I have been feeling pretty stressed of late. I know it is stress, because my neck feels like it contains rods of steel, my stomach is knotted and I am pretty short on patience. Am I the only one who gets like this??
So in the beautiful sunlight of my kitchen this Sunday morning, I am in stress management planning mode. And for anyone who answered my question with a ‘no’, then this is for you, just as much as it is for me.
Stress has been coined as the ‘silent killer’, continuously linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, chest pains, irregular heartbeats, cancer and liver cirrhosis. Chronic and sustained stress can also shrink, damage and even kill brain cells and seriously impair your immune system and ability to fight off disease. Not only can it ‘kill’ but it can prevent life as it can also mess with fertility on both male and female sides, affecting sperm counts and mobility as well as causing the female organs to spasm making implantation even more miraculous than it is already.
From a vanity point of view, stress isn’t a good thing either. Stress raises the levels of cortisol in your body, which causes abdominal fat cells to accumulate. That middle tyre, that muffin top, may not only be diet or exercise related. You skin can also be impaired by periods of stress, a symptom of stress causing inflammation and levels of your skin oils to increase, causing acne. And the crowning glory of stress, while the myth that stress makes your hair go grey has been disproved, stressful events can mean you find you lose your hair a few months later.
My goal is to be happy and healthy and live a wonderful, abundant life while I am here. Getting sick, being ill, dying, losing my hair or gaining a muffin top don’t on my ‘happy list’. So, it’s time to reduce my feelings of stress with my S.T.R.E.S.S busters! (I do love a good acronym!)
S for Slow down and taking Stock
This is the first step. And as with all first steps, often the hardest one to do and in times of stress, the one we resist the most. How can slowing down help, if you feel like you have so much to do? Slowing down and finding just enough time to really determine what the root cause of the original stress is that first step.
Stress for me is a mental thing; the thoughts I have about the external pressures I feel about deadlines or commitments as well as the internal pressure I put on myself to meet my high standards and professional pride.
There are a few concepts that have helped me here and having shared with clients, have also helped them enormously too:
Eating the Frog: A concept from Brian Tracy’s book. Eating the frog is a concept of getting done what needs to get done first, rather than distracting yourself with all the pond weed. So, look at all your commitments, everything on your to do list and do the one you are resisting doing the most, first. It is amazing how much mental capacity it frees up! And the rest of the jobs seem to get done far quicker afterwards.
Make a plan: This is a wonderful Sunday night, first thing Monday morning kind of job to do. I know that if I have allocated time for all my commitments throughout the week so that they get done on time, that white noise and panic fades. I like to block my week into hours (sometimes on paper, sometimes in my electronic diary) and then I fill in the hours, first with all the mandatory activities (ie. Work, school drop off), then in priority order. This always includes time for exercise at least 3 times a week and some self-care activity throughout the week. I have one client who schedules in batch cooking and ironing time as this means she is less stressed during the week around meal times and mornings when she is looking for something to wear. As you go through the list, you will often find that there are items on the list you can delegate or even leave in the ‘parking lot’ for next week.
You will find you have time for everything that needs to get done and even social time!
Learn to say no: this is my biggest challenge. I can never say no to anyone who asks me to do something to help them out. I really don’t like letting anyone down. But learning to say no with or without a simple apology or explanation can be incredibly cathartic. If the matter isn’t important to you, then I have learnt to give myself permission to say no. I know that I won’t be the last person on their delegation list and so I can decline, guilt free.
T for Tune out to tune in.
I like to think of this quote to remind me how insignificant my stress can really be and how miraculous life really is:
“We live on a blue planet, that circles around a ball of fire, next to a moon that moves the sea and you don’t believe in miracles?”
That really helps me focus on some time to tune out from everyday life and tune in to real life. I do this in two ways, mindfulness and meditation.
Mindfulness is a way of living. By bringing mindfulness in to daily life, you are focussing on the here and now. You live in the present – not worrying about the future, nor fearing the past. In stressful times, this has been a way to ground myself and calm the tension and anxiety I feel. I draw my attention to my surroundings and start to notice the small things, the good things. I take time to appreciate and be grateful for whatever I am doing or even eating and anxious thoughts take a backseat.
