When the world around us right now is unpredictable and ever-changing due to Covid-19, we benefit from focussing upon the things we CAN do to maintain our own health and wellbeing. If you’re self-isolating or social-distancing, if your children are off school and if you find yourself spending lots more time at home, this time can serve as a way to reflect upon how your daily habits and routines contribute to your physical, mental and emotional health. Everything we do has an impact upon us, so how can we make the most of this turbulent time right now to actually make a positive difference to our lives?
Early Morning & Awakening
In the early hours there are high levels of blue light waves in the atmosphere, and these help the body recognise exactly when its morning, therefore kicking the body clock into action. As humans, we’ve evolved for millions of years to react to the sunrise and wake up with it – these morning light levels are literally a natural alarm clock! When we expose our eyes (and also our skin) to natural light in the morning, the body wakes up the digestive system, increases alertness and cognitive function, begins pumping blood to the muscles more efficiently, and helps the body’s circadian rhythms (the body clock) ‘tick’ at the right time.
Each cell of the body has a clock, and in order to work ‘on time’ they require us to interact with natural light in the morning. If we don’t get that natural light first thing after waking however, we’re essentially walking around half asleep, with melatonin (the sleep hormone) still hanging around in body’s systems, and a brain and digestive tract that are nowhere near prepared for the day ahead. Sunlight gives us energy too – if you’re feeling tired and not entirely satisfied by your food choices throughout the day, try to get more natural light and notice whether you start feeling ‘fuller’ and more energised.
For more information on how we can use light levels to benefit us, have a read of this pretty in-depth blog.
The morning is also a key time to set an intention for the day. An intention can help focus the mind’s energy and provide a reference point to return to if we happen to face challenges throughout the day. Your intention can be anything you like, but of course it helps to choose something simple, realistic and positive, such as ‘Today my intention is to be kind to myself and others’, ‘My intention is to focus on the positives today’, ‘I set an intention to notice the little things that bring me joy today’. You could even write down your intention and place it somewhere you’ll easily see it throughout the day.
Whether it’s a quick few minutes or a substantial set amount of time, a meditation practice first thing in the morning can serve as your way to start the day from a place of being more connected to yourself, aware of how you’re feeling, and with less chatter in the mind. Your morning meditation practice doesn’t have to be difficult to do – in fact, try to make it as easy as possible so you’ll be more likely to do it often. When you wake up, sit up in bed and take a couple of slow breaths in and out. As you do this, observe the feeling of the air flowing in through the nose and expanding the lungs, ribs and stomach. As you exhale, consciously relax your body. Continue focussing on the rhythm of your breath for a few minutes. If you mind wanders or chatters, simply notice what it’s chattering about, acknowledge it, and then re-focus on your breathing. The key is to not become attached to any particular thought, but to actively choose where you place your focus. The more your practice, the more you’ll be able to translate this into the ability to choose where to focus your mind throughout the rest of the day.
Learning from ancient wisdom traditions like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine can give us very effective insights into how the different times of day support different activities. According to Ayurveda, the hours of 6am-10am are governed by Kapha energy. Kapha refers to the sort of energy that holds things together; it has the qualities of being heavy, dense, cool, soft, stable, slow, loving, cohesive, loyal and enduring. Think of a thick muddy puddle during Springtime, a beautiful big-eyed, curvy aunty, the muscles, ligaments and fat tissue of the body, and the sensation of having a mucus-y cough. All of these things – even though they may seem different initially – are all representations of Kapha energy.
As Kapha’s slow and steady energy governs 6am-10am, it’s especially important to do something active to prevent too much ‘heaviness’ from building up and turning into lethargy. Take part in an online class if you’re staying indoors, head out for a jog, dance around in your kitchen, or step into your garden to move in a way that feels good to you. Consuming bitter herbs like dandelion root or Spring greens, spices like cayenne and ginger, and things that are stimulating like tea or coffee are also best tolerated by the body at this more stable time of day, so use this to your advantage.
