Updated: Apr 9, 2021
Maybe you have been here before or maybe you are here right now. In this overwhelming tunnel of stress, chipping away internally and externally at our patience, emotions and physical well being. “Stress is defined as any disturbance (eg: heat or cold, chemical toxin, microorganism, physical trauma, strong emotional reaction) that can trigger the “stress response.” (Murray and Pizzorno, 2012. P.204) Based on the timing, severity and type, stress can influence many actions on the body from mild too extreme. (Yaribeygi, Panahi, Sahraei, Johnston, Sahebkay, 2017)
Most of us will experience stress, on some level throughout our lives but learning to manage that stress, will be a contributing factor to our overall health. It is important to note that successful stress management techniques should depend on their ability to support and improve an individual’s immediate and long-term responses to stress. These management techniques can either be seen as negative coping patterns or positive coping patterns (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 208). Most of us have experienced or developed some form of a negative coping pattern in our lives. These are known as methods that do not support our bodies and brains and can become destructive long term.
Some examples of negative coping patterns include:
Dependence on chemicals (drugs, alcohol, smoking)
Eating habits (leading to emotional eating, overeating, unhealthy relationship with food)
Feelings of helplessness (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 208)
Like anything else offering a holistic approach, what is seen as healthy for us and what works well for us, is truly unique to us. But the above negative coping patterns all become unhealthy to any individual who has fallen habit to them in order to cope, because overtime, they can wreak havoc on both your body and mind. This is why is it so important to acknowledge our negative coping patterns and put effort into replacing them with something more positive. (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 208)
There are several techniques out there to support the body and mind during stressful times. Here are some that can deliver both immediate and long-term positive affects on our stress responses.
1. Calm both the body and the mind
It is common knowledge that in order to handle stress in a healthier way, we need to learn how to keep our bodies and minds in a calm state. When our bodies are in a state of stress, our sympathetic nervous system takes control. It is this nervous system that triggers the “flight-or-fight” response which ultimately causes the adrenals to produce adrenaline. But if we can train our bodies and mind to handle stress differently, then we can minimize the adrenaline and panic that sets in. The goal here is to reach a state of deep relaxation, which will allow the parasympathetic nervous system to dominate and allow the body and mind to reach a state of repair and restoration. (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, pp. 208-209) Many people learn to manage stress, and support their stress management long-term through various practices.
Here are some of the practices I include in my stress management toolkit to calm my body & mind:
Deep Breathing or Breath-work
2. Get some sleep
Getting adequate, quality sleep is so important to manage our stress levels. When we aren’t well rested, we are more impatient, forgetful and less motivated, which can all contribute to more stress. The less sleep we have the more stressed we can become and the more stressed we are, the more our sleep cycles get disrupted; it’s a vicious cycle.
When there is a lack of quality sleep at night, it can affect our stress levels throughout the day. This is because poor sleep increases morning cortisol levels which provides a physiological stress response in the body. In addition, losing sleep also affects and limits the decline of cortisol levels throughout the day. (McQuillan, Bates, Staples and Deckard, 2019)
One of the ways we can ensure we are getting sufficient quality sleep is to practice sleep hygiene. There are many things that can be implemented into both a daytime and nighttime routine that can contribute to a healthy sleep schedule. A few of those things include: Using blue light glasses with screen time, getting sunshine first thing in the morning, keeping the bedroom at a cool temperature and as dark as possible, following a calming bedtime routine, going to bed at the same time each night and avoiding screen time at least 1 hour before bed.
3. Nourish the body with whole foods
When we include whole foods in our diet, we are able to provide our bodies and mind with nutrient rich ingredients, supporting the bodies healthy, natural processes. So when we are in a moment of stress we are better able to support the stress responses and handle that moment easier, because our body is fuelled and functioning more optimally. Whole foods include foods that are as close as possible to their natural forms and exclude any additives, chemicals and processing. When reaching for whole foods, it is important to choose a variety of colours to provide our bodies with a diverse selection of nutrients. In addition to this, it is also beneficial to choose organic when possible and foods with the least amount of pesticides.
4. Eliminate diet triggers
In this case, diet triggers are foods or ingredients that stimulate the stress hormones (eg. cortisol) and can actually contribute to or exaggerate the stress response, for those who commonly suffer from stress. These stimulants are not nutritionally beneficial and can create dependancy habits, which in turn can elevate stress levels. Some of these types of stimulants might include: caffeine, alcohol and refined carbohydrates and refined sugars.
5. Organize & prioritize your time
Finding enough time is commonly a large stressor in people’s lives. In this day and age, some of us are feeling rushed, trying to meet deadlines, make payments on time, scheduling appointments, and doing our best to squeeze everything we can into our busy weeks. It’s no surprise that feeling like we do not have enough time is a big contributor to our elevated stress levels. Here are some tips to follow to manage and prioritize your time better:
Make to-do lists: At the beginning of each week, jot down tasks in order of priority, scheduling them on a specific day to spread out the jobs for each day
Organize with an agenda: Purchase an agenda that you actually like, this might be because of the colour, picture, wording or organization. You are more likely to use something that you enjoy writing in.
For families, use a family calendar/schedule/list board: This might look like large calendar or chalk board posted somewhere for everyone to see and make changes. Make lists here and schedule everyones appointments and tasks weekly.
Don’t Procrastinate: The longer you wait to complete a task, the more it will be weighing on you and the more it could be contributing to stress. Also, accept the fact that you cannot do everything and adjust your tasks accordingly. Some things are not as important as they seem.
Don’t overthink it: If something is taking longer than normal to complete, leave it and come back to it. Overthinking and trying to perfect everything is an exhausting habit to have.
6. Move your body
We know that exercise is important for our overall health and in this case movement is crucial to manage our stress levels. Including moderate physical exercise in our daily and weekly routines can gradually become one of our top stress relievers. Murray and Pizzorno (2012) state that “exercise alone has been demonstrated to have a tremendous effect in terms of improving mood and the ability to handle stressful situations” (p.212). Moving the body feels good, it can release endorphins and a sense of calm, and it can allow us to forget about our stressors for a little while by focusing on something else.
Some great forms of movement to support stress levels are:
Body weight exercises
Group Sports (once Covid clears)
Stress is something that we will all experience throughout our lifetime, some of it mild and some of it more intense and life altering. The stress response is really individualized and what some may find overwhelmingly stressful might not be stressful at all for others. The same rule goes for the techniques chosen by each individual. It is important to find methods that are supportive to you, your journey and your lifestyle. At the end of the day, learning how to manage our stress levels and support our bodies during times of stress will benefit our overall health greatly.
So remember to breathe, rest, nourish, prioritize, support and move your body.
~Tricia Cain, NNCP