I was in Toronto recently for the Canadian Holistic Nutrition Conference. I spent two full days at the Ontario Science Centre learning from expert nutritionists, naturopathic doctors, scientists, a comedian (Meg Soper) and even a lawyer (who practices sophrology to keep a handle on her chaotic life), about the physical, mental, spiritual, and environmental causes of stress -- and how to manage it all.
At the conference, most of the speakers touched on the fact that stress is an incredibly complex topic and there are countless ways it can manifest. But at the same time, there is hope, because they all talked about the many, many ways it can be managed.
I've been implementing stress management techniques for a while now, in concert with other lifestyle changes that I've adopted, to keep myself healthy, happy and balanced. Managing daily stressors by being proactive and learning how to tackle stress head on has been a game changer. I'm now better equipped to handle stressful situations and less bothered by things that are out of my control. Hopefully, after reading this post, you will be too!
For now, I'm going to focus on the basics and share a few tools that you could use, every day, to keep stress at bay. I've compiled a short list based on some of the common themes from the conference, my own experiences, and some of the insights, practices and ideas I've picked up along the way. None of these things alone will solve all of life's problems or rid you of stress completely, but these are strategies you can employ anytime, anywhere to nip stress in the bud.
BREATHE. A stressful situation can trigger a variety of physiological changes. Your heart will start pounding, your breath will shorten, your muscles will become tense and you might even feel a bit sweaty. When this starts to happen - or if you know you're about to face a big stressor - just take a moment to breathe. I've learned many breathing techniques over the years, but one that I find the most useful is deep abdominal breathing. Breathe in for 4 long counts (right into your belly; fill it up like a balloon), then breathe out for 4 long counts and hold for 4 counts. Repeat 4 times. Doing this will slow down your heart rate and your breathing. You will automatically feel more relaxed.
EXERCISE. There are countless studies linking exercise to physical health and overall quality of life. Exercise helps manage weight, improves mood, prevents chronic disease, increases energy, promotes better sleep and so on. It's also a fun way to reduce stress. Ideally you should be exercising every day, whether it's yoga, walking, running, going to the gym, boot camp, cycling, rock climbing, playing organized sports, or even just climbing stairs at work or in your condo building. Regardless of what you decide to do, exercise needs to be a priority, because it's one of the best way to combat stress. I asked my trainer, Coralyn, from EPIC Fitness for a quick, stress busting exercise that anybody could do. In the video below, she demonstrates how to do a Jefferson Curl, which will help ease stress from your head to your toes.
EAT. Having a balanced diet rich in healthy proteins, carbohydrates and fats, with minimal sugar and refined foods, will keep your blood sugar stable, and ultimately help manage stress. Blood sugar highs and lows will contribute to stress due to the release of cortisol (also known as "the stress hormone"). With that in mind, you should avoid skipping meals or waiting too long to eat. Instead, you should look to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and a few snacks throughout the day. Eat healthily and eat often (every few hours). I always plan ahead by packing my lunch and bringing lots of snacks. If you're stumped for healthy meal or snack ideas scroll through my blog. My staple snack these days is hummus (you can find recipes here and here) and I always carry an apple and a mix of nuts and seeds in my purse - just in case!
GET OUTSIDE. With the weather being so beautiful these days, it's not hard to find reasons to get outside. Just as there is evidence supporting the benefits of exercise, it is well documented that time spent in nature can improve physical and mental health. Being outside can dramatically reduce stress and mental fatigue, and can also boost energy and creativity. If you start feeling stressed or drained, step outside. Go take a walk in a park or, if you're in Ottawa, take a stroll along one of the many waterways in the city. During your workday, make time to go outside and sit quietly on a park bench or on the grass. On weekends, Gatineau Park or Mer Bleue Bog are some of my favourite local escapes. Being outside will lift your spirits and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. So what are you waiting for? Get going! Nature is calling.
If you have any awesome stress management techniques that you would like to share, please leave them in the comment section below.