Ah, stress. That pervasive and insidious feeling that we are all too familiar with. It is born from that pesky fight or flight response – a response to a stressful situation that is triggered by an increase in cortisol (cortisol is actually a steroid hormone!). What was once a fantastic every-now-and-then mechanism that was used to help us outrun a dirty great big Saber Tooth and, therefore, live longer, is now having the opposite effect on our life expectancy. This is because, instead of only experiencing stressful situations sporadically, most of us now have low-level ongoing stress in our lives, which causes us a whole host of issues. Pretty big bummer, right? But, as always, there are things we can do to help our body cope.
Before you dismiss it as being a bit woo woo, meditation doesn’t have to be all crystals, spirit guides and chakras. It can be as simple as finding a peaceful spot to sit and focus on your breathing (rather than the incessant chatter in your mind) for 10 minutes. Your thoughts will try to intrude, so just gently pull your attention back to your breath any time that happens. You don’t have to commit to 20 minutes morning and night to reap the benefits of mediation. Just doing five minutes before you go to bed will do wonders for your stress levels (and it will help you go to sleep).
Kick off your shoes and go for a walk along the beach. If, like me, you aren’t lucky enough to have a beach nearby, head to your local park or just sit in on the grass in your backyard. Studies have shown that being in direct contact with the ground (rather than through concrete and shoes) allows our bodies to absorb negative ions from the earth. This is great from an anti-inflammatory perspective and I find it helps me to reset mentally too. I don’t have a backyard so whenever I’m visiting my parents, I always take a book outside and sit on the grass to read. I can feel my stress levels drop almost immediately whenever I do this.
Take a Look at Your Food
When we are under mental stress, this can be further aggravated if we are also putting physical stress on our body through the food we eat. I know I’m not telling you anything new here but the more you can steer clear of processed food that was created in a plant, rather than coming from one, the better your body will function and the less stressed out your organs will be. Eating a clean diet also helps you think clearer, which means you can race through that to-do list faster. Ergo, you’ll be less stressed.
Up until this year I was firmly in the yoga-isn’t-for-me camp. I thought it was a waste of time and secretly suspected that it wasn’t really a proper workout. How wrong was I? So wrong. After just one class, I was kicking myself for taking so long to try it. Yoga has this amazing way of getting you to focus on your balance, relaxing you and making your muscles burn all at once. That combination makes it impossible to listen to the never-ending chatter in your mind. Try it. I promise you won’t regret it. Most studios offer a deal where you pay $20 and can go as many times as you want in your first week, which means you can try it out without being locked into a near-unbreakable contract like you sometimes experience at gyms (Fitness First, I’m looking at you).
Hang out with a Child*
Children, especially young ones, have such a free-spirited, carefree energy that you can’t help but get sucked into their vortex of happiness when you are around them. It’s impossible to be stressed when you’re going down a slide with a child in your lap.
* Remember the golden rule, guys: if the child isn’t yours, ask permission before borrowing it… erm, I mean, him or her.