This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20th May 2018), and the theme is stress.
These days it’s nigh on impossible to find someone who isn’t or hasn’t been stressed. Research has shown that two thirds of us experience mental health problems in our lifetime, and that stress is a major factor in this. I know from my own experience, stress has played a huge role in my mental health and my ability to look after it properly. At times it could massively impact not just my mood but my behaviour as well, often making me angry or just generally impatient and not nice to be around.
I often find that as stress gets worse, so does our diet and wellbeing. We start to crave more sugar/carbs, drink more alcohol, exercise less and work longer hours when actually this is exactly when we need to nourish our bodies (and brain) more, and take the time out to rest and relax.
Saying that, I also know that in times of real stress we need to acknowledge that there is only so much we can do. Putting pressure on ourselves to go to the gym, even though we’re knackered, or to cook dinner from scratch every night when we haven’t got time to shop let alone cook only adds to the problem, so sometimes we need the quick wins!
Also consider that if you take proper self-care outside of the stressful periods, you’re probably more likely to respond better to stress when it does happen.
So, what are the wins? Here are some health hacks I’ve learnt along the way to help you cope better when stress strikes, and will look after that mental health of yours too:
No, not a spin class of boot camp but just simple movement.
- Walking upstairs, instead of taking the lift
- Adding a walk in to your commute by walking to the next station or bus stop. Even though you may feel tired after work, I found I never regretted my walk as part of my commute once I’d done it!
- Add in a longer walk at the weekend, ideally somewhere green or by some water for extra destress effects
Keep your brain and your body hydrated to prevent headaches, constipation, brain fog and sugar cravings. All things that can increase as a result of stress. How can you tell if you’re hydrated? Check your urine ... it should be a very pale yellow/almost clear (unless you’ve taken some B vitamins or eaten beetroot recently)!
Many of us don’t feel hungry first thing but setting out without proper fuel in the morning can lead to more snacking throughout the day, weight gain and low energy. It can also exacerbate your stress response and affect key neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, that help regulate mood
- Make a smoothie with some protein powder (I like Nutriva Organic Hemp Seed Powder, it’s also high in fibre too)
- Have a banana with 6 Brazil nuts
- Oats or eggs are a great start!
- Toast with nut butter
- Bulletproof coffee – I find this to be a great start to the morning, especially if you don’t like breakfast. I simply make mine with organic black coffee, 2 tbsp milk/non-dairy milk, 2 tbsp. MCT oil or coconut oil and I add 2tsp of collagen for extra skin and gut benefits!
Often elusive or broken during times of stress but so vital to our mental health! Some tips to help you sleep include:
- Having a carb-heavy meal, such as pasta or a jacket potato, for dinner. Carbs make tryptophan (an amino acid found in certain proteins) more available to the brain and can therefore help with drowsiness.
- Switching off all devices at least 60 minutes before bed – no phones, checking emails or social media, Netflix or TVs in bedrooms. NONE!
- Use Calm app and its sleep stories to help distract your thoughts and drift off – they have both narration and music depending on what you prefer
- Or you can try a guided sleep meditation such as Jason Stephenson – he’s my preferred option but again find one you like the sound/tone of
- Make sure you’re getting enough magnesium-rich foods in your diet – eye twitches, restless legs and leg cramps at night can all be a sign of possible magnesium deficiency. Foods include:
- Green leafy vegetables especially spinach and kale
- Fruit such as avocado, banana and berries
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes e.g. black beans, chickpeas and kidney beans
- Fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna
- Whole grains: brown rice, quinoa and oats
- Raw cacao
- Dark Chocolate
It is so important not to carry your emotions around with you, so find someone you can talk to about it all whether it is a line manager, a friend or perhaps seek some professional help from a therapist in order to help you better manage your stress. Cut down on the social media too – it really isn’t good for our health or promoting feelings of wellbeing, despite all the images that may portray it as so!
If you can’t talk to anyone then write it down. Grab a pen and a notebook and just scribe – I used to do this loads when I was suffering with anxiety and panic! It doesn’t matter what you write, and no-one needs to read it (you can even destroy it afterwards) but by writing your thoughts down it helps to get them out of your head and allow you to truly express how you feel, without fear of feeling stupid or looking ridiculous in front of others.
I often give my clients a gratitude journal to use for five minutes a day to help focus on what you do have, and not what you don't. The Five-Minute Journal is a firm favourite.
If you feel you need some support or help in better managing your stress then do get in touch or you can check out the Mental Health Foundation for more information on how and where you can get help.