Managing stress and creating a balanced lifestyle
“We have reached a point in our collective evolution where our health is being outpaced by lifestyles which are not aligned with how we are biologically made to live.”
You and stress :
- How stressed are you? (1 not 10 very)
- How does your stress manifest?
- What exacerbates the stress?
- What lessens it?
The demands of modern life (including to-do lists, social media, worries, etc.) mean that we are revving at a level of stress that we are absolutely not designed for. A moderate amount of stress is actually a good thing it’s too much stress which is a problem. Stress might seem harmless, but it’s anything but. While short-term stress can lead to bothersome headaches, stomach cramps, weight gain, and bouts of cold and flu, chronic, unremitting stress impacts every part of our bodies, from our digestive and reproductive systems to our immune system.Left unaddressed, chronic stress can even increase our risk for conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, and anxiety. Stress doesn’t just make you grumpier it may also make you fatter and sicker.
When stress strikes, the body releases the hormones: adrenaline cortisol, insulin, and ghrelin, which can ramp up hunger and cravings for unhealthy foods. If the stressful event continues, those hormones remain elevated, increasing levels of another hormone called leptin, which helps your body recognise when it’s full. These hormonal changes can raise your risk for a condition called leptin resistance.
Top tips for managing stress:
1 Move your body
Why? When the sympathetic nervous system is triggered it creates a hormonal response, including the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline primes the body for movement and directs blood toward the muscles and away from anything unnecessary for ‘fight or flight.’ We, therefore, need to move to help the body release the adrenaline as that is how the body was designed to bring us back to homeostasis. Physical activity also bumps up the production of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters- endorphins – resulting in a better mood and sense of well being.
Simple strategies :
- Move at least every hour. It’s best not to sit at your desk or in the car for a prolonged amount of time. Instead, get up regularly, you could: make a cup of tea, stretch, climb a flight of stairs.
- Commit to more intensive exercise at least a couple of times a week. Our bodies need to release through movement. You know you feel better after you’ve raised your heart rate and sweated a bit!
How much movement do you currently do? (1 none 10 plenty) What is one commitment you can make to moving more?
2 Reduce or avoid sugar and caffeine
Why? Caffeine stimulates cortisol – which is already high when we are stressed. If you ingest high levels of caffeine, you may feel your mood soar and then plummet, leaving you craving more caffeine to make it soar again, causing you to lose sleep, suffer health consequences, and feel more stressed. It’s a similar story with sugar – cortisol helps to balance blood sugar levels so when you eat sugary foods, blood sugar levels spike, and the body must release more cortisol to balance blood sugar. Too much cortisol in the body is associated with :
- Anxiety and depression
- Heart disease
- Memory and concentration problems
- Problems with digestion
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight gain
Simple strategies –
- Aim to eat balanced meals: plenty of veggies, protein (vegetarian or not), healthy fats, and some complex carbohydrates (like brown rice or sweet potato).
- Drink at least 8 cups of water per day.
- Choose healthier sweet treats e.g. 85% dark chocolate and a handful of nuts with a herbal tea.
- Find a herbal tea that you like. Some suggestions: mint, fennel, ginger, licorice & peppermint.
- Drink decaf after midday.
Are you drinking too much caffeine? (1 no 10 yes) Are you eating too much sugar (1 no 10 yes)
3 Practice pranayama and meditation
Why? Slow nasal yoga breathing creates nitric oxide which lowers blood pressure, slows heart rate, opens up blood vessels, and tells our brain that we are not stressed. Meditation affects the body in exactly the opposite ways that stress does—by triggering the body’s relaxation response. It restores the body to a calm state, helping the body repair itself and preventing new damage from the physical effects of stress. Simple strategies –
- Try it now – take 3 deep breaths and notice whether there is a difference.
- Commit to meditating daily. Start with one minute and gradually increase the length of time. Download my beginners guide to meditation: www.breatheeatmeditate.com/meditationforbusypeople
4 Take time to eat your meals away from your desk
Why? Eating when: stressed, on the go/rushing around, distracted, standing up, in front of the television means that we won’t properly digest our food and will likely lead to us eating more as we aren’t been mindful of what we are actually eating. Also if we eat when we’re stressed we will be led by hormones that encourage us to reach for sugar and refined carbs. Simple strategies –
- Take a 10-minute walk before lunch (get up from your desk to go and buy lunch)
- Before eating take a few deep nasal breaths to calm down and allow the digestive system to kick in.
