A lifetime of raw emotion has given me a well of inner strength and a real empathy with anyone experiencing stress or anxiety. How we perceive and interpret stress plays a role in how our body responds to it; I’ve learnt to respond to stress with calm. I now put structures in place to help reduce the tension in my life - techniques to empower me both before and during challenging situations.
Stress is a natural part of life, anxiety needn't be. Eustress (stress stage 1) is good, it motivates and challenges us. It is manageable and in turn, it can also be productive. Of course, the more prolonged, overwhelming or unrelenting the situation, the more unmanageable the associated stress becomes; resilience is key.
This is your body’s response to threat, which has evolved from before the time of cavemen. It is the release of cortisol (our stress hormone) due to the activation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. The body naturally reacts to stress to help improve your chances of overcoming the perceived threat. It does this by triggering increases in the:
It also inhibits digestion - eating and processing nutrients is off the menu during a fight, so energy is channelled to more helpful places.
These are fantastic responses if we're under attack by a wild animal, but this usually isn’t the case for us nowadays. So, our bodies have been designed to react to circumstances that no longer exist... but similar triggers do. Hence the mismatch and often unhelpful reaction that we've been conditioned with.
Circumstances that kick the body into action are now quite different from during caveman times. We engage with so many more people. Electricity keeps up awake longer. TVs, computers and phones over-stimulate our long-evolved natural state. We have created a society where comparing yourself to others is deemed important (how daft), and with this comes the need to compete, and with that arrives pressure - and from there, like a chain of dominoes - stress.
What are your triggers? What's causing your stress? Is it fatigue, over-working, mismanaged relationships, money worries, or poor health? Work this out and you'll be ready take a positive step towards tackling the overall problem...
With a wide range of causes, come a variety of solutions...
A common cause (and symptom) of stress is fatigue; deep sleep is necessary for all. Are you getting enough sleep? It is essential for your body - it is how it repairs itself, strengthens the immune system and allows your mind to process thoughts, to solve problems.
Sleeping between the hours of 11pm-5am is the most important. It allows all this to happen.
A racing mind can keep you awake until the early hours, so cut down on caffeine. I only have one cup of coffee a day and it’s always taken before 2pm. Everyone is different, but this works for me. It’s important to understand that caffeine kills iron and potassium, as well as putting pressure on the adrenal glands, which when exhausted, increase fatigue.
Maybe switch to matcha tea - this is a delicious alternative. Add a little cinnamon and mix with oat milk and you may find your perfect substitute! Its L-theanine content gives us a steady flow of energy and assists with GABA, a neurotransmitter in our brain which helps us to compartmentalise thoughts and memories. This allows our brains to think clearly, replacing racing thoughts with structured, even thinking.
Make your bed every day. (our April competition to win a ''White & Green Oxford Duvet Set' might help you on your way!). - not only will your mind feel less cluttered when your room is orderly, but your body will also respond with pleasure when getting snuggled into a freshly-made bed.
No mobile phone for an hour before bed - everyone knows by now that their blue light us from having the deep sleep that we deserve.
Use this time instead for mindful colouring - it’s exceptional for helping calm the body into a state of relaxation. The detail and precision needed allows your mind to block stressful thoughts and winds it down for, ready sleep.
Meditate - clear those thoughts away, find your method. Use the Calm or HeadSpace apps - and there are plenty more. YouTube also has many guided sleep meditations. You may, at first, feel that these are not working... only to wake up feeling more refreshed the following morning. I always keep the window slightly ajar to allow fresh oxygen to circulate around the bedroom too.
Make sure you don’t eat just before going to bed, allow a couple of hours for your body to properly digest.
If your brain still won’t rest. Dormeason by A. Vogel or Ultimate Magnesium by New Horizon are beautiful natural products that have been found to be highly-effective. Cherry Night by Viridian creates melatonin (the sleep hormone) in the body, helping you drift off to the land of nod.
Are you dehydrated? Another very common cause of fatigue is dehydration and a symptom of dehydration - anxiety!! Anxiety stems from the kidneys, so the kidneys need to stay hydrated! Even 1.36% dehydration can increase the perception of task difficulty. You need to drink 1½ litres of water a day. But not while eating, as this can dilute the nutrients from your food too much. Keep water at room temperature and drink still instead of sparkling. I can honestly say that I have often complained of tiredness, spend days doing all I can think of to recuperate, only to realise that it was all down to dehydration. So, drink up!
STRUCTURE - One simple word, we all need it. Its opposite is disorder. And in this chaotic world, to have structure in your life brings a real inner peace and calm. Of all the guidance from any coach, or counsellor that I have met in life, it was this one gem, spoken to me by a lady who I dearly admire, that made the most profound change of any advice offered.
