Feeling stressed and ready to make some changes? While we can never get rid of stressful situations completely, there are lots of simple steps you can take to ease the impact – and to help your body cope better with stressful situations.
Here are some of my favourite tips to let go of your stress!
Limit “Doom Scrolling”
If news is a trigger, or if you often feel on “high alert” waiting for an email or a deadline to hit your inbox, then try to cut down the time spent on your phone.
There have been all kinds of studies over the last few years that link our phones to elevated levels of Cortisol (AKA the stress hormone), while the constant barrage of texts and emails can also do more harm than you might imagine.
If you’re used to being glued to your phone 24/7 (as many of us are!), this may feel scary at first, so take baby steps and go gently with yourself. You might want to try leaving your phone in a separate room when you sleep (there is a wealth of research to suggest that having our phones next to our bed is bad for us!), or turning your phone off when you relax at night. You could even try enjoying a ‘Phone-Free Day’ once a week (I aim to do this on Sundays, although it doesn’t always work!)
Chances are by reducing the amount of time on your phone, you’ll also sleep better, too, by reducing the amount of blue light exposure (blue light messes with our production of the sleep hormone Melatonin) .
2. Ditch the Caffeine
I don’t know about you, but when I’m tired / stressed / on edge, I have a tendency to prop myself up with caffeine – especially coffee.
While it may feel comforting at the time, sipping on coffee when stressed is actually fairly counter-intuitive and may worsen the problem.
This is because caffeine (along with stress!) can send our Cortisol levels soaring, causing us to feel tetchy, irritable and on edge. Problematic when you consider that, for most of us, Cortisol should be at its peak in the morning (it helps us to wake up!), which is when many of us sip endless cups of coffee.
I advise all my clients to quit coffee – if they feel able – during times of stress. However, if you can’t bear life without coffee, then aim to drink it mid-morning instead. You might also like to try sipping Green Tea, which releases caffeine much more slowly and also contains the amino acid L-Theanine, which works to calm the body.
It’s also worth remembering that caffeine has a long half life (around 3 to 5 hours, although some believe it can take 9 hours to eliminate it entirely), so always save it for mornings if you are planning on drinking it!
3) Try Some Yoga
Yoga is all about strengthening the mind / body connection and can really support the body during stressful times (even the not-so-stressful times, in fact!). If you don’t enjoy Yoga, then you could experience similar benefits by practising breathing techniques, meditating or keeping a gratitude journal.
As a word of warning, it’s also worth considering limiting the more intense physical exercise during times of stress, too (unless you truly love it and it brings you genuine joy, in which case – go for it!). Certain exercises, such as HIIT, can increase cortisol and stress in the body, which can be counter-intuitive when you’re striving for calm.
4. Step Outside
Spending time in nature is a great way to lower the body’s stress response. Try to spend time outdoors every single day, and pay mindful attention to what you see as you walk – you might notice a bug in flight, or see how the light catches the leaves on the trees.
If you can – although I realise that your job and life may get in the way of this! – try to enjoy some morning light exposure. Stepping outside in the morning and soaking up that natural light is a great way to support your body’s natural Circadian Rhythm, which can be affected by stress.
If you have a pet, spend some time hugging them, too! Research has shown that stroking a pet can lower cortisol, as well as releasing our feel-good hormones Serotonin and Oxytocin.
5. Consider Supplementing
While it’s always advisable to speak to a nutritionist, dietician or a GP before you supplement (particularly if you suffer with certain conditions or have symptoms of an illness), there are a few things you may like to experiment with to help with stress.
Adaptogenic herbs, such as Ashwagandha, have been used for centuries to help the body cope with stress. Ashwagandha is a medicinal herb that is commonly-used in Ayurvedic medicine, with some studies showing that it can significantly reduce cortisol levels. It can also be used to ease anxiety, as well as boost fertility and testosterone in men.
Meanwhile, soothing Magnesium helps to support the Nervous System and allows you to relax and unwind. It’s also thought to be beneficial for those who suffer with anxiety, and can help you to get a good night’s sleep too!