Our digestive power (known as ‘agni’ in Sanskrit or the metaphorical ‘fire in the belly’) follows the arc of the sun. As we approach midday and the sun is highest in the sky, we’re more able to digest bigger quantities of food. Because of this, most holistic wellbeing traditions suggest consuming the largest meal of the day at lunch. If this works for you, cook up something delicious and seasonal to consume at lunch. If you really value sitting down to a full dinner with your family in the evening however, there’s another way to make the most of your digestive capacity here: By choosing not to snack at all through the day (therefore not spiking your blood sugar levels and weakening insulin resistance every few hours) and consuming slightly bigger meals. You can also consider which of the foods you eat that are difficult to digest (like raw foods, cold foods or heavy proteins) and consume them here.
The Chinese medicine body clock reveals that the afternoon is when the small intestine and bladder respectively are most active. What this means is that in order to feel our best, our actions ‘should’ go towards supporting the actions of these organs and not getting in their way. When the small intestine is absorbing food after lunch, we have a natural dip in energy levels (reflected in the dip in our natural circadian rhythms), which is conducive to doing something restful like light reading, napping or a slow walk. When we move towards 3 and 4pm, the bladder is more active, which means our energy levels may be restored and we feel drawn to creative tasks or studying.
The way we utilise light is again really important during the evening. Just as we want to expose our eyes and skin to bright light in the mornings, we want to stay away from it at night. Bright lights from screens and artificial lighting prevent the body from releasing melatonin (the sleep hormone) so we benefit from trying to turn off lights or limit our exposure to them. (iridescent lightbulbs, phone and lap top apps that dim screens and blue light blocking glasses are all effective ‘hacks’ you can use if you’re not able to turn off lights and screens). Remember; we’ve evolved for thousands of years to either be exposed to darkness or the natural red light waves of fire in the evening, so try to find ways of mimicking this as much as you can.
Slowing down and creating a barrier between work and home / leisure time is especially important now too – especially if your work is now happening within your home. Try taking a walk outside to mimic ‘walking home’ from work. Change your clothes, put on some music, or dedicate some time to an activity that signifies to you the end of a working day. Even more important now is to turn off your work emails and leave work duties alone until your next working day. The world is stressed enough right now, there’s no need to put yourself through any more of it!
Night time & Sleep
All natural health research points to the benefits of getting to bed around the same time each night – and the optimal time for that is about 10pm. Of course, humans haven’t always slept for eight hours straight, and in fact lots of anthropological data shows that lots of cultures sleep in a couple of smaller blocks of time, often waking in the middle of the night to be creative, to pray or meditate, or even to have sex. Sleep is so important for every single aspect of our minds and bodies. When we sleep, our cells repair, our brain consolidates memories and new learned skills, as well as processing emotions, which can help prevent trauma from being stored in the body. Especially at a time when we all know we need to look after the immune system, make sleep a priority. Effective advice for getting a good night’s sleep includes:
- Sleeping in a cool and well-ventilated room
- Stopping all work at least 2 hours before bed
- Not eating too close to bed time. If you struggle to sleep however, a healthy and carbohydrate-rich food like banana can help relax the mind and muscles and promote healthy sleep.
- Try magnesium to help relax the nervous system and aid in maintaining healthy muscles
- Opt for herbs like nutmeg, lavender and chamomile to help induce sleep. Add them to warm milk and sip before bed
- Stay away from any heated debates or emotional conversations before bed, as they can stop the mind from relaxing in time for sleep
- Practice box breathing to help get to sleep quicker: lay down comfortably in your bed and visualise the four sides of the bed. Linking the breath and your visualisation together; inhale as you slowly draw your awareness up one side of the bed. Hold your breath as you draw along the top edge of the bed. Exhale as you visualise drawing down the other side, and hold as you draw your awareness along the bottom. Do this until you fall soundly asleep!
As thousands of people in the UK and all over the world are self-isolating right now and working from home, it’s more important than ever to focus on what we CAN do to stay well, rather than focussing solely on the problems we’re facing. For those of you spending more time at home, this could be the perfect time to reflect upon your morning routine, your daily habits and any positive changes you want to bring into your life. To get things started, here’s a short and simple yet effective morning movement practice to boost your mood, enhance circulation and lymph flow, and awaken your brain for the day. If your children are at home now too, this may be a great opportunity to introduce them to the benefits of movement and yoga!
