Learn to live life to the full with our 7 top tips:
- Nose breathing
There’s one simple way of reducing your stress and enjoying life more and it’s right under your nose – quite literally. It’s nose breathing. It sounds obvious but, quite simply, nose breathing encourages your breathing to be slower and steadier.
“When you have a stress response you are more likely to breathe faster than you need and breathe more into your upper chest – which is otherwise known as hyperventilation,” says Alison Waring, an osteopath and breath-work expert at York Natural Health. As you breathe faster the fight and flight stress response activates which maintains a more rapid breathing rate and maintains the stress response. This might be so subtle that you don’t even realise it and people will often switch to mouth breathing in this state.
“Most people breathe at around 12-15 breaths per minute. Ideally at rest you would be breathing six breaths per minute for optimal relaxation, which means in for four seconds and out for six. Check to see where you are breathing by placing one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. Focus on letting your chest rest, breathing through your nose, under your chest into your lower hand. Keep your nose breathing silent.
“If it helps to relax your breathing, imagine yourself in your favourite place of relaxation. Your subconscious won’t be able to tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined. At the end of each out breath, pause for a couple of seconds and allow your body to take the next in breath.
“These mini pauses will help your nervous system to reset to a slower rate and before you know it you will be floating on your breath, feeling lighter and happier on your dessert island as the waves lap against the shore.
- Be more mindful
New data from Michigan Technological University suggests that even just a single mindfulness meditation session can reduce anxiety and stress levels in the body.
Why not try buddhify, a mindfulness app for people who don’t have hours and hours to sit in a quiet space and zen out with tranquil music in the background? In fact, the app is designed for on-the-go meditation – for people who are in the thick of it and only have five minutes for zen time. For more about on-the-go meditation, see our feature on page 53.
- Root yourself in the present
“A key thing to remember is that stressors are external,” says Luke Hughes, a personal trainer, life coach and co-founder of OriGym. “Humans aren’t innately stressed, therefore stress is, in almost all instances, something that occurs because of external factors.
“One way to eliminate a whole load of these factors is to root yourself in the present.
People talk about ‘enjoying the moment’ or ‘living in the moment,’ but it’s advice that’s rarely used in practise.
“By focusing on what’s occurring the present, you eliminate worrying about the things that could happen in the future, or the things that have happened in the past. This is an effective coping mechanism used by sufferers of mild anxiety.
“Another way to stress less is to consider whether you have an external or internal locus of control. Now, this may sound abstract, but it’s quite simple. If you have an internal locus of control, you believe you can affect change on your life, whereas an external locus of control is the opposite: life happens to you and is outside of your control.
“Either choosing to accept that some factors are out of your control and you don’t have a say in everything, or wrestling back some control from the world, can eliminate stress from everyday situations.”
“Exercise releases serotonin, which is directly linked to positive thinking and happiness,” adds OriGym’s Lee Hughes. Building strength with regular exercise also helps reinforce feelings that you have control over your life, which is important when it comes to stress because often sufferers of anxiety have feelings of helplessness, or that they can’t affect change in their lives so there’s no point in trying.
- Love yourself
“We hear the term self-love all the time and I am a great believer in it,” says Cat Raincock, a 40-year-old mum-of-two, life coach and hypnotherapist who specialises in boosting energy, stress relief and self-esteem.
“To learn to love yourself is the greatest empowerment there is, but it’s such a blanket term that it can be confusing about exactly what we need to do to self-love. That’s why I talk mostly about self-care as it’s the act of self-love. When we self-love, we nourish ourselves on an emotional, spiritual and physical level. It’s a commitment we all need to make.
“What constitutes self-care? Stop saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’, accepting invitations to things you ‘should’ go to rather than you ‘want’ to go to, burning candles at both ends, consuming toxic food, and taking on more than you can manage because you won’t delegate.
“Start by taking a bath and having some peace and quiet to rest your mind; cancelling plans because you need to rest; eating clean, nourishing food; doing exercise you love, tuning into yourself and meditating or doing yoga. All of these will help rebalance, reset and BOOST your system.
“When we get stressed we neglect ourselves and the first thing that goes is self-care. Think about what you need to do to find balance and start taking care of yourself. If you don’t, no one else will. So start today, taking care of YOUR needs before others. Why? Because you matter.”
Indigo Herbs echoes these self-care sentiments and recommends body temperature bathing. “Bathing at around 37°C, which is generally our body temperature, helps to calm our sympathetic nervous system (which is activated by stress) and promote relaxation via stimulation of our parasympathetic nervous system,” says Gareth Bilton, naturopathic physician at Indigo Health.
“Combine this night-time bath with a couple of drops of Indigo Herbs De-stress and Unwind aromatherapy blend for extra bliss.”
- Start the day well
“Start the day with a stress-busting boost by having porridge or oat cakes for breakfast,” says A.Vogel nutritionist Emma Thornton. “Full of B vitamins and magnesium, oats calm the nervous system. Avena sativa (oat plant) extract has also been shown to reduce anxiety thanks to its antioxidant effect.
“Switch your coffee for soothing lemon balm or chamomile tea. The calming herb Valerian isn’t such a nice taste, but taken as a tincture disguised in a little juice it can give swift relief to mounting tension.
“Programme alerts to remind you to drink water (excellent for stress reduction) and eat at regular intervals to avoid your blood sugar levels dropping and triggering panicky feelings as adrenalin surges.”
- Find support in herbal medicines
“The instant nature of electronic communications has created a culture where people feel obliged or compelled to respond immediately,” says Dr Dick Middleton, a retired pharmacist and director of The British Herbal Medicine Association (BHMA).
“Personal time and annual leave is often encroached upon which reduces our ‘down-time’ from the normal stresses and strains of modern-day living. This type of long-term stress can have a negative effect on the body, and it is important to lessen stress whether that be through physical means, learning to say no, or using herbal medicines for short-term relief at particularly stressful times.
“There are several herbs that have calming properties and have been used traditionally for many years to relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety such as Avena sativa, Passion flower, Lavender oil, and Hops and Valerian.
“These herbs don’t have the addictive or withdrawal problems which can sometimes be associated with long-term use of prescribed benzodiazepine drugs. Always look for herbal medicines that display THR on their pack when buying over the counter or on-line to ensure you are buying high quality, safe products.”
You might also want to try a botanical boost in the form of an adaptogen (meaning it helps to support the body to function normally in times of stress) such as Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) – available from Indigi Herbs as a powder of tincture. Ashwagandha helps to promote homeostasis and balance.
- Take a holistic view
“Look at your life holistically and consider all the aspects affecting it, such as work, relationships, home environment, career, finances, health, social life and spirituality,” says Gareth Bilton, naturopathic physician for Indigo Health. “Then rate them out of 10 so you can identify areas for improvement, along with the root cause of any discontentment or unhappiness.
“Think SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timescale) to give structure to your goals. By developing an awareness that we create our own reality through the lives we choose to lead, we can then be active in creating the life we want.”