When it comes to stress, it is important to understand that it is not the actual stressors that are the problem, it is how we react to them. You could have 10 people who are subjected to the same stressors, maybe losing their job, financial worries, running late for an important appointment, but they will all react differently according to their perception of the stress. These stressors will not bother some of the 10 people, but others will be negatively affected by them and feel “stressed” and “anxious”.
For many of us, life is a balancing act. Finding the time to fit in all that needs to be done can be very stressful. Add to that the stresses of work, finances, family life, and ill health and our stress levels can go through the roof, affecting our health in many negative ways.
But there are some very simple ways that we can all lower our stress levels and they don’t cost a cent!
EAT WELL …..
- For the mind and body to function at optimum level, we need a large variety of nutrients. So a healthy diet low in refined, processed and sugary foods is a great start. Eat lots of fresh (preferably organic) vegetables, adequate amounts of quality, lean protein and 2 servings of fruit per day.
- Vitamin C, Magnesium and the B vitamins are particularly needed to deal with stress, so eat plenty of the following foods, and during particularly stressful periods, increase these foods even more:
- Vitamin C: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, parsley, paw paw, pineapple, strawberries, capsicum, tomatoes, sweet potatoes.
- Magnesium: Nuts such as almonds, brazil nuts and cashews, barley, cocoa, cod, lima beans, figs, parsnips, soy beans, kelp, wholegrain cereals, eggs, seeds such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
- B Vitamins: Beef, asparagus, almonds, broccoli, green vegetables, legumes, mushrooms, whole grains, sunflower seeds.
- Part of eating well is also watching what you drink. Aim to drink between 1.5 – 2 litres of filtered water per day, to help flush out the toxins. Don’t drink soft drinks of any kind – with or without sugar added. The sugar free ones are also bad for your health. They can contribute to increasing acidity in the body and are full of chemicals, some of which can be toxic to the brain.
- Replace coffee and tea with herbal teas such as chamomile, lemon balm and passionflower. There are specialist tea shops that offer a wide range of herbal teas for relaxation and general health.
- If you drink alcohol on a regular basis, cut it down. Although you may feel that alcohol relaxes you, it is actually a depressant and can interfere with the manufacture of the neurotransmitters that we need to help us cope with stressful situations. So alcohol actually increases our stress levels over time.
- Do not underestimate the impact exercise has on reducing your stress levels. Aside from the fact that when you exercise you can leave all those worries behind you, it also increases the levels of endorphins, the feel good neurotransmitters. So incorporate regular exercise into your life and if you are feeling particularly stressed, instead of reaching for the alcohol, reach for the running shoes.
MEDITATION OR DEEP BREATHING …..
- Like exercise, meditation or deep breathing should not be underestimated when it comes to its stress lowering impact. EEG studies of the brain have shown an increase of alpha waves, the relaxed but aware state, during meditation and the effects can last long after you cease meditating.
- You don’t have to sit still and meditate like a Zen monk for an hour at a time to reap the benefits. Even meditation for 5 minutes a couple of times a day can have enormous benefits. For time strapped people, another way of achieving good stress reducing benefits is to sit for 1 minute each hour and meditate/deep breath. The accumulative effect can be similar in benefit to a 20 minute mediation session.
SLOWING DOWN …..
- A big contributor to high stress levels is the fast pace of our lives. It seems that so many people are rushing around every second of the day. And a lot of the time we do need to rush around. But we also need to remember that there is always time to stop for just a few seconds and breath. An extra few seconds is not going to make any notable difference in getting to an appointment on time, or getting the children to school.
- So, when you are feeling rushed, stressed and anxious stop whatever you are doing, close your eyes and exhale fully. Hold for 1-2 seconds then take 3 long, deep breaths. After your third breath, continue what you were doing, making a conscious effort to go slowly.
All of the above suggestions can have a huge impact on how you deal with stress. Remember, it is not the stressor that causes the problem, it is how we respond to it. So if you respond to a stressful situation with calm and remember to always breathe deeply, you will lower your stress levels considerably.
By Andrea Southern, Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist at Stafford and The Gap in Brisbane