Top 5 Tips for Coping with Stress

Need to relax?

Need to relax?

Stress is on the rise, more people each year are reporting stress as being a problem in their life: effecting their work, home life and health. After years of depression, stress and barely keeping my head above water with our modern, frantic pace of life, I finally broke down, and after a couple of months off work with stress I finally quit. It was time to get out, heal myself and get some perspective.

So that’s what I did, I checked out of society, and in 2010 I moved to rural Sardinia with my retired partner and took some time to heal. It was pretty drastic and most people can’t or don’t want to go quite that far! So, rather than suggesting you quit your job, abandon society and move to a foreign country, I would instead like to share some of the simple things you can do to manage your own stress, some of the practices that have really helped me to learn how to deal with stress, get a different perspective on life and feel healthier, happier & more positive.

Here a 5 things worth trying out for yourself:

1. Take a deep breath

Our breathing is possibly the cheapest, easiest and most effective way of controlling our central nervous system and getting our body to calm down. By learning very simple breathing exercises we can tell our bodies to chill out, relax and calm down! Breathing more deeply and extending our exhalation (out breath) makes our body stop producing those nasty, unhealthy stress hormones and start producing those nice relaxing hormones instead. Ok, so that’s a bit of a super simplified explanation of the sympathetic (fight, flight response) and parasympathetic (relaxed) nervous system, but you get the idea! There is a guided breathing practice here which you can try out for free.

2. Count to 10

It’s a another of those cliché’s, but giving yourself time to pause, reflect and acknowledge what is going on before reacting, can make all the difference. Learning how to observe how you are reacting, both

  • emotionally; how you are feeling and why, and
  • physically; how this reaction or emotion feels in the body,

can give you some perspective and allow you to make more positive, calmer choices when you respond to stress. By learning to recognise why we respond in certain ways, by learning our own behaviour patterns, we can choose a different path and learn to respond in a way that is more beneficial to us emotionally and physically.

3. Eat away your stress

So I’m not suggesting we get out the ice cream and chocolate and start binging here; I’m talking about making healthy choices about what we eat to manage our stress! Certain foods can help us to be less stressed and promote a sense of calm.

  • Foods high in Magnesium, like Spinach & Quinoa promote a sense of calm.
  • Foods high in Omega 3, like walnuts, nourish the brain helping you think more clearly, and reduce stress hormones.
  • Foods containing tryptophan, like sunflower seeds, soy & spirulina, cause the production of serotonin; that feel good hormone.
  • Foods containing vitamin C, like kiwi, kale and guava, reduce stress levels and boost your immune system.

And guess what, certain foods can actually cause that nasty stress hormone, Cortisol, levels to rise, and guess what they are: yup, anything packed with fat, sugar or salt; so avoid cakes, chips and crisps!

4. Sleep more

Get a good nights sleep.

Get a good nights sleep.

Try to get more sleep, go to bed a bit earlier than usual. It’s another one of those vicious circles, you’re stressed out, can’t get to sleep so you sleep less. And in turn, less sleep lowers your immunity, makes you irritable and reduces your ability to cope causing you more angst and anxiety. So how do you break this cycle?

Here are a few tips to get more sleep:

  • Switch off the TV & computer at least half an hour before you go to bed: use this time to have a relaxing bath or listen to some calming music.
  • Do some very gentle yoga or Tai Chi to help calm your body and mind.
  • Listen to a guided body relaxation, there is one included in my online Stress Management course
  • Do some long, slow, deep breathing and become completely involved in the process of breathing, how it feels, the movements of the body, the flow of air at the lips, nostrils of the back of the throat. You can also count your breaths, counting backwards from 100 to 0 each time you inhale and exhale.

5. Learn some stress management tools

Finally, make some time to learn some tools that will help you to reduce your stress levels and help you to deal with any issues in your work or home life. Mindfulness based stress reductions techniques have been shown to reduce stress levels and to help us to be more peaceful and happy within ourselves, despite an increasingly overwhelming and demanding world.

There are lots of really simple and very effective tools out there we can use to help ourselves, these are just 5 that I have found useful in my own life. I hope you can take some time to check out more information about my new Stress Management Course, it lasts for 8 weeks, but only requires about a half an hour of your time each day, so it really doesn’t need a massive commitment of your time.

Stay happy, healthy and remember to enjoy life!