- Chew well: this allows the brain to communicate to the stomach via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the gut – it plays a major role in regulating the heart rate and keeping the gastrointestinal tract in working order. The vagus nerves also carry sensory information from the internal organs back to the brain. Chewing is fundamental for disease prevention. By chewing your food completely, you support your body in the digestion of its building blocks. By properly digesting and absorbing these building blocks, you can expect increased: energy, improved sleep, and better focus.
Do you eat at your desk? What’s one commitment you can make to eating more mindfully:
5 Prioritise sleep
Why? Sleep is a profound regeneration to the body. We consistently need 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Sleep is the best drug on the planet, the secret sauce. Everything in our body and mind works better with proper quality sleep. Not getting enough sleep increases your risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, memory loss, and depression. What’s more, not sleeping well also causes weight gain! Studies have shown that just one night of sleep deprivation can make you as insulin resistant as a person with type 2 diabetes. Your body does most of its repairing, recharging, detoxifying, restoring and healing whilst you sleep. If you don’t get enough of it, your body doesn’t do enough of it. Simple strategies – 1. Stick to a consistent sleep scheduleGet up and go to bed at the same time, even on the weekends (that’s a tough one, right?) Your body loves consistency and routine and the more you do it, the more normal and natural it will become.
2. Limit blue light in the eveningsBlue light is emitted from electronic devices and stimulates the brain, so try to stay away from them after about 7pm. If you want to watch TV (make it relaxing or funny not scary or sad), or work on your computer (nothing stressful!), wear blue light blocking glasses. You can buy them online.
3. Create a self-care, evening routine
This is what my routine looks like, you may want to tweak it to suit your needs, but it should give you a good starting point. I head upstairs around 9, run a candlelit bath, dim the lights in the bedroom and put my diffuser on with a sleep-enhancing blend (I love doTERRA serenity or peace). After the bath, with my PJs on, I meditate and journal in candlelight and aim to be in bed around 10/10.30. Learn more about essential oils that can help you sleep here:Essential oils & sleep
4. Sleep in a cool roomYou’ll sleep more soundly in a cool room because your body temperature naturally drops when you sleep. If the temperature in your environment stays too high, then it can be a bit of a physiological challenge for your body to get into an ideal state for restful sleep. Studies have found that optimal room temperature for sleep is between 16 to 20 degrees celsius. Anything too far above or below will likely cause some difficulty sleeping. So even in winter, keep a window ajar.
5. Eat dinner at least 2 hours before bedActive digestion right before you head to bed diverts your body’s energy to digestion, instead of repair while you sleep, taking away from your body’s natural healing process. Eat enough at dinner so you don’t feel hungry before bed, but not so much that you feel stuffed and bloated.
6 Limit caffeine as it has a 1/2 life of 8 hours and 1/4 life of 12.
7. Block out external lights & noiseIt’s a well-established fact that we sleep better in a dark environment, yet so many people aren’t taking full advantage of this. Having light sources of any type in your bedroom can disrupt your sleep patterns. Use an eye mask and block out as much light as you can, especially alarm clock glare or any other electrical devices as well as an outside light. I have also found wearing earplugs a game-changer (and yes, I am a mum to two little ones! I can still hear them if they really need me).
8. SupplementAs well as all of the above, I highly recommend doTERRA serenity soft gels (an all-natural, but very effective, non-groggy making) sleeping pill. And a sleep-inducing blend in the diffuser (vetiver and cedarwood are particularly effective).You can also try magnesium.
Are you getting enough sleep? (1 no 10 yes):
What’s one simple habit you are going to implement to get more sleep?
If you are curious to learn more about how essential oils can balance your stress levels, help to elevate your mood, enable you to sleep more soundly and soothe aches, pain and tension that you might be carrying, join my next introduction to essential oils classYES I’D LOVE TO LEARN MORE