Stress and anxiety are topics very close to my heart. Like many of us, in my quest for ‘having it all’ I ended up very fatigued and depleted. After seeking out some wonderful teachers, I gradually found my way back to health by incorporating some life-changing relaxation practices into my life. The recent news report that 57% of Australians are currently experiencing stress prompted me to want to share some of the techniques that really worked, and continue to work for me.
Many of us know that when you are in a stressed state, your body reacts by getting you ready for ‘fight or flight’. This is great if you are facing an immediate threat as your body becomes alert and ready for action. However, if you are in this state for extended periods of time, i.e. if you have a very stressful daily life most days for most months of the year, it can become very depleting and take a huge toll on your health. Our digestion, immune system, energy levels, mental capacity, quality of sleep (and much more) can’t function well when we are stressed.
Our bodies are not wired to cope with constant pressure, perceived or real. It is therefore essential to have a few stress-relieving go to’s in your bag of tricks to help reset your system to a more balanced state. To do this we need to develop our inner stress-detection ninja senses and take action!
Common Signs of Stress
Physical signs of stress might include: shallow breathing, muscle tension, sleep problems, fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure, indigestion, teeth grinding/jaw clenching or muscle tension, and more.
Emotional signs of stress might include: irritability, anxiety, racing thoughts, depression, worry, disinterest in life or feeling over-burdened.
The evidence of stress often manifests in our behaviour: over-eating, over-drinking, unable to make decisions, avoiding the situation, nail biting, restlessness/speediness or tearfulness.
If any of this sounds familiar please read on… Fortunately this topic has been comprehensively studied and there are so many wonderful ways we can ease the symptoms of stress, re-balance and develop stress resilience.
How to Become a Stress Management Ninja
Having the ability to self-soothe is something we should all invest time in as the benefits to our health are enormous! This is particularly relevant right now as we may not have access to our regular stress-relieving avenues if they involved group activities or seeing body therapists etc.
We can do it ourselves! In order to relieve stress, we need to move our body out of Sympathetic Nervous System function (fight or flight mode) and into Parasympathetic Nervous System function (PSNS) (rest and digest mode, or ‘the relaxation response’). The antidote to stress is relaxation, finding your inner steadiness (it’s always there).
If we are always rushing we will find it impossible to access our inner steadiness. So: catch your feelings of stress/anxiety/panic, breathe, give yourself permission to slow down and take care of yourself.
Here are some of the most effective ways I’ve found to help me slow down enough so that I can soothe, connect to my inner steadiness and take care of myself during times of stress/anxiety:
1. Yoga Asana
No surprises here! Coordinating breath and awareness with movement is a beautifully mindful practice. This focus makes it easier to stay out of your head! Restorative Yoga Teacher and Physiotherapist, Judith Lasater says: ‘Learning how to relax is at the heart of living well’. Restorative Yoga is the perfect practice during times of stress, particularly if you are feeling tired, weak or are injured or just ‘not into yoga’. It is done lying down in comfortable poses and is incredibly effective at effortlessly switching on your ‘relaxation response’.
The ancient wisdom in these breathing practices is astounding. Breathing into the diaphragm promotes PSNS stimulation and sends messages to the brain that we are safe and have no need to be on alert. Conscious breathing leads to feelings of confidence and being supported versus anxiety and disconnection.
3. Yoga Nidra
This practice has been an absolute savior for me during times of high anxiety and stress. This is a guided practice done lying down, often for 20 – 30 minutes. It is a method of complete relaxation that has been scientifically proven to systematically relax the nervous system and induce a deep meditative state. Check out recordings available online. I can’t recommend this enough.
4. Yoga Mantras
The repetition of a word, sound, prayer or phrase is another way to evoke the relaxation response and connect to your inner steadiness. During your practice, notice when thoughts have intruded on your focus and gently let go of them and bring your focus back to your mantra.
5. Tulsi Tea
The revered Holy Basil and other adaptogenic herbs create super healthy herbal infusions for stress relief, helping us regain balance, and developing stress resilience. Try Tulsi Tea, Tulsi Ashwagandha Tea, Tulsi Gotu Kola Tea, Tulsi Wellness Tea and Tulsi Sleep Tea in particular.
6. Take a Bath
Have you noticed how submersing your body in really warm water instantly seems to elicit a ‘letting go’ response throughout your body and mind? Magic. Try adding some Epsom Salts and some beautiful essential oils such as Tulsi Essential Oil.
7. Lie on the Couch!
Be completely ok about not having to be ‘productive’ at all times – give yourself a break, watch a few (guilt-free) episodes of your favourite comedy!
8. Move your Focus
For anxiety or strong emotions, try focussing your attention on your hands and feet (away from the place you’re shaky e.g. your heart or throat).
9. Take a Break in Nature
In order to go from a chaotic mind to a calm one, some space and the appreciation of the universal nature of things goes a long way. Look up ‘Forest Bathing’, it’s a thing. If you can, go for a (socially distanced) walk in a local natural area, bring your energy down into the Earth and connect with nature.
10. Change the way you view anxiety / feelings of stress
Instead of hating on your feelings of stress, try to feel it, acknowledge that it is there, and thank it for trying to keep you safe… Sometimes that diminishes the strength of the feeling, enough for you to take the next step to soothe yourself.
11. Eat cooked, grounding, nourishing, food
Make yourself some good old fashioned hearty soups or stews with root vegetables and really enjoy the cooking process. Be fully present while you’re cooking and appreciate how miraculous each ingredient is.
12. Connect with friends
Get on Zoom, but don’t wind yourself up by going over and over the thing that is stressful as you may just give it more power. Conversation with a good friend can be one of the best tonics as we realise we are not alone with this.
We’re all different, some of these may appeal to you; pick the ones that do and give them a go. Include one or some of these in your regular routine so you become good at them, they will then become a helpful friend when you really need them most. If you’re looking for a project during lockdown, this is the perfect opportunity to practice them.
Here’s to becoming Stress Management Ninjas! May we all become better at accessing our inner calm during life’s storms.