Although April was the official “stress awareness month”, we all know the importance of keeping a check on our stress levels throughout the year.
One of my recent articles for Personal Trainer Magazine featured my tried and tested top 3 stress-busting tips. Though written with gym-goers and exercise fanatics in mind, I reckon they provide a good reminder to all of us.
Let’s first look briefly at what stress is and how it affects our minds and bodies.
Under normal conditions, our stress response is there to protect us. During the “fight or flight” response, the surge of cortisol (the hormone released when we’re under stress) helps us react appropriately in an emergency, but levels should then return to normal.
Many of us now experience an almost permanent state of hyperarousal that can lead to many ailments and diseases as well as poor sleep, poor diet and aches and pains, as we have a tendency to bury stress deep inside our bodies, perpetuating the cycle.
So, what’s the answer?
Well, as an enthusiastic advocate of mindfulness, I know from experience that in order to gain freedom from the cycle of stress, we must learn to cultivate awareness. Awareness provides us with the “space” in which we don’t run away from thoughts, feelings and sensations in the body. Through becoming the observer of our stress triggers, we learn to take better control of our reactions.
Take a mindful approach to the following (and be honest with yourself):-
Be under no illusion, if you want to maintain a healthy fitness regime and be on top of your game, you need between 7 and 9 hours of “quality” sleep each night.
If the honest answer is that you have bad sleeping habits, start with one or two things to improve upon, such as having a relaxing bath before bed and committing to going to bed at the same time for a whole week.
Keep the goals simple and achievable.
We all know that what we eat can affect our moods. Avoid eating addictive carb and sugar-loaded foods when under stress (a tricky one, I know, as that’s exactly the time when we reach out for the unhealthy snacks!).
Commit to a month of eating a healthy, balanced, mostly anti-inflammatory diet (i.e. 80% fresh veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds) and bring awareness to how that makes you feel.
Notice how reducing your caffeine, sugar and refined carbs intake impacts your stress levels.
Are you training too hard? Now, this is a really tricky one to get honest about! We all know that a great workout makes us feel good afterwards, but for the next month I challenge you to bring real awareness to your training programme. Are you including some quality recovery and relaxation time?
If you find it difficult to have rest days, commit to attending one class a week that encourages awareness of the body and breath through slow, flowing movement such as yoga, qi gong or tai chi.
PLEASE do yourself a massive favour and try it – each week I get new guys coming to my Integrated Wellbeing yoga classes who have never done anything like it before, and they keep coming back for more as they really see the benefits!
I’d love to hear how you get on with these suggestions, and to hear of your own stress-busting tips, in the comments box below.
With love and wellbeing wishes,