Videos will be uploaded for you every couple of days, so stay tuned and stay well!
At this time when each day is unpredictable, we’re not sure how much of an impact the CoronaVirus is going to have, and when the supermarkets have run out of toilet roll, it’s more important now than ever to be self-sufficient and use our own tools for effective holistic health. Start with this simple paste to prevent illness. Oregano oil has very powerful compounds that help protect the immune system, and works a little like an antibiotic (without the antibiotic side-effects!) All the ingredients are far more successfully absorbed when consumed with a healthy fat, so there’s a good dose of beneficial coconut oil in this recipe too, but you could also use ghee if you prefer.
To make one small jar
- 2 tbsp coconut oil (melted)
- 1 tbsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp oregano oil
- 1 tbsp raw honey
- Add all ingredients to a jar and stir well to mix
2. Store in a cupboard and add 1 tsp to warm water – consume every other day, or every day if you’re considered ‘high risk’ when it comes to COVID
Seasonal, easy to make and with big immune-boosting benefits, this soup provides plenty of plant protein, as well as important compounds that help to fight off illness and infections (and possibly COVID19….) Whether you’re self-isolating or reading this at a time when there’s no threat of illness of a pandemic proportion, this is a great go-to early Spring soup that helps prevent Springtime colds and sinus blockages too….
- 2 courgettes
- ½ packet of frozen peas
- 1 inch piece of grated ginger
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 sprig fresh time of oregano
- Pinch of salt & pepper
- 1 + ½ litres of stock
- Tsp coconut oil
- Heat the oil, ginger and garlic in a large pan
- Chop the courgette and add it to the pan along with the peas
- Stir to coat in oil and cook until the courgette has softened
- Add the stock and fresh herbs, and simmer for 15-20 minutes
- After simmering, turn down the heat and add the coconut milk, salt and pepper and more dried herbs if desired. Oregano has very powerful antiviral effects and works well as a natural antibiotic too – without the antibiotic side effects.
- Bring the pan to a light simmer again for a few minutes, then turn off the heat.
- Allow the soup to cool enough so you can blend it with a hand blender or larger blender
- Optional: Sprinkle with immune-boosting turmeric & black pepper and cayenne to rid the body of any sinus blockages.
Looking at the world through the lens of Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda gives us a rich and broad language to use when describing the way we feel, the different seasons, and the many ways we can get well and stay well naturally. Whist we can all intuitively feel a difference between each season of the yearly cycle, Ayurveda classifies each season as having a different energy and therefore affecting us in different ways. Knowing the various qualities each season holds, we can tune into how the weather, amount of light, the seasonal food etc is making us feel, and how we can align our daily activities with what’s happening out there in nature.
Ayurveda’s wisdom often refers to the five elements: Earth, water, fire, air and ether (or space). Everything in nature is made of the elements and the specific qualities of each element are mirrored in our bodies. The earth element shows up as our bones and muscles, the water as our synovial fluid, the water in our systems, our sweat, urine and tears; the fire element is our digestion and all the processes involving heat; air is our breath and the movement of circulation and nerve impulses, and ether is the space in our bodies and minds. Each season is also governed by certain elements, and from an Ayurvedic perspective, Spring is all about Earth and Water, which together for the dosha or ‘type’ known as Kapha.
Earth & Water
Kapha dosha – being made of earth and water – is the dominant energy during Spring, which means all of Kapha’s characteristics tend to show up during this season. The primary characteristics of Kapha are: Heavy, slow, cool, loving, loyal, strong, consistent, cohesive, sticky, wet, prone to routine, stable, growth, abundance, endurance, and sweetness. Spring presents these characteristics in the wetness of rainy days and April showers, the abundance and growth of plant and new-born animals, the stickiness of mud, the heaviness of the air, which can often be damp and pollen-filled.
We can also recognise when Kapha season arrives because we may start to feel different within our bodies. Digestion during Spring can be a little slower, as can metabolism of both food and water, making us a little more prone to water retention and puffiness or oedema. Clogged pores and cool, oily skin are other signs of having a build-up of Kapha in the body, as can a thick white coating on the tongue (suggesting slow digestion, indigestion or an accumulation of ‘ama’ or ‘toxins’ in the digestive tract). Feeling heavy and lethargic, unmotivated, being prone to emotional eating and feeling overly attached to material possessions, people and memories are typical signs of harbouring excessive Kapha energy.
