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  • Writer's pictureSasha Young

5 top tips for managing stress

Last week I shared my experience of chronic stress and the physical toll it took on my health. I wanted to follow up with a few tips for dealing with chronic stress that I have found helpful - both with my clients and personally.

#1: Meditate... If you can, you are doing better than me. I can't / don't. I’d love to be able to say that I start my day with 30 minutes of mindful meditation before gliding downstairs for a health elixir as I serenely radiate light and joy. Unfortunately I'm a long way from pulling off that particular scenario. It’s not for want of trying - especially since a couple of Very Successful People have personally told me that it is a key discipline that has helped to make them very rich. However, I am definitely not a morning person, my house can have up to five children/teens in it at any one time and, honestly, I just find sitting still for a long time quite hard.

BUT one of the early concepts that any simple meditation app (Headspace is good) will teach you is to note your thoughts, without judgment, as they come and go. A great analogy that I like is this: Imagine that you are sitting at the side of the road, watching the traffic pass. Your thoughts are like the individual cars… different from each other, sometimes the same as one you’ve seen already, some faster, some slower, sometimes it’s busy, sometimes the traffic is quiet. But as you sit peacefully at the side of the road, the cars come and go. You don’t focus on any one in particular - you just notice them as they pass.

Being able to defuse yourself from your thoughts in this way is an excellent skill to develop because it enables you to calmly observe what is happening and how you are feeling before deciding what you want to do about it. It’s a fantastic way to start to manage your mind to observe circumstances neutrally, without automatically defaulting to a stressful reaction.

Try to practice doing this for a couple of minutes every day - while you’re sitting in traffic or waiting for the lift or waiting for your takeaway coffee. It quickly gets easier and is a great way to learn how to give your brain the space to figure out how you want to show up in a given situation.

#2: Understand that circumstances are always neutral... How stressful they are depends upon the stories that we tell ourselves about them and how we choose to react to them.

This concept is one of the most liberating things you will ever learn. We don’t always make great choices about how to react to what happens around us but as soon as you truly know that you have a choice…. you’re free from the stress monster!

When we have not yet learned how to choose our reaction, we can easily be triggered to a default state of anxiety or fear. The problem is compounded by the feelings of shame, guilt or embarrassment that often follow from our reactive behaviour in stressful situations.

When they are triggered, I show my clients how to understand what is happening so that they can accept this part of themselves with compassion. I then teach them how to take control, decide how they want to show up, choose the outcome they want and how to execute strategically.

And, by the way, being able to help people do this is why I love my job!

#3: Go with your gut... To a naturopath. Seriously, do it. Given how much research is showing the connection between mind and gut, it's vital to support both if you want to optimise your performance or chances of success.

I'm speaking from personal experience here. Having suffered with chronic stress for some years, I went to see a naturopath after a number of GPs and classically trained western medical specialists didn't seem able to solve my symptoms of infections, fatigue and stomach problems. My naturopath helped me to get an Organic Acids Test and full blood work. On the basis of my results she advised me to quit gluten, avoid dairy and tailored for me a program of supplements including vitamins, minerals, enzymes and probiotics. I'm not going to detail my program here as each of our microbiomes is unique and I am not qualified to offer specific naturopathic advice. For me, though, after suffering life-impeding symptoms for over a year, within 2 months they were gone. I can't describe the relief and what a difference improving my gut health has made for my overall physical wellbeing.

It is important to know, for your mental wellness too, that a huge amount of the way that we produce hormones, include stress hormones, is impacted by the condition of our gut microbiome. Serotonin, which regulates anxiety and impacts almost every part of our body from emotions to motor skills, is found chiefly in the digestive system. If you're interested, here's some further reading from the Institute for Functional Medicine.

My advice: if you want to manage your stress optimally, you also need to manage your gut.

#4: Exercise... The advice that appropriate physical activity helps to manage stress is well known and often repeated because it works.

ATP Personal Training wrote a recent blog that I thought sum up well the benefits of exercise - including reduced anxiety.

Exercise is meditation for me - time for myself to just enjoy the now, being free and able to move my body while I grow stronger. I exercise for at least an hour five days a week and this is sacred time for me.

#5: Spend time with other people... Often, when we're working through stuff in life, we can shut ourselves off - sometimes a lot, sometimes a little.

But there is also science behind the saying that a problem shared is a problem halved. Time spent with other people - particularly if it involves a hug - facilitates your body's production of oxytocin, which is our natural counter-balance to adrenaline and an essential part of our in-built stress recovery systems. This short New York Times article talks about the benefits of hugging.

So reach out and make sure that you are staying social. You don't need to bare your soul or necessarily let everyone know everything that is happening for you right now but social time can be a real refresher for perspective and help our body chemistry to settle to a calmer state... or just be fun!

So there you have my top 5 tips for managing stress. I've loads more but this is already a long post. How do you manage stress? What are your top recommendations? Feel free to leave comments and questions.

Understanding how to manage stress has improved my physical health, my relationships and my work accomplishments. I can help you build perspective, resilience and agility too.

If you'd like to learn more about stress management for yourself, let's chat. As always, you can book an initial consultation with me here:

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