Stress – it’s as much a part of modern life as your iPhone.Everyone has stress, we answer “How are you?” with busy, flat out, really stressed thank you very much. We wear stress like a badge of how meaningful or important our lives are. Stress can wear us out and it certainly affects the daily choices we make in terms of our health and wellbeing. If you are reading this while eating lunch at your desk, typing a text, halfway through writing an email and 5 minutes late for a meeting then you get what I mean.
But it doesn’t have to be this way entirely. We can shift our view on stress and how we let it rule our lives and make positive changes (often really simple ones) to keep it balance, keep our relationships healthy and enjoy much better decisions about what we eat and how we look after ourselves as a benefit.
So how about me and stress?
Being a professional ballet dancer doesn’t come without it’s stressful times that’s for sure! Performing to a theatre of people is not just a walk in the park, adrenalin is a constant friend (and for good reason) in my profession and with the pursuit of excellence, one has to expect a certain amount of stress to the body and mind.
I was born in a hurry, the doctor didn’t even make it in for the birth. My mum has always said that I was in a real rush to get out into this world and start exploring. Growing up as the youngest of three children, I was always rushing to keep up, rushing to take my chance to be involved in what the big kids were doing. Rushing, rushing rushing.
While I still love exploring, over the years I have learned that rushing and even heartfelt over-excitedness can tip me over the edge of the balance. It feels so good at the time: achieving things, ticking things off the never-ending to-do list, or even a heightened sense of aliveness. But it doesn’t always end well.
I can wind up feeling over-stimulated, anxious and clumsy. My digestive system goes in to a real state of panic and confusion which usually means bloating, cramping and a general inability to digest food and process it well. And when it comes to the restful part of the day and sleeping at night, I feel tired-but-wired. Read: physically and mentally so tired but unable to sleep. This leads to more frustration, more caffeine and stimulants the next day, emotional vulnerability (look out!) and the tired-but-wired cycle continues for days.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Is Rushing your middle name too?
Do you find yourself tired-but-wired?
Are you endlessly rushing to do the next thing before you finished the last?
Does multi-tasking run your life, albeit not effectively?
Would you like to feel a little less stressed throughout your day?
Is the first thought when you wake up in the morning, I have so much to do!?
Over the years I have learned to watch for my warning signs and implement a few things in my day to keep me on more of even keel, without taking away from enjoying the excitement that may be around me. The aim is not to dull all the exciting things down or to move through the day like a Buddhist monk. We all can’t sit in the lotus position meditating for most of our days to achieve a stress free life and nor do we need to. I believe that we can live our most fulfilling lives by implementing a few simple stress-busting strategies without quitting our day jobs.
Stress is a part of life and we all need some of it to keep us balanced would you believe. The trick here is not to avoid stress and run away from it like it’s a bear coming at you. Try to acknowledge it’s place in your life, honour the fact that some stress can assist us with motivation and performance, but also know when you have gone past your tipping point and it’s becoming a hindrance rather than a help.
So what do I do when I can feel myself losing my balance with stress?
Mindful Breathing – anywhere, anytime
Without fail, stopping to take note of my breath in the very least is transformative. The best part too, you can do it anywhere, anytime. No fancy gym equipment or phone app required to just stop, take note of your breathing and take 10 deep and mindful breaths. I like to close my eyes too but if you’re in public and that feels a little odd to you, keeping your eyes open is fine, just take note of the breath. Note where you are breathing from and if it feels shallow or high in your chest, try to visualise the breath coming from and going lower into your tummy. Physically feel your stomach move out when you inhale and relax back down when you exhale. Relax your stomach muscles, because by holding on with your abs, you won’t be able to breathe deeply from your stomach and create the de-stressing signals to your parasympathetic nervous system to let go. Save the ab workout for another time in your day, let your tummy hang out for a moment!
When I have time and space for a 10 or 20 minute meditation, I use one of the Meditation apps on my phone. I find it difficult to meditate in the usual sitting position so I prefer to lie down on the floor – under my change room spot in the theatre is perfect for this. I have been known to have a quick lie down like this even up to half an hour before a show, when everyone else is gearing up and getting that adrenalin pumped, sometimes I need to tune into my body in a quiet way, especially if I feel my nerves are a little too high!
Some of my favourite meditation apps are Calm, Headspace, 1 Giant Mind from the App Store which all lead you through guided meditations aimed at taking a short break from work or daily stress relief. Often you can choose 5, 10 or 20 minutes and the app guides you through various techniques. Find what works for you. Explore.