Strength & Softness
The news isn’t all bad, however! Whilst an excessive amount of Kapha doesn’t feel good (just as an excessive amount of anything doesn’t feel good), this dosha comes with some valuable chaacteristics that we can really make the most of come Springtime. Kapha is all about unity and togetherness, meaning we may feel more loving towards others and enjoy spending quality time with family and friends. In the very same way; that unity and togetherness refers to the body, as our tissues tend to be stronger and more resilient at this time of year, making it the perfect time to start a new exercise regime, take on a challenge or heal aches, pains and niggles. Endurance is a key aspect of Kapha energy, so anything that requires a commitment and lasting effort (such as a marathon, triathlon or a long walk in the countryside) is supported during this season. Kapha’s strength also shows itself in the immune and reproductive systems too, meaning that even though allergies and sinus issues can manifest in Spring, the body is less likely to catch an illness or infection, and we’re generally a little more fertile than in other months. A craving for sweet foods may show up during this season – especially if you already hold a lot of Kapha energy – so be mindful of when your body has had enough.
Stay Well This Spring
Knowing all of this and becoming more aware of how we feel on a daily basis can all help the body and mind stay in a state of good health and balance. A daily routine or specific practices focusses on balancing Kapha energy during Spring can also be a great way to align with the season and stay well. Try the following and notice the difference:
Redefine Your Relationship with Light: The way we interact with light is essentially the exact opposite of what nature intended. Before we were able to stay indoors for the majority of the time and light up our houses at the flick of a switch, we had a far more natural and beneficial way of working with light from the sun. Living in tribes in close contact with the earth (as some parts of the world still do), our circadian rhythms (the body’s clock) would be perfectly balances and in tune with the arc of the sun. We would wake just before or just after sunrise depending upon the season, and go to bed a couple of hours after sun set. The important factor isn’t just the natural waking and sleeping times we would have experienced; it’s the way we used light during those times. In the morning, the natural light outside contains lots of blue light waves, which essentially tell the body clock to wake up, start revving up digestion, releasing hormones and getting us ready for the day. At dusk, that blue light is replaced by more red light waves, which help us wind down for sleep, eventually leading into darkness. Today however, the light we expose ourselves to indoors is nowhere near as bright as the outside light, meaning we don’t properly ‘wake up’ until we spend some prolonged time outdoors in the morning. At night, we tend to miss out on those red light waves and natural darkness, because we switch on lightbulbs and screens that emit blue light waves, preventing us from releasing the necessary hormones required for healthy sleep. If we want to feel well, the number one thing we can start doing this Spring, is to get outside in the morning and absorb that morning light, and try having less ‘light pollution’ entering our eyes at night.
Seasonal Eating: Nature tends to provide us with the exact nutrients and vitamins we need in our immediate environment, and trees even give off specific scents from their essential oils that benefit us in different seasons! As the season changes, head to your local market, farm shop or browse the ‘seasonal foods’ section of your local supermarket and try adding in more of those foods wherever you can.
Be Bitter: Kapha’s heaviness can soon be relieved and cleansed by consuming more bitter foods, which help increase digestive strength and ‘scrape’ toxins from the digestive tract. Choose foods like lemon, rhubarb, dandelion root, milk thistle, green and black tea, lettuce, sorrel and turmeric.
Spice It Up: Adding warming, stimulating spices to your meals can really help enkindle the digestive fire and prevent that lethargic, heavy feeling in the abdomen. Ginger, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, ajowan, fennel, turmeric and black pepper are all great ways to spice up sweet and savoury dishes.
Experiment With Intermittent Fasting: Whilst we need enough calories to feel strong and resilient, as well as of course making time to enjoy meals with friends, the body does benefit immensely from brief periods of fasting. Intermittent fasting tends to be most easily practiced overnight, leaving a 16 to 18 hour gap between dinner and breakfast. During this prolonged break from food, the digestive system starts digesting any ‘leftovers’, and cleans up the intestines. With less energy placed upon the process of digestion, the body uses this extra energy to repair injuries and rejuvenate cells, thus helping increase longevity and wellbeing. Not everyone is able to fast or will enjoy fasting, but if you’re able to, Spring is a great season to practice it.
