1.Eat right for stress
This means a diet high in plants based foods, with complex carbohydrates that release their energy slowly. On the other hand, refined carbohydrates and simple sugars (like table sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, dried fruit) flood the blood with glucose, increasing the production of cortisol. Some research has shown that combining your carbohydrates with protein provides additional adrenal support. You can do so by adding pulses (chickpeas, beans, hummus, almonds, hemp seeds, etc) to your meals.
It is important to add good fats to your diet as brain is 66% fat so it needs this in order to thrive. Specifically omega 3 (from chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin and walnut) and EPA and DHA that come from oily fish (mackerel, organic salmon, trout, sardines).
This will provide the backbone on which your body can thrive and ensure it is equipped to deal with stress.
2. Add a good quality vitamin and mineral support to your diet
All B vitamins are essential in energy production but they work synergistically with some minerals like zinc, chromium. It is imperative to add a good quality supplement to your diet because stress depletes your body of vitamins and minerals. Therefore, the belief that you are getting everything from your diet is a misconception, even when you eat organic. Vitamins and minerals are needed for every single body process.
It is not just about the quality of vitamins and minerals but it is about the quantity. Most supplements you find on the shelves nowadays are dosed for RDA’s (recommended daily allowance). These levels have been set to deal with nutritional deficiencies we had in the early 1900 and do not take into account the levels of stressors we are exposed today. For example, we don’t grow our own vegetables to be able to maximise the available nutrients by eating food straight after picking. For a good multivitamin complex check this out or my favourite which offers a complete solution is Patrick Holford’s supplements. Vitamin buddy offers personalised vitamins delivered straight to your door.
3. Avoid stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, sugary drinks
Choose instead natural stimulants like ginseng, ashwagandha, reishi, astralagus and rhodiola. You can find these in the form of tea of just tinctures which you can add to water and drink.
4. Develop a breathing practice
Before you dismiss this for airy fairy stuff here is the science at a glance. Conscious breathing activates the vagus nerve part of the parasympatitic nervous system which controls the heart, lung and digestive tract. Thoughts will come and go. Your objective is to not get involved emotionally and let them pass just as they come. You are an observer, you are listening but you are not getting involved in the conversation.
If you observe your body when stress hits you there are a few things that happen: your shoulders have are rising getting closer to your ears, you clench your teeth together, your heart rate can increase, you sometimes hold your breath (unconsciously ) as if you are waiting for whatever is bothering you to pass. Whenever I feel this is happening to me I am immediately start to consciously breath.
What does conscious breathing mean? It is the act of breathing into your lower abdomen, inflating not just your ribcage but the area just below your belly button or naval. You can do a couple of breaths (as many as you need) the soon you realise you are getting stressed. Also, it is good to develop a practice that takes 5-10 min of your day to actively breath and therefore increase your resilience to stress.
Here’s one quick practice you can do
- Find a quiet space where you know you will not get disturbed. If you are in the office book a meeting room that has frosted windows or if the weather is nice just go outside. Sit in a comfortable position crossed legged on tall pillow with your knees reaching the floor (this will ensure that your spine sits tall and your body is supported from the root). The 2nd option is to just sit on chair with your feet touching the ground. Place your hands on your knees.
- Put your phone on airplane mode and set a timer for 5-10 min (you decide how much you want to dedicate, but I would suggest to always start small). This means incoming texts, emails will not distract you and your timer will let you know when the practice has finished. Choose a ringtone for your timer that is a bit more gentle (I use early riser on my iPhone).
- Take a deep breath in expanding your belly and sigh through the mouth. While this might sounds strange the act of sighing allows us to consciously letting go. You will immediately see your shoulders drawing down from your ears. If you are in the office and your meeting room is not soundproof, exhale with your mouth open as if you were trying to fog a mirror. On the next exhale do this with your mouth closed. In yoga this is called Ujjayi breath. Do this for 4 breaths.
