At some point in our lives we all have to navigate through stressful situations and maybe even daily stresses, which can impact on our physical and mental health.
How we learn to manage stress is very personal and not a “one size fits all” kind of deal. For myself, when I feel either my mental or physical health slipping (I find they go hand in hand) it usually comes down to some sort of stress.
We have a nerve called the vagus nerve, which runs from our brain to the organs in the body, so what we are thinking and feeling, directly affects them and how they function. These thoughts and feelings can impact our breathing, muscle response, blood pressure and even our digestive system.
When we are stressed/annoyed/anxious, our nervous system will go into “Fight or Flight” mode. This is where the body will prepare for action, the heart rate goes up, breathing increases, adrenaline is pumped through the body and at this point repair and digestion are not prioritised…. So eating when stressed can give you that uneasy feeling in the stomach, as the body will not be focusing on digesting food.
On the flip side, when we are relaxed and calm the body will enter our “Rest and Digest“ side our our nervous system. Heart rate will decrease, blood pressure lowers and the body works on digesting food and repairing the body. It really is, where organs work at their optimum.
So, why do we have the “Fight or Flight“ mode then? Well, it’s needed for keeping us safe and fed. Back when we were cavemen and women, keeping us safe from predators and today from crossing the road to decision making. Very helpful indeed. The only problem is, we now live mostly in our “Fight or Flight“ mode because of our everyday stresses, from emails, work load, relationships, family, money and even social media. Too much time here effects the body and mind, and we can forget how to truly relax and rest.
Here are some suggestions that I use to help manage stress. It’s impossible to remove all stress from our lives, but we can learn how to manage and navigate through it :)
Managing stress through yoga comes in a lot of different forms. Sometimes I need a sweaty, physically demanding practise to get out of my head (after the effort, comes the ease after all). Other times, just a bloody good stretch to help ease tension in the muscles. I have a video on this HERE.
Technically breathing can come under the umbrella of yoga, but I wanted to talk about it separately. By slowing down our exhale and taking a few really big sighs, we signal the nervous system to calm. In turn, the body will relax and the mind will follow (with practise of course!) Breathing techniques also gives the mind something to rest the focus on too. I have a simple 3 minute breathing practise HERE.
MAKING A LIST
When I’m feeling stressed or scattered, I find making a list or some notes really therapeutic. Sometimes it will just be a detailed list of things I need to do, other times it might be general things that I making me feel stressed. It’s helpful to get those thoughts that are flying around your head, down on paper, then take a step back from it. Maybe go away and have a tea, then come back to it with a fresh perspective.
Get some. When I was working in Ecommerce, I used this practise daily. When work/life stuff becomes stressful, I took a breath and reminded myself that at the end of the day I was selling clothes and make-up on a website…. Not saving people’s lives.
TAKE A WALK
It doesn’t need to be long and in London particularly, it might not be very green, but you can still find beauty in the present moment where ever you are. Leave your phone behind, or at least switch it to flight mode. Look up and notice everything around you. I often find I’ve walked through streets in London hundreds of times, but because I’ve been so wrapped up in my head I’ve never noticed the detail of a pretty building, a statue that’s been there for decades or even that some streets actually have trees and flowers!
CHECK IN WITH HABITS
Are you unintentionally slipping into disruptive habits that impact your mental health and make stress more challenging to manage? The two big habits for me are sleep and diet. Am I sleeping too little, so tired and cranky? Or too much, making me feel slow and lethargic? Same with food…. Too much? Too little? Not the most nutritious? When our gut isn’t happy, it will let us know through that vagus nerve. Make small tweaks, rather than a big overall (which can be stressful in itself). Go to bed 30 mins earlier, pick a healthier side dish, rather than the one you know will make you feel uncomfortable. Rather than scroll through social media on your commute, can you incorporate a breathing practise or meditation?
TALK TO SOMEONE
I’m not going to lie, this is an honorary mention for me, as I seldom do it and it’s often last resort. For some, it may be their first point of call though :) Just like writing it down, you may find it helpful to vocalise the stress. Speak to someone you trust and I find it helpful to start with something like: “I’m not looking for sympathy or even a solution necessarily, I just need to get this out there. I am feeling….. These are the things that are making me feel this way….” And that’s the hardest part, identifying what is causing you stress, because sometimes we just don’t know, and that’s okay too. Vocalising your challenges to someone can help you get out of your head and sometimes even gain perspective too.
I hope you found some of these suggestions helpful. If you have any practises that help you manage stress, drop them in the comments below :) If you, or someone you know is struggling with stress that may be impacting their mental health, I’ve dropped some great resources and phone lines to get into contact with straight away.
Thanks for reading and have a lovely day <3