Boost Circulation: With Kapha’s tendency towards sluggishness, keeping circulation moving is important during this time of year. Enhancing circulation not only helps the body’s processed work efficiently, it also helps the immune system fight off illness, particularly chesty coughs and Spring colds.
Body Brushing: Another way to boost circulation; body brushing involved using a bristle brush in a circular motion all over the skin, paying particular attention to the armpits, chest, inner thighs, abdomen and lower back. Start on the legs and brush upward towards the heart.
Spring Cleaning: As simple as it sounds – de-cluttering our environment can seriously help de-clutter the mind. When we see things around the home we’ve been meaning to sort out for a while, or things that are broken and still haven’t been mended, it all creates subconscious clutter in the mind, and becomes an addition to the ‘to do’ list that never quite gets ticked off. To create calm and clarity in the mind, schedule a few hours to de-clutter, fix and Spring clean your home.
Take on a physical Challenge: Kapha’s qualities of strength and endurance are supportive of taking on new challenges this Spring, and as the weather becomes a little warmer and brighter, it also contributes to feeling more motivated. Have you always wanted to start running, join that outdoor bootcamp, or climb a mountain? If you have a physical goal in mind, this is a great time of year to start working towards it, especially if it involves getting outside.
Choose Your Colours: Balance out any heaviness and lethargy by embracing those bright Spring colours. Vibrant reds, orange and even violet can help increase energy and motivation. Try wearing these colours, having them around your home, or switching your phone and computer home screen to match these energising colours.
We already know that sound has a big impact upon us, because we each have favourite songs or genres of music, and we each have sounds that make us feel uncomfortable. Indeed, the entire universe is actually made up of soundwaves, vibrations and frequencies that we aren’t even aware of.
All sounds are waves and are produced by the vibrations of material objects. If you clap your hands together, this creates a vibration and thus soundwaves and frequencies. If you strum a guitar, the vibration of the strings sends out waves, heard as frequencies. These vibrations are transmitted through air, or they move through other mediums such as solid, liquid, gas or plasma. When vibrations reach the ear, they are converted to electrical impulses in the brain, which we interpret as sound. Lower frequency sound vibrations can also be felt by the body.
NASSA have uncovered soundwaves in space too, known as stellar sound waves, with a technique called asteroidseismology. They say that; “The biggest stars make the lowest, deepest sounds, like tubas and double basses. Small stars have high-pitched voices, like celestial flutes. These virtuosos don’t just play one “note” at a time, either — our own Sun has thousands of different sound waves bouncing around inside it at any given moment”. The universe is literally made of sound, and we benefit when we start using sound on a therapeutic level.
Our Vibrating Planet
Everything we can see and touch (i.e. every material object in nature or man-made) is made of vibrational frequencies. Matter is vibration, and the quality of that matter – solid, liquid or gas – depends upon the frequency its vibrating at. Everything has an impact upon frequency, including size. As the mass of a vibrating body increases, its frequency decreases, but as the tensionincreases the frequency also increases, thus balancing the body’s vibrational sound frequencies. The earth has a natural frequency pulsation of 7.83 hz (humans can hear between 20hz and 20,000hz). Note: ‘hz’ means the number of repeating vibrations that occur within a second.
Autoimmune disease specialist Christina Sessmus says; “Humans have an optimal frequency–as does everything else in the universe–that occurs when each of the cells in our body vibrates at the frequency it was designed to. Bruce Tainio, famous researcher and developer of Tainio Technology, found that a healthy body resonates at a frequency of 62-72 MHz, (MHz takes 1 ‘hz’ and multiplies it by a million) and when your frequency drops to 58 MHz, that is when disease starts. Bacteria, viruses, and disease each have their own, low frequency that influence your energy field”. As your frequency drops due to environmental and physiological factors, your immune system is compromised and opportunistic bacteria and viruses are able to wreak havoc on your body–making you more susceptible to disease. Trapped emotions stored in our organs, muscles and tissues as pockets of electromagnetic energy also have a negative influence our wellbeing. Disharmony and imbalance in the body’s energy field shows up long before it becomes a physical problem.” The lower the body’s frequency, the less healthy the body becomes.