- Now just inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 4 making sure the breath is nice and smooth and you inflate your abdomen on the inhale. Do this until your timer is up
- When you hear the timer, reach your phone in a slowly manner. Build off the quietness you just had. Before you go, bow your head towards yourself in gratitude that you took the time to look after yourself.
When I say exercise I don’t mean going to gym and pump as hard as you can. Actually exercising when you are stressed might be worse for you. The reason behind it is because your adrenals are over exhausted and going hard with exercise will wear out your adrenals further. This can be seen more often in women than men. Start with a gentler pace, like walking in a park, yoga, tai chi, qigong. These are brilliant because they combine breathing with 360 movement which is important for relaxation and building strength and flexibility. Exercise is key in assisting in blood flow and helping detoxify the stress hormones.
6. Put your body in a relaxed state
Do something that you really enjoy or take up a hobbie. Yoga is my favourite and so many studios around to choose from. If you love dancing, enrol in some dancing classes or just boogie at home. Pick up drawing, or writing, cooking, or whatever makes you happy and relaxes your body.
7. The replacement strategy
Thinking and thoughts are a part of who we are. The objective is to develop a sense of gratitude and replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. Buy yourself a present: a nice journal which you can write at the end of the day 5 (or whoever many) things you are grateful for. Learn to notice the goodness in life and what works well. Just like breathing, this engages your pre-frontal cortex which deals with compassion and empathy. When you see the positive side your mood will be uplifted and as consequence your body will produce the “relaxation” hormones.
Sometimes we have so many thoughts that we get overwhelmed and we don’t know how to manage them. Thoughts we have in the morning act like a constant distraction, affecting our level of focus. In the evening, thoughts act like a distraction from one of the most important tasks, sleep.
9. Connect with people, socialise.
Meeting with friends or trying to make friends will provide you not only with a support network but will ensure that you are releasing healthy serotonin levels.
10. Go back to nature
Spend as little as 20 min by either taking a stroll in the park before bed time (which will get you away from spending time in front of the TV and therefore exposing yourself to unnecessary blue light) or when you commute back from work walk back via a park (if this is possible and safe). The ideal scenario is when you take the time to walk, by feeling your feet touching the grass, moving the leaves away and breathing the fresh air.
Getting into the wild and finding the silence, peach, health and abundance of energy that comes from some concentrated time in the nature is critical so we can calibrate back to our essential selves (Pedram Shojai, The Urban Monk, 2016).
There is increasingly more evidence nowadays that linked time spent in nature with positive effects for our health . One such review shows that interaction with nature can increase self-esteem and mood, reduce anger, and improve general psychological wellbeing with positive effects on emotions and behaviour. These interactions can also have positive effects on cognitive function such as academic performance and the ability to perform mentally challenging tasks. Additionally, the same review suggests that interactions with nature may have physical health benefits such as stress reduction or reduced mortality rates as well as social, including facilitating social interaction or even reducing crime and violence in urban areas(Keniger et all, What are the benefits of interacting with Nature?, Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 2013).
According to a study where participants who had their brains monitored continuously using mobile electroencephalogram (EEG), time spent outdoors shifted brainwaves from the default “beta” setting (12-40Hz, a stress-fuelled state of heightened alertness and linear thinking) into the “alpha” mode (8-12Hz), the light “meditative” frequency that bridges the unconscious world and conscious thinking (Aspinall P, Mavros P, Coyne R, et al, The urban brain: analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG, Br J Sports Med 2015).
So why is the connection with the nature helping our emotional and mental wellbeing. There are multiple scientific reasons. It helps our brains settle into what scientists call the default mode network (or DMN). DMN is a complex circuit of coordinated communication between parts of the brain and is essential to mental processes that develop our understanding of human behaviour, instil an internal code of ethics, and help us realise our identities. Also, oxygen in the brain affects serotonin, the neurotransmitter that affects your mood, appetite, memory, social behaviour. Too much serotonin and you can become irritable and tense, but too little serotonin and you can become depressed. Breathing fresh air can therefore help regulate your levels of serotonin and promote happiness and wellbeing.