Also, a simple online tool that brought order into my life is Trello. It’s a visual task management tool. At a glance (on your phone or PC), you can quickly review your tasks (work and personal) in different lists. Prioritise them and get that great feeling of gratification when you mark them as complete. My partner and I share the app, segment into different headings (groceries, wish list, places to go, recipes to try, etc...) and these broken down into ‘to do’, ‘doing’ and ‘done’. And now, if a something I need to do comes into my head, I put it directly into Trello as something ‘to do’ and it gets attention when I’m ready. It clears the mind by filtering it somewhere else, to consider later - it lays a foundation for better organisation in my life.
There are many other apps like this, however I find this one has all the tools I find necessary for staying on top of things!
Other methods for maintaining a structured life:
These can help create sense an inner calm in your life.
Love yourself - This is the most important thing I have to say. I have found, with customers in the store, or with friends, we may talk endlessly about ways of coping with stressful situations... then when I mention self-acceptance and love, eyes can often well up and a realisation dawn. Sometimes we are creating our own internal stress. Take the respect that you show to others, and make sure that give that to yourself; accept and embrace yourself as you accept others.
A technique John McLoughlin taught me:
Exercise - Find what works for you. Exercise will help you sleep, increase endorphin (the ‘happy’ hormone) release in the body, relieve mental and physical tension and make you feel great about yourself. Be careful if you are suffering from extreme fatigue though, choose a lighter form of exercise, such as Yoga.
Have meaning in your life - Whether it be your job, your family, volunteer work, a hobby, anything you want… you must have meaning in your life. To live without purpose or meaning is not to live at all. Knowing you are giving to this world, helping to make making it better, will, in return, help you. A compassionate heart, caring for others creates resilience and joy.
Take time out - No matter what is going on in your life, pressures with work, family, etc… you will burn out if you don’t take time out to unwind. Whether this be a walk, listening to music, watching a movie or whatever helps you unwind and shut down, it is essential. You will find after a break, you can focus more and will be a much better person emotionally and physically for it. It is not a luxury but a necessity, I know this from experience. Time out is as important as any other task.
Hug - A hug that last 20 seconds or more releases Oxytocin (the bonding hormone) in the body and helps your heart cells strengthen and regenerate!
"Oxytocin goes on to help us feel connected to one another every day. Appropriate touch received gladly and without fear initiates a release of Oxytocin that encourages a sense of calm and connection that is pivotal to optimal functioning of the body. It creates a safe breathing space for our being – a place where we feel accepted, seen and loved enough that our bodies heal in the supportive environment they deserve. Beyond touch, just creating a loving, supportive environment for one another can be enough to promote the release of Oxytocin” (Darren Ollerton).
Live in the moment - Try and enjoy every task, take every moment and make the most of it. Whether it be it be in work or at home, live in that moment and appreciate it. Know that in this moment you are safe, bring yourself to your breath and allow yourself to be fully present. It has a calming effect on your mind and body. Box breathing is a technique I have found excellent at suppressing panic attacks and for helping me to relax.
Please take note that while eating, your body’s digestive system shuts down. While eating it is important that you do not talk about anything stressful and really enjoy your food, receiving all its nourishment.
Nourish your body - Eat food that is close to the earth, non - processed and organic when possible. Try and have a rainbow of colours throughout the day. A healthy body will support your mind.
Whether it be a family member, friend or counsellor, sharing your anxieties and stresses helps to minimise them. Human connection, whether it be physical or emotional creates resilience
B Vitamins - Terra Nova - My immediate go to when anxiety strikes. It’s a combination of natural sources of B vitamins, adaptogenic herbs to support the adrenals and natural food sourced minerals to help aid and support nerve health.
Balance for Nerves - Higher Nature - A unique nutritional complex which supports the nervous system and aids the production of GABA to promote a calm and relaxed disposition.
Ultimate Magnesium - New Horizon - A combination of magnesium and rhodiola to help aid anxiety and restful sleep
Passiflora - A Vogel - A herbal hug from Mother Nature in a bottle.
Rescue Remedy - A. Vogel - An immediate remedy if a panic attack occurs.
Rhodiola Root/Complex - Viridian - Adaptogenic herb that helps your body and mind adapt to stressful situations.
Ashwagandha - Helps support the adrenal glands.
CBD Multi Complex Hemp Oil - Celtic Wind - Reduces the negative symptoms of anxiety.
Lead image artwork by Finc - photography by The Hopsack on Synge St.
Please consult your doctor before taking supplements or changing your diet, especially if you are taking any medications or have a medical condition. Some supplements and medications can interact with lethal results.