is what you are supposed to do whether you like it or not. That is a false perception and one of the most eureka moments will be when you actively avoid the drains. You can politely and gradually remove yourself from circles, people or places that only serve to drain you. Don’t be a drain and don’t be drained.

Rest: Easier said than done I hear you say. Remember Parkinson’s Law that states ‘Work expands to fill the time available’.  This is absolutely true and we can always find something to do. The word rest is defined as peace, ease or refreshment.  No one can work and strive 7 days a week. In the golden days a Sunday would be a restful day with no shops open and it was a time to gather together as a family maybe going to church and spending quiet time together. It was a noticeably different day and a day to recuperate before the week was to begin in earnest again. Try and practice mindful walking, appreciating your surroundings. Practice mindful breathing, go to church, meditate, and embrace the stillness.

Develop an attitude of gratitude: More gratitude creates a positive outlook on life. With less negative thinking, stress is reduced and what we once observed as stressful is now not as bad as it once appeared. With good health, a home and a roof over our heads we are absolutely blessed immeasurably. Everything above and beyond is a bonus.

Be Healthy: When we are physically and emotionally strong we can handle stressful periods with much more ease. We have to be strong to adapt and survive the challenges that life throws at us. The foundation of this is optimal nutritional status. Eat regular meals from a diet including fruits, dairy, liver, meat from grass-fed animals, fish and vegetables, keep blood sugar balanced and never allow yourself to get ‘hangry’ (angry as a result of hunger)! Include gelatin in your diet for its anti-stress, anti-inflammatory effects, from meat on the bone, stocks or gelatin/collagen powders.

Consider taking high quality magnesium, known as the relaxation mineral and it really is that. Magnesium helps you feel much calmer, less agitated, more stable, aids sleep and dampens down excess cortisol that rises when we are stressed. 

Be kind: Being compassionate has been shown to lower stress levels. You may think you have no time to help anyone else, your life is already spilling over, but people who give time to others have been shown to be healthier and happier. Studies show that random acts of kindness can make socially anxious people feel better. Loving emotions release a hormone known as oxytocin that through a chain of events has been shown to protect the heart by lowering blood pressure. In Professor Stephen Posts book ‘Why good things happen to good people’ research includes a 50 year study showing that people who were kind in their teenage years have better physical and mental health throughout their lives. It also shows that those who give to others reap the benefits even if they suffer from chronic diseases like HIV, MS and heart disease. “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” Dalai Lama

And Remember that what you stressed about last week is probably now a distant memory ………