Keeping Calm When Under Stress
Wow, life has taken a very unexpected turn.
A life that was within our control now seems to have taken a turn and many of us now are floating along in limbo. Disturbing scenes that were reserved for doomsday films are now playing out in the 6pm news. To say it is a scary and changeable time is an understatement. I think I am speaking for all of us when I say we are all under stress, so I have put together a few basic tips to help keep at least somewhat calm!
1. COME TOGETHER Okay – so not literally! Reaching out to your friends, family and community can be very reassuring both for you and for them. Offering help to people that may be more vulnerable than yourself is also not only a great way to take your mind off events but also making a difference in someone’s life. Who knows, you might even make some lifelong friends! Conversely, if you need help and are offered it, take the person up on it – you don’t get a medal for being stoic!
2. DO THE THINGS YOU LOVE Think about the things that really bring you joy. As long as its not illegal or immoral– do that thing. For me, its dancing to 90s jams in my knickers and singing at the top of my lungs. All those things that you have been meaning to do but don’t have the time – its now time. Revisit that must read book list, start writing that masterpiece you have been thinking of, get out the knitting needles and sewing machine. Now is the time.
3. LIMIT MEDIA INTAKE We are inundated at the moment with endless news stories and continuous updates about the pandemic. It can be very upsetting and can induce excessive anxiety. In order to ensure that you are still informed, it may be helpful to choose a time during the day to check a reputable news source and then minimise consumption of media outside of this timeframe.
4. QUIET YOUR MIND Although it can be difficult to stop thinking about worst case scenarios and reading doom and gloom, it really is in your best interests to try and find a moment of calm. I’m not really a meditation kind of girl but finding a quiet place in your mind whether by doing yoga, journaling, watching the sunrise and having a cuppa, playing lego with the kids or listening to music, sitting on the lawn; just find that quiet place and stay there for a while each day.
5. DITCH THE CHIPS & CHOC For some people, stress can mean reaching for the comfort foods such as sugary and salty treats. These foods may seem like the perfect solution to a shitty situation but in fact, they make the stress response worse. How pray tell? Well, refined carbohydrates mess up the fine balance between sugar and insulin. When you have a big dump of glucose into your blood stream, your pancreas thinks “Oh shit, better secrete some insulin to suck up that sugar” Sadly, the pancreas often overestimates the insulin it needs and then you swing into low blood sugar. When the body senses low blood sugar, it tells the adrenal glands to secrete epinephrine which acts to mobilise stored glucose from your liver to balance it all out. The unfortunate thing is that epinephrine also acts on the central nervous system, making you feel anxious, panicked and waking you up at night. Keep your sugar intake low and reach for foods high in protein, complex carbohydrates and micronutrients for sustained energy and more physical resilience in the face of the stress. Think oats, nuts and seeds, tofu, legumes, spices, herbs, seaweeds, mushrooms and as many vegetables as you can eat without turning green or orange.
6. EAT MAGNESIUM RICH FOODS Magnesium has had a pretty good PR campaign over the last ten years, so we should all know by now that it is the chill mineral. It is intrinsically involved in nervous system function, muscle relaxation, blood sugar regulation and hormonal synthesis and regulation. Low levels of magnesium are associated with anxiety, low mood, low tolerance to stress, sleep disorders, low energy and high blood pressure. So makes sense to get into some magnesium rich foods – which are pretty easy to find – leafy greens, cruciferous veges, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds and cacao. Maybe try a chill the fuck out morning smoothie – cacao, spinach, banana, hemp seeds and nut mylk?
7. TRY & GET ADEQUATE SLEEP – So important for keeping your mood steady and for keeping your immune system healthy. Here are Matthew Walkers top 12 tips for good sleep ( again – this guy is my idol)
i. Stick to a sleep schedule Go to bed and wake at the same time every damn day
ii. Don’t exercise too late in the day as it can overstimulate
iii. Avoid caffeine & nicotine after midday
iv.Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed as it messes up your sleep quality
v. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night as it can
vi.Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep (where possible)
vii.Don’t nap after 3pm
viii.Make sure to leave time to relax before bed
ix.Take a hot bath before bed as it drops body temperature and relaxes
x. Have a dark, cool, gadget free bedroom
xi.Get sunlight exposure for at least 30 minutes a day ( without sunglasses)
xii.Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep - get up and do something relaxing until sleepy
xiii. And if you want a relaxing drink try a chamomile tea or maybe a Moon Potion (which also has the added immune benefits of reishi and ashwagandha )
8. EXERCISE If it was a pill, exercise would be a trillion-dollar money-maker. Not only does it build muscle and bone mass, strengthens the heart, lung and brain but it also improves mood, reduces anxiety and tension and is shown to reduce the mental and physical effects of an ongoing stress response. If you are stuck at home inside, there are a million and one online exercise routines on youtube from yoga to weights or barre. I have even heard that Richard Simmons has released a new jazzercize routine ( that’s really showing my age) .
9. TAKE CALMING HERBS If you are struggling to keep calm, firstly talk to someone about it. It could be a trusted friend, or if you feel like you might need professional help then contact your health professional. There are herbs which can be helpful for helping to induce calm during stressful periods and fortifying the nervous system. My favourite calming herbs are passionflower, oats, kava, chamomile, skullcap, lavender, lemon balm and of course ashwagandha. You can access these herbs from your local herbalist or dispensary.
10. THINK ABOUT ADAPTOGENS – Adaptogens are herbs which help the hormones and neurotransmitters involved in the stress response, come back into balance more readily after a stressful event. In layman’s terms, they help to minimise the detrimental physical and mental effects of an ongoing uncontrolled stress response. True adaptogens almost always have immune modulating actions as well which are pretty pertinent right now! Some have more of a calming action while others are stimulating – The calming pick of the bunch for me are:
Ashwagandha – Withania somnifera comes to us from India where it is used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is known as a rasayana, or a whole body vitality tonic. It supports a sense of calm and improves sleep quality while also improving physical and mental endurance. Ashwagandha also has immunomodulating actions which could come in handy right about now! My herbal teacher, the late (and great!) Kate Robertson, always said taking ashwagandha felt like receiving a big warm hug from a dear friend. That is something we are all pining for right now.
Reishi – Ganoderma lucidem has a very long history of use in Chinese medicine where it is considered to be a superior herb. This is a herb which is very safe and has a wide range of beneficial actions. From a western perspective, reishi has pride of place as an adaptogen – helping to fortify the body against the effects of stress. It also is well researched for its immune modulating, antihistamine and hepatoprotective actions. Reishi is also extensively prescribed for its calming and sedating actions with many anecdotal reports lauding it for sleep and anxiety improvement. Reishi also has a role to play in blood sugar regulation, which is great for all the cookie monsters (guilty) out there!
Tulsi –Within Ayurveda, tulsi is known as “The Incomparable One,” and “The Queen of Herbs,” and is revered as an elixir of life that is without equal for both its medicinal and spiritual properties. It has benefits as an adaptogen, supporting the bodys ability to cope in the face of a wide range of stressors. It also has antimicrobial and immune modulating actions. Tulsi has a special pride of place for enhancing cognition and enhancing calm when under pressure. In fact, many people refer to tulsi as yoga in herb form, referring to its ability to induce feelings of calm and oneness.
Tulsi is in our Zen Potion
So there you have it. If ever there was a time for living in the moment, it is now. We will get through this together.