Raise Your Vibration
As we know, holistic health and healing isn’t just about working with the physical body, it’s about working with every aspect of life. Our vibrational frequencies are what we might call ‘energy’, ‘prana’ or ‘qi’, and everything we do or come into contact with can affect our energy and vibrational frequency.
What Decreases Your Vibration?
Intuitively, you’ll be able to feel when you’re vibrating at a lower or dissonant frequency. To put it simply; stress lowers the body’s vibrational frequency, and relaxation raises it. The following things are likely to lower the body’s vibrational frequency and decrease wellbeing:
- Toxins in the environment
- Processed food
- Foods that are heavy and greasy, or that you cannot digest well
- ‘Toxic’ relationships
- Too much time indoors
- Traumatic Memories
- Negative Thinking
- Noise or a general ‘hum’ from construction work or traffic that causes discomfort
What Increases Your Vibration?
The more we look at high-vibrational experiences and objects, the more it becomes clear that mostly, the things we enjoy and that genuinely fill us with positive ‘vibrations will help maintain a healthy and harmonious frequency.
- Chanting and toning
- Listening to music you enjoy, or specific binaural beats / frequencies
- Organic and unprocessed foods
- High grade essential oils
- Spending time with people you feel safe, happy and comfortable with
- Enjoyable exercise
- Pranayama (breathwork)
- Meditation and positive visualisation
- Using and being around crystals (specifically clear quartz, watermelon tourmaline, jade, selenite, celestite, shungite, hematite,
- Using organic herbs in cooking
- Earthing and going barefoot
If you want to start making more positive life changes, begin paying more attention to the sounds around you and consider how they make you feel: do you often spend time in a room that has a constant low humming sound or a high pitched note? How does that make you feel, and how do you think it could be impacting your vibration? Perhaps start listening to sounds and songs that uplift or relax you, or focussing on reducing the amount of ‘low vibration’ things you’re exposed to and including more ‘high vibration’ activities in your life.
Our ‘body clock’ or circadian rhythms, are designed to work in alignment with nature; we evolved to rise and energise with the sun and relax and sleep with the moon. Of course, in today’s modern world, we don’t necessarily live in alignment with nature any more, and this can seriously disrupt our circadian rhythms. If circadian rhythms are disrupted, so is our sleep, digestion, energy levels, ability for cells to regenerate, and essentially every other aspect of health, wellbeing, and just feeling OK on a day-to-day basis.
Whilst getting enough sunlight in the early hours of the morning and ensuring you’re not exposed to too much blue light at night can be a wonderful way to get your rhythms back on track (read my blog ‘The Light Diet’ to learn more about that), there are things we can do throughout the day to keep ticking along optimally. Feel free to share this infographic with someone who would benefit from rebooting their circadian rhythms too!
The Stress Cycle
Stress has become a household word, and something we not only talk about regularly, but have come to expect regularly. Stress has become the number one cause of workplace disability, and in the past year alone, 74% of people have been so stressed they’ve felt overwhelmed or unable to cope, according to statistics from mentalhealth.org.
Just because the ‘stressor’ has gone,
it doesn’t mean the ‘stress’ itself has…..
One of the reasons we tend to suffer with stress more acutely today than ever before, is that we’re not actively doing things that let our bodies and nervous systems know that it’s ok to relax, and that the stress is over. Recall a time when you’ve felt heightened stress or a sensation of being overwhelmed; perhaps whilst stuck in traffic, in a high-pressure meeting, completing a deadline or giving a presentation. If any of these situations cause you to feel stress, it’s likely that your body is reacting in the same way it would if it was being chased by a predator and trying to escape a near-death situation. Thousands of years ago, we’d act just as animals do – we’d either be devoured and become some animal’s dinner (which in the modern world equates to succumbing to stress through a heart attack or stroke, and in many cases severe burnout), or we’d run away, escape, breathe a sigh of relief and reflexively shake it off. The three actions of running, breathing and shaking vigorously would all subconsciously tell our brains that we were safe and out of danger. Recall again that situation that causes you stress. What do you do after that stressful occasion has passed? Many of us might turn to alcohol or food, television, high sugar snacks, cigarettes, drugs. Those who head to the gym or go for a run to relieve stress have the advantage of doing something our genes have evolved to recognise as ‘stress relieving’ since we literally were running from predators all those thousands of years ago. The problem there however, arises in cases of over-exercising or exercise addiction, that ends up only causing more stress to the body and mind….
