Below is a guest post from Caroline Leonard titled “Managing Stress”. I asked Caroline to write it because I feel it can benefit everyone – those of you in jobs, those of you changing jobs, those of you between jobs, and those of you starting your career.
Stress is an everyday fact of life, however being stressed out is not. We don’t always have control over what happens to us however that doesn’t mean we have to react to a difficult, challenging situation by becoming frazzled or feeling overwhelmed or distraught. Being overly anxious is not just a mental hazard; it’s a physical one too. The more stressed out we are the more vulnerable to colds, flu, and a myriad of chronic or life-threatening illnesses we become. Not to mention that we are less open to the beauty and pleasures of life. Research shows that 90% of what we worry about never comes to fruition.
For your emotional and bodily benefit, I am giving you the most easy and natural alternatives to anxiety. Enjoy!
1. Learn to Relax:
a) Breathe Easily: Breathing from your diaphragm oxygenates your blood, which helps you relax almost instantly. Shallow chest breathing, by contrast, can cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up, exacerbating feelings of stress. To breathe deeply, begin by putting your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of 7, and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Then breathe out slowly for a count of 11 seconds. This is important because the out breath stimulates the body’s natural relaxation response. Repeat several times.
b) The Whole Body Method: This works by gradually progressing through each of the main muscles in the body. Begin by first tensing the muscles for a count of 10 and then relaxing them. This works on the principle that if you first tense the muscles and then relax them they are more relaxed afterwards.
c) Visualise Calm: Research has found this approach to be highly effective in reducing stress. Close your eyes, take some long, slow breaths, and spend a few minutes picturing a relaxing scene, such as walking in the mountains, a field, a long beach or wherever it is that you are happy and relaxed, it could be playing a favourite sport, reading a book etc.Whatever and wherever it is focus on the details; see the sights and colours, hear the sounds, smell the smells, feel the textures. Imagine it in great detail, so that you can make it your very own ‘special, safe place’, one that you will always be able to call to mind to help you to relax. You could also try imagining you’re in a hot shower and a wave of relaxation is washing your stress down the drain.
2. Take a Remedy: A.Vogels Passiflora has wonderful properties for calming the mind. Rhodiola helps support the adrenal glands in times of great stress. Vitamin B complex magnesium, zinc as well as Omega3 are great for supporting the nervous system and calming the mind. Keep a bottle of rescue remedy in your desk. Great to have before presentations, interviews etc.
3. Fight Stress with Diet: Balance your blood sugars, this in turn balances out the stress hormones, by encouraging regular eating patterns and always eat protein with each meal. Encourage healthy snacks to balance blood sugar – nuts, seeds, fruit, oat cakes, hummus. Eat oily fish, mackerel, tuna, sardines, salmon, 2 to 3 times a week for essential fatty acids- these are vital for mental health. Drink plenty of water for hydration, critical for mental health. Discourage foods that cause blood sugar imbalances e.g. processed foods. Eat more fruit, veg, wholegrains, good quality protein and eggs. Say no to caffeine: Coffee, tea and carbonated drinks fuel anxiety instead switch to calming teas like, chamomile, kava kava, passiflora, ginger, peppermint (great for calming a tense tummy).
4. Count it Out : Using a scale of one to 10, with one being the equivalent of a minor hassle and 10 being a true catastrophe, assign a number to whatever it is that’s making you feel anxious. Most problems we encounter rate somewhere in the two to five range — in other words, they’re really not such a big deal says.
5. Compose a Mantra: Devise an affirmation — a short, clear, positive statement that focuses on your coping abilities. “Affirmations are a great way to silence the self-critical voice we all carry with us that only adds to our stress. The next time you feel as if your life is one disaster after another, repeat 10 times, “I feel calm. I can handle this.”
6. Be a Fighter: At the first sign of stress, you often hear people complain, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ Feeling like a victim only increases feelings of stress and helplessness. Instead, focus on being proactive. Find another one. If your office is too hot or too cold, don’t suffer in silence. Call the building manager and ask what can be done to make things more comfortable.