I love the Calm app particularly because for a small fee in the Pro version, there are various meditations that focus on specific feelings you have at the time or how you want to be feeling e.g. Calming Anxiety, Deep Sleep, Energy, Compassion, Inner-peace, Creativity, Focus, Self-Acceptance or Gratitude. This is my favourite all-round meditation app.
Put down the to-do list
Planning and to-do lists can make us feel more in control, organised and we have the satisfaction of ticking things off the list when they are done. But we all know, the list is bottomless and this in itself can cause us stress and anxiety about never being enough, doing enough or finishing enough.
I use lists judiciously but when I start to feel like I’m getting more anxious and despondent about all those things on the list, I put it aside for the day and try to move through my day with a little bit more spontaneity and sense of natural flow. Danielle la Porte talks a lot about this and when I was going through her Desire Map book, the notion of putting down the endless lists and just getting things done really resonated with me. She is an awesome woman, incredibly inspiring and her Truthbombs words of wisdom often blow me away with their downright sincerity.
Don’t be a slave to the list making if it’s making you stressed. Take notice of your body and feel if those warning signals are letting you know something – a general sense of tightness, holding your breath, the “I can’t think straight” headspace and lying awake at night with all the things running through your head. Listen.
Slow down, it’s not a race
Life is not a race. If it was a race, what are we racing towards? Do we really want to be living our lives racing towards the finish line when all the enjoyment of life is along the way? We need to remind ourselves that while modern life may be busy, loud, 24/7 and there are phones, computers, tablets and various other smart-things “that make our lives easier,” we are actually able to switch off from all of that for even just a few minutes to centre ourselves and find our balance.
These simple breathing and mindfulness tips help us to detach from all those things that keep our minds and all of our organs so activated, they are functioning as if your life is in critical danger. Replying to another email is not a life-endangering event, nor is missing that train, or showing up 2 minutes late for an important meeting. These things may be important to you but they are not actually life-endangering so let’s keep things real here. Let your body see your world for what is actually real.
If we can make the shift from functioning in a state of panic/anxiety/stress/disaster at every corner to functioning in a state of flow and dealing mindfully with that comes our way, our bodies and minds will be so grateful. Call me ambitious, but I do believe it’s possible to achieve so many of our hopes and dreams, participate, explore, learn and grow but not at the expense of our health.
I’ve spoken before in this post about why Magnesium is my all-time favourite mineral. We use up more magnesium when we are stressed and incidentally, our body requires more magnesium when we are stressed to keep the body in homeostasis. It’s easy to see why we can all be a little deficient in magnesium in modern times.
Magnesium supplementation is a real key of any anti-stress campaign of mine. While supplementation is not the answer to every problem (and nor should it be), adding more magnesium in to your life through diet and good quality supplements will go a long way in keeping you calm, helping you sleep and breaking the tired-but-wired cycle. If you happen to wind up digestively in a bind so to speak, due to stress or otherwise, magnesium will gently help to relax the smooth muscle of your bowel and things will gently get back to normal.
If you’re feeling tight all over, tense, worried, unable to sleep, craving coffee and sugar – try taking a magnesium supplement morning and night and see if things improve in the stress relief stakes. My favourite is this one from Bioceuticals in the Forest Berries flavour.
A few words on Burn-out
No one wants to burn out and yet so many of us are on the brink of burn out. Because from being completely burned out, it’s a long way back up to find your balance again. I can see now, I was living in a burned out state for years and wondering why my health was failing me when it never had before. I was in my early twenties, so it didn’t even take that long for all of the rushing, stress and not taking notice of my body to catch up with me. Eventually, I realised that nothing was going to change if I didn’t start making some changes for myself.
Small daily gestures of kindness to yourself will keep you in a more balanced position to deal with anything that comes your way. By using relaxation techniques, acknowledging the times when you are over-wired, acknowledging when being wired is not necessary for the task at hand to be done well, taking moments of mindful breathing, mindful walking, eating your lunch with attention (and not at your desk!), getting fresh air even only 5 minutes, doing a quick 5 minute meditation under your desk or on the train – these all add up.
They all count, they all balance out the daily stresses we face in life. They can all help modern life seem so overwhelming and chaotic. They also remind us that it is in fact us, who are in charge of how we react to stress in our lives and us who choose our relationship with stress.
But more than that, they all help us enjoy our lives more, enjoy our time with our loved ones, give us energy to push on with our next adventure and keep us open to the new and wonderful things that come into our lives.