Meditation has been a useful tool in stressful times. When my anxious mind gets really going, then I know I have to tune out from the pressure of life and tune in to my inner self. Meditation is just listening and focussing on your breath while allowing the thoughts and feelings to float across your mind, without reaction. Giving myself and my mind time to be still was blissful in emotional times. In stressful times, I have often found the quiet and space the most productive time as inspiration and creativity finds a way to be heard.
R is for Reconnecting with the earth, with life and your place in it
Stress can unbalance your sense of security and stability and that is the essence of the root chakra, to ‘earth’ yourself.
Quite simply, but being outside, walking, running or playing in nature is often enough to flush out any blocked root chakra energies. Breathing in fresh air, walking bare foot on the earth, planting bulbs and seeds to promote new life, or digging out weeds to let go of anything that is stifling growth is all you need to do to stabilise your sense of security and feel grounded.
And just a thought, while you are reconnecting with the earth, I always find it better when I am disconnected to all things mobile and wifi!
E is for Environment
It was big in the 80’s in the Western world, but Feng Shui has always been around in the East. Your environment can directly affect your mental, emotional and physical health and in stressful times, this can be a really simple clear up job, providing huge sense of achievement and satisfaction.
No matter the size of your living space, there should be areas that are designated space for specific activities. Clutter and chaos, disorganised space can also cause mental chaos too. Recently, one client found it really hard to get down to work as she had no obvious place to work, instead she did the housework or chores. Simply, we created a small desk space in a spare room for her files and papers and away from the kitchen and other distractions. We put a desk by a window and added a plant. This was her haven and where she ‘went to work’. Similarly, bedrooms and rest places should have no sign of work, computers or papers. Keeping your kitchen organised can take the stress out of cooking; I love a good pantry and fridge clear out!
And with money being the most common source of stress, a feng shui tip, always close the lid of the loo, so the money doesn’t flush away!
S is for Smile!
The number one stress buster is to smile and laugh! No pill, no anti-depressant, just good old laughter. Surround yourself with the people and friend who make you laugh, who make you feel good; this can also include children and animals.
If you really can’t face being sociable, then there is always your favourite comedy box set. In our house it is Mr Bean, the original series. It never fails to have us howling on the floor.
S is for simplifying
If all of the above sounds too ‘stressful’, then how about one of the following:
- Take a soak to slow down and relax.
- Light your favourite scented candle and unwind.
- Get some sleep – indulge in a long afternoon nap.
- Slow down on the stimulants that can ‘hype’ you up, try chamomile tea or a hot water infused with lemon and ginger.
- Write all your worries in a letter and then burn it. Watch them go up in smoke!
- Ditch the junk food, sugary drinks and sweets for a whole day and see how you feel.
- Get some help for all the things you don’t like to do or that aren’t your strengths; hire a cleaner, a virtual assistant or make a chore list for your kids.
- Get a sweat on! Really push your body to the limits, that definitely takes your mind off anything else.
- Treat yourself. To anything from a nice coffee to a new outfit.
- Treat someone else. The art of giving and random acts of kindness are one of the best ways to lift your spirits and take the focus off yourself.
- Sing and dance as if no one is watching; turn up the tunes in your kitchen and dance it out!
- Munch on some dark chocolate – raw cacao is full of anti-oxidents and also has shown to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Get out your colouring pencils and be a child again. (I found this amazing while my Mum was dying)
- Find someone to hug and stay there for a while.
- Share your stress with someone else. Sometimes saying it all out loud can help you realise it may not be such a big issue, or they can be objective and show you a different perspective.
- Bake a cake. There is something about the smell of baking that is warming. And there is nothing stressful about eating cake.
- Write a list of all the things you are proud of achieving and have a glass of red wine while you are doing it to congratulate yourself.
As I close this article, it is Monday morning. And I am feeling far less stressed than I did yesterday when I sat down to write this. I have followed my own medicine. I disconnected and reconnected. I played cricket (badly) and laughed (loudly) with my family in the garden. We lit a big bonfire and I felt my worries float in to the sky. I tidied all my work papers out of the kitchen. We ate a delicious family roast chicken together and shared our favourite parts of the day. I meditated for 10 minutes listening to my calm app. And I ate my frog. It wasn’t so bad!