Mental health awareness week has recently passed and this year it was all about stress, so this month at NWCH we’re looking into what it is, how we can prevent it and the ONE KEY SKILL
you need for managing it when it strikes.
What is ‘stress’ and where does it come from?
To put it simply, stress is the body’s response to pressures from situations or events in our life.
In cavemen times, the biggest dangers came from short-term threats such as being attacked by a wild animal…
In modern life however, we are exposed to stress inducers so frequently that the overexposure to cortisol is disrupting the body’s functions and making us physically and mentally unwell.
Okay…but how do we manage it?
Well if stress is simply the level of cortisol that’s being released into the body, it means that to counter balance stress we simply need to reducethe amount of cortisol we’ve got going on in there.
It sounds simple right?
Well, with a little bit of self discipline it can be, and it all comes down to lifestyle.
Our number one stop is FOOD.
Now think about how you fuel a car…
We’ll say it’s a diesel, and obviously, you want it to run at it’s best performance for your long journey (in human terms we’d call this bit life), if you keep pouring gallons of petrol into it it’s not going to run well and let’s face it it will ultimately break down.
Well the same goes for you!
Humans are designed to run on real, whole foods, full of nutrients and vitamins that help our cogs go round.
If we eat right and fuel right our bodies and brains function better. Fact.
We can rebalance our cortisol levels with the foods we eat as well as decreasing general stress that is caused by a bad diet.
Put it this way, a fully functioning, pain free body is much more likely to be able to cope with a stressful situation than one that is already suffering from headaches, muscle pains, depression, digestive problems, fatigue, colds, high blood pressure, inflammation…the list goes on…and it sounds stressful enough just reading it!
So in with the fresh and healthy, out with the packaged and processed and you’re half way to chilling the hell out!
Foods that contribute to high cortisol levels:
Sugary drinks and sugary snacks
Packaged processed foods
Refined grain products – cereals, white bread, white rice, white flour
Foods that reduce cortisol levels:
Fruits – oranges, berries, tomatoes
Vegetables – bell peppers, dark leafy greens, asparagus
Healthy fats – nuts, seeds, coconut or olive oil
Proteins – eggs, fish, beans
Fibre – wholemeal bread, potatoes, oats, wholewheat pasta
Probiotic foods – yoghurt, kefir,
Green tea, ginger tea, turmeric tea
Got it! Fuel better : Feel better
But what about when the stress strikes and it’s all getting too much?
So it’s one thing to be healthy and prepared, yes, but when tough situations arise or things just keep going wrong, it can be difficult to remain positive and calm.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the distress of the problem but this is when we let our emotions take over.
Learn this one key skill and you can start to take control when stress strikes.
It goes a little like this…
T ake a breath
O bserve What am I thinking? What am I reacting to?
What am I feeling in my body?
P ull back
Put in some perspective and see the bigger picture.
Is it fact or opinion? How would someone else see this?
What’s the best thing to do for me?
What’s the best thing to do for others?
What’s the best thing for this situation?
Follow these steps as soon as you feel yourself reacting to a trigger and answer these questions in your head. (You can print or write down the sequence on a small card and carry it with you at all times)
Saying the word ‘stop’ instantly creates space between the problem and your reaction
Deeper breathing calms the body and mind
Processing the answers takes the focus away from your emotions and enables you to make a more rational and logical move.
Read the sequence often so you become familiar with the steps and start by using it for small upsets. Gradually you’ll find you can use it for more intense situations and this calming process will become automatic.