Top 5 tips for a naturally healthy winter

It’s the holiday season, time for parties, presents and lots of good will; yay! Unfortunately this time of year is not always merry-making and fun, it’s also the season of colds, flu and general ill health. The good news is there are really simple, easy and natural things we can do to maximise our immune system and keep ourselves healthy.

Here are my top 5 tips for staying healthy this winter:

1. Drink a cup of Turmeric Milk each day.

Drink a cup of Turmeric each day to boost your immune system.

Drink a cup of Turmeric each day to boost your immune system.

Turmeric has been used for centuries to boost immunity and treat coughs and colds. Lots of people are put off by the idea of drinking turmeric, try my favourite recipe below, it’s sweet, warming and will keep those colds at bay, you might be surprised how good it tastes!

I like to make up a paste that I can keep in a jar in the fridge and use whenever I need to instead of making it fresh each time, then just add between half and a whole teaspoon of the paste (to your own taste) for each mug of turmeric milk.

Ingredients for the paste:
1 tbsp ground Turmeric
½ tbsp ground Ginger
½ tbsp ground Cinnamon
1tsp Black Pepper
1tsp Vanilla essence
½tsp Ground Cloves
½tsp Allspice
½tsp Cardamom

To make the paste, add all the spices together and bind with a bit of water until it forms a paste. Then pop the paste in a small jar and conserve in the fridge.

(Feel free to remove any spice, apart from the turmeric, that you don’t like or add in your own favourite sweet spice)

To make a cup of turmeric milk

Ingredients
250ml milk (this can be cow’s milk, goat’s milk, coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk or soya milk depending on your dietary and taste requirements, but I think it goes particularly well with coconut milk)
½ or 1 tsp mixed paste (recipe above)
1 tsp Honey (or agave nectar or any other natural sweetener of your choice)

Add the milk into a small saucepan, then mix in the paste and bring to boil.  Add in the sweetener to your taste and then remove the saucepan from the heat. Use a tea strainer over your cup and pour the Turmeric milk through the strainer into your cup. Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg. Enjoy!

2.Practice some winter breathing exercises.

Breathing techniques (Pranayama) can boost general and lung health and help keep airways, throat and lungs free from infections.

Kapalabhati Pranayama, also known as the cleansing breath, cleanses the body’s internal system, not only the respiratory organs, but it also has a beneficial effect on the digestive system and organs, including the stomach, pancreas and liver. (You can read more about the benefits of Kapalabhati here).

To practice this breathing technique:
Sit comfortably with a straight back to make space for your lungs, and place your hands on your lower belly.

Use your diaphragm to forcefully and fully expel all the air from your lungs (as if you were blowing your nose). If you are new to this practice, use a longer slower exhale to force the air from your lungs, slowly working up to shorter, more forceful exhalations.

Allow the inhalation to come naturally, the lungs filling spontaneously, without effort or forcing anything.

Perform this cycle ten times to start off with, or less if you feel light headed, then allow your breathing return to normal and observe the sensations in your body. Repeat these cycles of ten movements two or three times to start off with and gradually work up to 6 rounds (60 breaths).

Here is a Youtube demonstration of Kapalabhati breathing from Yoga International.

If you are suffering from high blood pressure, any heart disease, hernia, gastric ulcers, vertigo, epilepsy, lung diseases such as asthma or poor lungs capacity or recovering from tuberculosis or if you are pregnant, you should do these exercises only under expert guidance.

3. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables

Eat fresh, local fruit and vegetables every day.

Eat fresh, local fruit and vegetables every day.

Make sure your are getting lots of health boosting vitamins and minerals, eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg each day. If you don’t like eating them, try juicing them!

Top fruit & veggies for winter health are Kiwi, Oranges, Blueberries, Cantaloupe, Spinach, Broccoli, Kale, Carrots, Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes.

Try adding some raw, organic coconut oil into your smoothie or meal for an extra boost.

Always buy your fruit and vegetables as fresh and local as possible.

4. Reduce your stress levels

Stress hormones lower your body’s ability to fight off infections and viruses, and can even cause illnesses and diseaase. Take steps to reduce your stress levels this winter; simplifiy your life as much as possible, be picky about which party invitations you accept and make time to get some physical exercise; take a walk in the countryside or park and get some fresh air out in a natural environment.

You can use a deep breathing practice to calm down your nervous system, check out our free guided breathing practice below.