7. Put It on Paper : Writing provides perspective, divide a piece of paper into two parts, on the left side, list the stressors you may be able to change, and on the right, list the ones you can’t. Focus on what you can change and stop fretting over what you can’t.
8. Count to 10: Before you say or do something you’ll regret, step away from the stressor and collect yourself. Use this time to take a few deep breaths, stretch, or say your affirmation.
9. Say No: Trying to do everything is a one-way ticket to serious stress. Be clear about your limits, and stop trying to please everyone all the time.
10. Take a Whiff: Oils of chamomile, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, rose, and thyme are all soothing. Open the bottle and breathe in the scent whenever you need a quick stress release. Look for the oils in your local health food store.
11. Schedule Worry Time: Agree with yourself that you will put all your worries aside for a specific half hour in the day, a time that suits you best and not just before bedtime. So when the worries flash into your mind at other times you can note them down to worry about later.
12. Admit It: Each of us has uniquely individual stress signals — neck or shoulder pain, shallow breathing, stammering, teeth gritting, queasiness, loss of temper. Learn to identify yours, then say out loud, “I’m feeling stressed,” when they crop up. Recognizing your personal stress signals helps slow the buildup of negativity and anxiety.
13. Space Out: Look out the window and find something natural that captures your imagination. Notice the clouds rolling by or the wind in the trees.
14. Take a Walk: It forces you to breathe more deeply and improves circulation. Step outside if you can; if that’s not possible, you can gain many of the same benefits simply by walking to the bathroom or water fountain, or by pacing back and forth. The key is to get up and move.
15. Soak it Up: Nothing is more stress relieving for me than a hot bath. If you don’t have the time, do the next-best thing- wash you face or even just your hands and arms with hot water. The key is to imagine that you are taking a hot bath. It’s basically a visualization exercise, but the hot water makes it feel real.
16. Music feeds the Soul: A number of recent studies have shown that music can do everything from slow heart rate to increase endorphins. So get playing.
17. Practice Mindfulness: Heighten your awareness of the moment by focusing intently on an object. Notice a pencil’s shape, color, weight and feel. Or slowly savor a raisin or a piece of chocolate. Mindfulness leads to relaxation.
18. Dial a Friend: Sharing your troubles can give you perspective, help you feel cared for and relieve your burden.
19. Stretch: Muscles tighten during the course of the day, and when we feel stressed out, the process accelerates. Stretching loosens muscles and encourages deep breathing. one of the greatest stress-relieving stretches is a yoga position called the child pose, which stretches the back muscles. On a rug or mat, kneel, sit back on your heels, then lean forward and put your forehead on the floor and your arms alongside your legs, palms up. Hold for one to three minutes.
20. Have Fun : Research shows that children laugh up to 300 times a day, adults, unfortunately a lot less. Often during stressful times we give up what we enjoy. Whatever it is that you enjoy start to do more of it.
21. Straighten Up: When people are under stress; they slump over as if they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Slumping restricts breathing and reduces blood and oxygen flow to the brain, adding to muscle tension and magnifying feelings of panic and helplessness. Straightening your spine has just the opposite effect. It promotes circulation, increases oxygen levels in your blood and helps lessen muscle tension, all of which promote relaxation.
22. Say Cheese: Smiling is a two-way mechanism. We do it when we’re relaxed and happy, but doing it can also make us feel relaxed and happy. “Smiling transmits nerve impulses from the facial muscles to the limbic system, the emotional center in the brain, tilting the neurochemical balance toward calm. So get grinning
About Caroline Leonard
Caroline Leonard is a psychotherapist, coach, trainer/educator, motivator and stress management consultant utilising the Human Givens psychological approach in her work. She is also a Nutritional Advisor. Previous to this role, Caroline worked as a Senior Manager in strategic marketing across many blue chip companies including Vodafone, Microsoft, Danone TNS. She has worked both here and in Europe. She is passionate about educating people in understanding how the brain works and how this can empower them to take responsibility for their own outcomes in life.
LinkedIn: Caroline Leonard