The #1 challenge that people come to see me about is stress. There is no doubt that, as a society, stress is on the rise. We are trying to do it all - albeit at the expense of our own health. And by ‘health’, I mean both physical and psychological. Guess what folks? The head is attached to the body. So what happens to one effects the other. For example, stress can present itself in the form of headaches, tightness in the jaw, feeling a sense that your throat is blocked, tightness in your chest, dizziness, nausea, strain in your stomach, a sensation of having to go to the bathroom. These are all physical symptoms that, while experienced in the body, are rooted in the brain. Often times we ignore what our brain is trying to tell us, which is, ‘slow down and please take care of yourself’. We push through because we need to get it all done. As time passes and we continue to use up all of our resources, the body kicks in to tell us that we have overdone it. It’s your job to listen both to your brain and body so that you can live the life you want to live. The life you deserve.
Here are the top 7 tools for preventing and managing stress I’ve found to be the most effective:
1. Physical Activity - Stress builds up in our bodies in the form of cortisol, which is the stress hormone. It needs to be released. This is why often people will say they feel much better after a work out. Cortisol is literally being released from your body. And the endorphins create that feel-good experience as well. Find something you enjoy because if you don’t, you won’t do it. It could be running, tennis, swimming, boxing, pilates, yoga, or sumo wrestling. Just do it. Your body and mind will thank you for it. And don’t forget to get into the woods. Connecting with the earth and taking in the fresh oxygen from the trees can be extremely healing and nourishing to the body, mind and soul.
2. Meditation - A quiet mind is a calm mind and body. Our brains are too active and on all the time, burning out as a result. Your beautiful brain needs a break. So give it the time out it deserves. Meditation has been proven to be an effective tool for both managing and preventing stress. Studies have shown that those who meditate not only experience less stress, but when stress does arrive, they are not knocked upside the head by it. Their ‘resting’ mental state is at a calmer level than those who don’t meditate. There are many different forms of meditation depending on your personal style. There are guided apps you can listen to or you can practice on your own if you find other voices distracting. I use the app Calm, which has a variety of different guided meditations. Try out a few until you find the right fit for you.
3. Counselling - (Cognitive-behavioural therapy) - Our old friend Sigmund Freud initially discovered that when patients discussed their struggles, they experienced relief and the symptoms disappeared. It’s another form of releasing all that negative energy you’re carrying. I can’t tell you how many times after a first session a client will say to me, “I feel so much better already.” I haven’t even begun the real work yet, but there is a significant release they feel by unloading their struggles, and having someone actively listen while providing compassion, validation and empathy. There is also a specific type of therapy I use called Cognitive-behavioural therapy, which focuses on the idea that, it’s not necessarily the situation in our lives that create the stress but the perspectives we have that create the strain. Cognitive-behavioural therapy or CBT helps to relieve those symptoms by creating a heightened awareness of our negative thought patterns, and replacing them with healthier, more positive ways of thinking.
4. Social activities - Disconnection - from ourselves and others is often the root of our struggles. The solutions, then, becomes connection. While counselling is an effective tool to regain connection to ourselves, connecting with our family and friends is also important for our psychological wellbeing. You don’t need a thousand friends. Just one or two good people who are compassionate, caring and respectful. Go for a walk, out for dinner, sit outside in the backyard just talking, go see a movie. Just take the time to connect and be with others.
'You don't need a thousand friends. Just one or two good people who are compassionate, caring and respectful.'
5. Hobbies - It could be line dancing, rock climbing, or knitting. Find that hobby that brings you joy, and do it! When I take a hip hop class (albeit at 41 years old), the rest of the world disappears and I am living pure joy. The truth is that the instructor moves so fast in teaching the routine, I have no choice but to solely focus on the choreography or I will most likely fall flat on my butt. The result is that my mind is not thinking about the stressful things in life that are currently on my plate. I am 100% present in the moment. The music is filling my body and the physical activity is helping to relieve stress from the day. And I’m having fun too! Am I great at it? Nope. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the hobby brings you some joy. It’s time to find yours.
6. Singing - Research shows that singing just ten minutes a day can elevate your mood. Ten minutes! Singing is another form of emotional release. Did you know that? So find your jam. Do you need to sing like Aretha Franklin or Pink? I wish I could sing like either of those two. But most of the time I sound like a wounded cat. For our purposes though, the quality of your voice is irrelevant. If the sound of your own voice is a deterrent, no problem. Throw on some headphones and pump up the volume. You’ll be singing just like Pink in no time!
7. Journaling - This is one of my favourites, and here’s why. It’s another form of emotional release. Even though it may be the same thoughts swirling around in that beautiful head of yours, sometimes when you see it on paper, it can give you another perspective. It not only can provide release, but it can offer clarity and free up space in your head for more important things like one of these seven tools to practice. The idea here is to write down what’s happening for you. Keep a journal on your nightstand and before you settle in with a book or the latest Netflix show, try writing down your thoughts of the day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to ‘take out the garbage’ so to speak. We are trying to clear up some space for peace. And if you want to go one step further, activate your compassionate, rational voice once you’ve dumped all that negative energy down. Ask your kind voice to respond and see what comes up. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Choose one of these tools. Choose all seven. Or choose none. It’s up to you. You have to choose what feels right to you. My goal here is to provide you with the tools and skills that have worked over the years, and hopefully, find one that’s right for you. If you have others, please feel free to share. We are smarter, stronger and better when we work together.