If your stress affects your monthly cycle, then you might like to consider Vitex Agnus Castus (also known as Chasteberry). This plant has been used for centuries to support women and relieve symptoms of PMS, although the science behind it isn’t full understood. It may help by reducing prolactin, a hormone that is linked to pre-menstrual symptoms. However, you must not take this when pregnant, and it’s worth consulting a GP first.
Chronic stress can deplete levels of certain nutrients in the body, so it’s also worth supplementing with some of these, too. Zinc is often depleted during times of stress, while good levels of Zinc can have an anti-depressant effect. Meanwhile, it’s worth upping your vitamin C intake to help boost the immune system.
6. Have Sex!
While stress may send your libido plummeting, a bit of va va voom in the bedroom can actually help to make you feel good!
Beyond the obvious fact that orgasms feel incredible (!), they also trigger the release of Oxytocin, AKA the love hormone, which can decrease stress. If you don’t have a partner to hand, self love is every bit as good for you!
Similarly, hugging can also trigger the release of Oxytocin, so get snuggling!
7. Stay Hydrated
Unfortunately, this one is a two-way relationship: stress can trigger dehydration, while dehydration can trigger stress!
Dehydration can also affect Serotonin production (a key hormone for making us feel good!) and depletes energy levels, so you can see it’s a vicious cycle.
While staying hydrated is important every day, try to ensure you prioritise sipping water regularly during stressful times.
8. Lower Intake of Sugary, Processed Foods
For many of us, the first thing we’ll reach for when we’re stressed is sugary, processed foods, or foods high in refined carbs. There are many reasons for this (so please, don’t feel guilty – our brains can be wired to make us crave these foods!) and they can trigger the release of endorphins in the short-term.
However, short-term is the key word here! Ultimately, these sugary, processed foods add to our body’s stress. They cause our blood sugars to surge – which can affect anxiety levels – and then trigger the release of Insulin (which has a relationship with stress), which can make us crash when those same blood sugars suddenly drop
9. Eat Rainbows of Fruit and Veg
We should all be eating rainbows of fruit and veg – every day! But it’s especially important during times of stress. For starters, chronic stress can deplete levels of certain nutrients, as well as the immune system, so it’s crucial to get plenty of goodness in the diet.
Secondly, eating plenty of plant-based foods can help to boost our gut health! Having a healthy microbiome is key for a happy, healthy body (scientists are now staring to recognise the role the gut plays in our mood – have a read about the ‘Gut/Brain axis if you’re interested), so we need to be eating plenty of delicious plants (packed with fibre) to help our good bacteria to thrive.
For an extra gut boost, pack in the fermented foods – including yoghurt, Kimchi, sourdough and Kefir – as well.
10. Try Diaphragmatic Breathing (Deep Belly Breathing)
Do you ever stop to simply be? To focus on your breathing and let everything else melt away?
While we all breathe (obviously!), a huge majority of us don’t breathe properly or optimally.
Yet, when you know how, breath work exercises can be used to help with all kinds of issues or complaints. Breathing can be used to boost energy and immunity, to increase creativity, support healthy digestion, ease stress or anxiety, boost confidence, and even help us to process traumas or certain emotions.
If you are struggling or feeling overwhelmed right now, I’d encourage you to try out some simple diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing). This can bring us back into the present, reconnect to the body, ease anxiety and help to lower cortisol.
Here’s how to do it:
SIMPLE DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
- Sit in a comfortable position or lie flat – however you feel most relaxed. Allow your body to soften and melt into the surface beneath you.
- Relax your shoulders, rolling them back and down, then place a gentle hand on your chest, and the other below your rib cage so that it lies just above your stomach.
- Slowly, breathe in through your nose for a few seconds, noticing how your tummy rises and expands.
- Pause for a second, then gently purse your lips and exhale slowly, aiming to make your exhale longer than your inhale. Feel the belly relax and pull towards the spine.
- Repeat for a few minutes, keeping the eyes soft and unfocused.How do you feel afterwards? Are you feeling calmer, more relaxed? I hope so!
Do you have any tips for easing stress? I’d love to hear them – please share them below!