Practical tips for managing stress, part one
Life is stressful, but does it need to be?
Life is complicated. Everything from diet to lifestyle, to work, hormonal health and general attitude can contribute to elevated stress levels. External and internal factors all play a part. Let’s explore what causes stress and some ways to manage our experience of it.
It’s true that some people have a higher capacity for stress than others, but some people also believe they are handling their stress, only to crash and burn out down the line. I have done this, quite a number of times, before learning a lesson that I still need to be mindful of: Avoid cramming too much into my life, including the tendency to overwork.
The physiology of stress
The fact is that daily living—in particular overworking or overdoing anything—causes much stress, which starts to impact the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are chiefly responsible for regulating the stress response, including production of cortisol and adrenaline. During periods of higher stress, the adrenals release cortisol to help the body cope—thus cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone. Cortisol is actually necessary as it keeps us awake and active; however, continuously elevated cortisol levels contribute to many problems, including anxiety, sleep issues, hormonal imbalances and weight gain.
So how can we manage our stress levels better?
We’ve become such doers, always needing to be doing, moving, achieving. It’s good to press pause, every now and then, and create space in life to just be. The art of being still, silent and taking time out is a powerful tool for overcoming stress, which is likely why practices like meditation, yoga and retreats have become so popular and almost essential to balance out the overdoing nature of our society. Sit, eyes closed, focus on your breath and then simply ask yourself how you’re feeling. Check in with yourself daily.
Getting enough sleep helps keep stress hormones balanced, and rest is particularly critical for supporting the adrenal glands. A good routine to aim for is six to eight hours of sleep a night, a fixed bedtime and not staying up too late. Cortisol levels are at their lowest between midnight and 4 a.m.; therefore, if you have trouble going to sleep early, or if you wake during these hours, it could be in indicator of high cortisol levels.
Nourish your body
Eating mineral-rich foods such as sea vegetables, wild fish, fermented foods, black rice and quinoa helps the body deal with stress. In general, a balanced diet of clean animal or vegetable protein, organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, beans and grains is ideal. Adding in superfoods—like maca or blue-green algae, spirulina or chlorella—can help build stem cells and add extra vitamins to your diet. Aim to reduce sugar and processed carbs, which only put stress on the adrenals. Decrease coffee, and drink plenty of fresh filtered water every day.
One purpose of developing a yoga practice is to help manage the body well. And if practiced carefully, it can be therapeutic, i.e., highly effective in health management and a wonderful gift to your body. While studying rapid stress response during an advanced training with Paul Dallaghan last year, I noted among many things his discussion on how stress throws the nervous system off balance and causes the sympathetic nervous system to activate, triggering ‘fight or flight mode’. So we need to become more parasympathetically driven in order to come back to balance.
Yoga asanas / postures can help manage hyperactivity and move unecessary stress (rajas) out of the body. It can also stimulate and remove heaviness from the body (tamas). A little bit of stress then a release from it is what’s considered healthy.
It’s important, in the end, to remember that yoga is like anything else that must be approached mindfully: If our yoga practice puts us in a state of continual stress, then it’s not doing its job. So don’t be a martyr! If fatigued, take savasana / corpse pose. Health is all about fun and joy, not too much discipline, deprivation or being hard on yourself.
(Part two of this article will go into energetic and ayurvedic explanations around stress and some mindful adjustments that can make a huge difference in managing it!)
Why not treat yourself to the ultimate stress reducing experience and join me on a retreat to learn some of these techniques on the beach in Thailand?! My next Love Food & Yoga retreat takes place at Samahita Retreat, 3-10 September, 2016: http://www.samahitaretreat.com/love-food-yoga-2016.htmlSee more posts