If you are looking for more specific and sustainable ways to reduce your stress levels, check out our website for more information about our online Stress Management Course.

5. Sleep well

Sleep

Get enough sleep!

If we’re not sleeping well, we’re more likely to get a cough or cold, studies have shown that a lack of sleep decreases the levels of infection fighting white blood cells in the body. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep and keep your immune system at peak condition! Make sure you are relaxed before heading off to bed; switch off the TV or computer for at least half an hour before bedtime and go to bed a little bit earlier. Listen to a guided relaxation like this one when you head off to bed.

That’s it Folks! Have a wonderful festive season, stay healthy and here’s to a happy, stress free 2014 😉

 

Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, fitness, or other health program.

 

Straw breathing Pranayama

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight to allow your lungs to expand fully and without restriction. Have a straw close to hand for the practice.
  • Bring your awareness to your natural breath, use a clock or stopwatch to time yourself and count how many times you breathe in a minute. Make a mental note of the number.
  • Now inhale fully through your nostrils and then exhale fully and slowly through the straw. Make sure you exhale fully, be gentle; do not force the breath out. Inhale through your nostrils again, then exhale through the straw; continue with this practice for about 5 minutes.
  • Try to breath down into your abdomen, feel the rising movement of your abdomen as you inhale and the abdomen lower as you exhale.
  • Try to pause slightly after the exhalation to allow the inhalation to start naturally, do not force it or strain, just wait for the  feeling of the inhalation to come spontaneously.
  •  If you start to feel uncomfortable or anxious, release the practice and breathe normally for a few breaths and then, when you feel ready, start the practice again. This can happen as the body and mind are not accustomed to this type of breathing, you may think that by lengthening the exhalation you will not get enough air, this is not the case and it is a practice well worth your perseverance.
  • You may start to become aware of the natural pause between the breath, allow your mind to become still in this pause, feel the sensation of calm and profound stillness in these pauses.
  •  After you have finished the practice, repeat the timing of your breaths for a minute. Make some observations: How  much has your breathing slowed down? Are you feeling calmer? What is your experience following this practice?
Benefits
Straw breathing can help you to regain a feeling of calm and slow and regulate your heart rate, this can be a very useful tool for anxiety attacks. When you are stressed, angry or panicked, you tend to take short, shallow breaths, which can cause a lack of oxygen that restricts blood flow,  leads the muscles to tense and can lead to light headedness or fainting. This practice not only slows your heart rate, it also lowers blood pressure.
The destructive effects of chronic stress put people at greater risk of chronic disease. The development of deep, slow breathing through regular Pranayama practice also has the effect of stimulating the Parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the restful state and this reduces the effects of the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response to stress in the body. Short term stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, is normally harmless and can be extremely useful. However, chronic or long term exposure to the chemicals produced by the sympathetic nervous system is often associated with conditions such as hypertension, headaches and migraines, suppression the immune system, impaired digestion, and weakened endocrine function. Our modern, hectic pace of life can keep us in a state of heightened stress for extensive periods of time without reprieve; a regular Pranayama practice can help your body to regain its natural balance and reduce our biological reaction to the stress we encounter in our lives.

Ujaii – The psychic breath

How to practice
Tighten gently the opening of your throat. Make the breath slow and even, with your mouth open softly whisper “ha” whilst you inhale and continue while you exhale. It is easier and more natural with the exhalation, persevere with the inhalation and it will become easier. Then close your mouth and continue to make the sound with your mouth closed and your throat slightly contracted. Feel the air in the back of your throat and hear the soft, smooth, hollow sound of the breath. You are drawing in the air gently and smoothly using your throat, not sniffing or gulping. Breathe as if you were breathing through a long, slim straw without too much effort, calm and slow.
Benefits
With this breath technique you have more control over the amount of air flowing in and out of your lungs, enabling you to breath more deeply and slowly. You will feel as if you have more energy and more control, and you will not tire as easily. You will feel more steady and more confident in the postures.
The sound of Ujaii brings your attention to your breathing, this strengthens your concentration and allows you to be more aware of the sensations of your body in the postures. It also alerts you to when you are pushing too far into a posture or trying something you are not ready for yet; when the breathing becomes erratic and is no longer even and smooth, you should ease off, show compassion towards yourself and rest.
Ujaii can also reduce blood pressure, ease insomnia and reduce mental tension.