Stress can be addictive. That buzz we get from doing something productive, feeling needed, completing tasks and goals, and always having a focus can cause us to get stuck in the cycle of feeling stressed, yet compulsively creating more stress for ourselves. (In the form of saying ‘yes’ to every single opportunity, even if we have no time or energy left to do it, over-working or filling our calendars to the brim). The American Institute of Stress offers several questions to aid in figuring out if you could be a stress ‘addict’, including; ‘Do you thrive on tight deadlines?’; ‘Do you leave things until the last minute?”; ‘Does it take you a few days to feel like you’re on vacation? [and] when you’re on vacation do you spend much of it thinking about work?’; ‘Do you lack time to see your friends or participate in hobbies you enjoy?’. It seems that stress can even be as addictive as drugs in many cases; “In addition to the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline, stress also releases dopamine, a “feel good” chemical. Dopamine encourages repeat behaviours by activating the reward centre in our brain and may be at the heart of many addictive behaviours and substance abuse issues” say researchers and doctors from the American Institute of Stress.
Whilst creating ambitious to-do lists is useful for productivity and providing that little boost of fulfilment when we tick off tasks, those very same lists can actually prevent us from achieving meaningful tasks. To-do lists tend to encourage more attention to be given to the easy-to-do but not particularly effective tasks. We might tick off ten ‘tasks’ in a day (things like answering emails, doing the laundry, buying a relative’s birthday present etc), but if that one fulfilling and meaningful task that will actually make a difference to your life isn’t ticked off, you’ll still end the day with a sense of uneasy guilt, stress, and a feeling of being ‘stuck’…. The stress cycle is quite similar in this respect; too often we pay attention to removing the small and pretty insignificant stressors from our lives, without paying attention to the stress itself, or the big and important stressors that will make a real difference.
Why is Stress a Problem?
Other than making us feel emotionally unwell and downgrading our enjoyment and quality of life. Stress has a very real impact upon physical health, especially if it’s the long-term, low-level chronic stress many people are living with today. Stress weakens the immune system, creates physical tension, encourages addictive and compulsive behaviour, can cause depression, burnout, relationship issues, and feelings of hopelessness. A worrying indicator of where we’re heading in terms of stress trends, is the mentalhealth.org statistic that found 70% of older adults reported feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope in the last year, compared to 97% of younger people.
Two Ways to Deal with Stress
Knowledge is no longer as powerful as it might have once been. There’s ‘knowledge’ everywhere. Turn on your TV, browse the internet, scroll through social media and there will be information there waiting to fill your mind. What we do with it, and how much we really understand it however, is what really counts. There are a couple of useful ways to practice reducing the amount of stress in your mind and body, and they’re powerful when we start using them purposefully.
- Breaking the Stress Cycle
This technique requires us to observe how we’re feeling, and tune in to our physical, mental and emotional ‘symptoms’ as they arise. These symptoms can range from an increase in heartrate and perspiration, to racing thoughts and even nausea. The more subtle the symptom, the more sensitive we need to be to feel them, and the more practice it may take to sense them.
