Research shows that two-thirds of us experience a mental health issue in our lifetime, and stress is a key factor in this.
For this reason, the 2018 Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from the 14th-20th of May, is focusing on stress and how we can cope with it.
Stress can impact our mental and physical wellbeing, as well as contribute to sleeping troubles, poor diet choices, low mood and bad skin. As we lead continuously busy lifestyles, here’s some advice on how to help you cope with stress and look after both your mind and body.
What is stress doing to you?
“It’s so important to take time to yourself to look after both your mind and body, otherwise you could reach ‘burnout’. You can reach ‘burnout’ when your nervous system is in overdrive for too long, often due to stress. Basically, lack of rest, relaxation or general ‘downtime’ from stress is like depriving your body of good food – eventually, your energy and mental resources start to run out.
The results can include fatigue or exhaustion so that even the smallest things become an effort. You might feel emotional or short-tempered, find it hard to concentrate or make decisions, and find that even little things upset you,” explains Nutritionist and Fitness Instructor Cassandra Barns.
Yoga for your mind
Maija Kivelä, Yoga instructor at Maître of Thyme suggests taking a step back and creating some time for yourself with Restorative yoga to calm your mind.
“Yoga, in general, can increase your mindfulness and calm both your mind and body. Restorative yoga, in particular, seeks to achieve physical, mental and emotional relaxation. It provides healing for the body and the mind. It is a mellow and slow-paced style of yoga that will have you holding positions for longer. This style focuses on poses that invigorate your immune system and stretch out the aches and pains of the week.”
Look at your diet
“Balancing blood sugar is essential in lowering stress because the crashes in sugar levels which happen through the day (due to going long periods without food and not eating the right foods) stimulate the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol.
Ensure you have a small meal every 2-3 hours that contains protein (eat breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a snack mid-morning and one mid-afternoon). For example, a hard-boiled egg, 10-12 almonds, a small can of tuna and brown rice. This will stop those roller-coaster highs and cravings for sweet foods. Because your blood sugar isn’t allowed to drop, your body will no longer have to ask you for a quick fix. As your blood sugar steadies, so will your mood swings – reduced adrenaline levels will automatically make you feel happier and calmer inside and feel less stressed,” explains UK Nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville
Dr Glenville reminds us, “If you feel the symptoms of stress coming on, learn to get your priorities right. There is nothing in your life right now more important than your health. Learn to say no if you feel that you have taken on too much. Being assertive is invigorating and empowering. It also helps to make lists of what is or is not a priority and to tackle the priority tasks first. This will help give you a sense of control over your life.”
Look to hemp for natural help
Cassandra suggests considering hemp products for a natural helping hand when dealing with everyday stresses. Cassandra explains, “Phytocannabinoids are natural substances found in the hemp plant, most of which are non-psychoactive – in other words, they don’t have the mind or behaviour-altering effects associated with cannabis as a drug.
Research has suggested that some phytocannabinoids can have benefits for our health – including anti-anxiety, calming effects. For this reason, a supplement containing natural phytocannabinoids could have benefits for calming our nervous system and helping prevent burnout.
Get your heart rate up
If you feel like you can’t escape your worries, it could be worth leaving the house and getting your heart rate pumping.
Cassandra explains, “Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which make us feel happy and relaxed afterwards. Getting enough exercise can also help us sleep better, which then helps us cope with stress. However, if you’re very stressed, take care with the types and duration of exercise you choose. It may be best to avoid endurance exercise such as long-distance running, or very high-intensity exercise such as spinning classes – unless these involve short intervals of high intensity with longer periods of rest.”
“Intense exercise can have a net effect of raising your levels of stress hormones and making you more anxious, stressed and tired. Good types of exercise to go for can include weight training, interval training with longer periods of rest, moderate intensity aerobic-type exercise such as cycling, team sports where there is a good element of enjoyment too, or relaxing exercise such as certain types of yoga.”
Keep a bedtime journal
“Keep a journal by your bed where you can write down what you need to do the next day at least an hour before bed. The aim is to stop the dialogue in your head which can end up stopping you from getting off to sleep or else waking you up in the middle of the night remembering something that has to be done the next day,” says Dr Glenville.
Get a good night’s sleep
Another element that can elude us when we’re stressed but is immensely important for our health is sleep. Cassandra explains, “A good night’s sleep can be a great stress-reliever. Unfortunately, of course, sleeping well can be easier said than done when you’re already stressed or anxious. Do what you can to get to bed early enough to get seven to eight hours’ sleep, make sure your bedroom is a calming environment, and set up a good wind-down routine in the evening, such as taking a warm bath. Take a magnesium supplement in the evening too. Magnesium is known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ as it’s associated with calming and relaxing properties – it may help you sleep as well as cope better with stress.