Within the stress cycle, it’s in the space between ‘stress’ and ‘reaction to stress’ that we can start practicing observing our reactions, and begin breaking the cycle. Of course, the cycle can be broken at any point – many of us may not realise we need to take action until we’re at the point of ‘increased sensitivity to stress’, when a loved one may point out how ‘stressed’ we seem. The earlier we can break the cycle though, the healthier and happier we’ll be. Depending upon how deep you’re into your own stress cycle, you may be able to observe the stress as it arises, or you’ll be able to pick up on the symptoms of chronic stress:
Symptoms of instant reactions to stress:
- Change in breathing pattern (short, shallow breath, holding breath)
- Tightening of muscles (clenching jaw, tensing shoulders / stomach / hands)
- Uneasy feeling in stomach
- Increased heat beat
- Anger or frustration
- Feeling a need to control or feeling a loss of control
- Worry or fear
- Racing thoughts
- Quicker reactions
Techniques to break the stress cycle at this point:
- Slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing
- Making sound (singing / sighing / chanting)
- Consciously relaxing muscles
- Shaking / dancing / jumping
- Thinking of someone or something you love, or something you’re really looking forward to
- Thinking of 5 things you’re grateful for
- Writing down how you feel
- Repeating a mantra or affirmation
Symptoms of chronic stress:
- Low energy
- Low mood levels or depression
- Change in hunger
- Cravings for sugar or heavy foods
- Sleep issues
- Increased sensitivity to stress
- Low libido
- Increased heartbeat
- Aches and pains
- Gut issues (nausea / constipation / diarrhoea)
- Lowered immune system
- Loss of enjoyment in life
- Quicker to react emotionally (crying, anger, irritability et)
Techniques to break the stress cycle at this point:
- Spend time in a place you feel safe and relaxed
- Socialise with loved ones
- Practice slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing 3 times a day
- Get a massage
- Practice Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Swimming or Yoga
- Frequent exercise
- Spend time in nature
- Practice hot / cold therapy
- Take a digital detox
- Cut down on sugar and alcohol
- Get more sun exposure
- Listen to music
- Join a community group (dancing, choir, crafting etc)
- Learn meditation techniques
- Create boundaries between work and leisure
2. Techniques For Completing The Stress Cycle
This is a part of relieving stress that not many of us think about. Remember; the stressor and the stress are two different things. Just because the stressor (the traffic, presentation, intimidating manager, deadline etc) is gone, doesn’t mean the stress in the body and mind is. Our nervous system has to get the message that we’re safe and sound, and the brain we’ve been busy evolving for millions of years (that same brain that previously experienced stress when we were running away from predators), still needs that same trigger to move from stress to relaxation. Repressing natural urges and needs leads to a build-up of stress, so allowing the stress to properly process and release includes practicing things we’re naturally evolved to do.
- Emotional release: cry, shout, scream
- Make noise: sing, chant, sigh
- Do some vigorous exercise: get your blood pumping to mimic escaping that predator. Run, dance, skip, jump
- Shake: Animals naturally ‘shake off’ stress, and until we started` considering ourselves separate from animals and more self-conscious, we would do the same. Shaking is incredibly effective, simply shake all your limbs, or visit a TRE (trauma release exercise) to help ‘unlock’ your body’s innate ability to naturally shake stress away.
- Visualise: Athletes famously use visualisation to add another level to their training. Mirror neurons in the brain become activated when we harness visualisation techniques. In brain imaging scans, parts of the brain that light up during exercise also light up when we intentionally visualise exercising. The same is true with completing the stress cycle. If you’re having a difficult time with work colleagues or your partner, visualise something that would help you resolve any conflict or make you feel more relaxed. Focus on making the situation as real as you can. Imagine the smells, colours, sounds, textures, and how you’d be feeling emotionally.
- Human contact: Whilst we’re apparently the most ‘connected’ we’ve ever been via the internet; we’re more physically disconnected than ever before. We once lived in close-knit tribes, villages and trusted communities, with plenty of human contact every day. In our modern world however, it’s easy to go a full day without speaking to another real person, let alone come into physical contact with them. Our bodies and minds know we’re safe when we do things like hugging, especially if it’s for more than 20 seconds. 20 seconds is enough to elicit the relaxation response, and start moving the body from stress to serene.
- Breathe: Consciously` breathing slowly in and out of the nose can start bringing the body back from the brink of a meltdown. Breathing slowly and deeply can’t be done when we’re running away from a dangerous situation, so when we’re practicing breathing in a calm way, the body and mind know its ok to feel calm and relaxed.
Completing the stress cycle is as important as breaking it. So, if you aren’t able to jump into the cycle quick enough to break it, or if you’ve been dealing with lingering stress for a long time, make sure you prioritise completing it and letting it leave your body and mind.