Stressed? You’re not alone. A study by Bupa of 10,000 people found that 1 in 4 of us constantly feel close to breaking point, while 44% of us suffer from stress. Long-term stress can lead to depression and anxiety, which can lead to a further downward spiral.
We spoke to 10 professionals who give their expert advice for keeping stress under control.
Take a 5-Minute Break
Neil Shah, Stress Management Society
Opting for a tea or coffee may give mothers a quick spurt of energy, however these are short-lived. A more rewarding type of break is when you can distract the mind, as it enables you to relax, recharge and then refocus onto other tasks. After a short break doing some exercise, reading a book or playing a game, mothers will feel revitalised and ready for the next challenge in their day. Our research showed that just 5 minutes a day can be enough to dramatically lower stress levels whilst improving productivity throughout the rest of the day.
Donna Lee, Cottage Hill Herbs
My favourite garden herb for stress is the very common and much-loved herb lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). A nice strong cup of freshly picked leaves into a tea taken several times daily is both soothing and calming to the system. Or for a much stronger effect, a tincture taken in water three times daily is very effective for general stress, anxiety, nervous tension, headaches and pain. It relaxes the mind and the nervous system, and greatly assists with PMT, cramping and discomfort. Melissa may also be used as the pure essential oil, 5 drops in a burner with water, or a vaporiser. This allows the wonderfully sweet lemony scent to permeate the room and calms all those in the vicinity of its vapours.
For those who suffer from ongoing stress and anxiety, it is important to understand that the health of our gut is directly linked to the body’s ability to handle this, so improving gut health is an important consideration in improving long-term stress, as well as utilising the benefits of lemon balm.
There are a few things I’ve learnt along the way to help me deal with stress.
- Identify problems – the first step to solving any problem is to identify it. For example, if mornings are stressful because your children can’t decide what to wear, lay their clothes out the night before. If dinner times are stressful because you can’t decide what to cook each night, prepare your week’s meal plan in advance. No energy left to cook at the end of the day? Invest in a slow cooker – the meal prep can be done in the morning.
- Plan school holidays – to survive the school holidays on a budget, set up a holiday fund so that you can afford to do a few special things.
- Organise your home. Write out a chore list for yourself, if necessary. Don’t let the household chores build up so you feel overwhelmed. A few minutes each day will help you keep on top of it. Free up space in the home (declutter) and free up time.
- Keep healthy – make healthy choices without compromising your way of life. You can cope much better with daily stresses with a healthy mind and body. Find something your kids enjoy doing and exercise with your kids. Even if it’s a 10-minute spontaneous dance session to your kids’ favourite music artist.
- Talking of spontaneous… be more spontaneous! Especially when it comes to chores that kids don’t want to do. Tape a dollar coin to the rubbish bin to see who will notice – and who will take out the rubbish without having to be asked!
- Make a date with nature – go on a picnic, walk along the beach, go for a bush walk. Just 20 minutes outdoors and away from the stresses does wonders.
- If all else fails – breathe, it’s just a bad day… not a bad life.
Relax… and Breathe
Melanie Harrison, Clinical Aromatherapist & Holistic Massage Therapist, Quiescent
Unfortunately, being over busy and feeling overwhelmed seems to be a common part of our lifestyle today. Aromatherapy is ideal for helping people overcome anxiety, as it works holistically – emotionally, physically and spiritually. Do not underestimate the power of essential oils; they are powerful and can give you a helping hand, especially when used over a period of time.
There are many beautiful essences that can help with different aspects of anxiety, but the following are three of my favourites that I always go to whenever I feel the need. First up is my favourite…
This essential oil is the one that pops into my mind whenever I feel anxious or I have a client that is feeling this way. You can’t help but relax and fall in love with life all over again when you smell neroli’s beautiful aroma. Neroli truly reaches deep down into the soul to stablise and regenerate. It is extremely beneficial in helping with long-term states of stress and anxiety and is very strengthening and calming. Neroli is a good one to always carry around with you.
The scent of vetiver is sweet, heavy and earthy (sigh). It is so grounding and comforting that you can’t help but feel more at ease when you breathe in its beautiful aroma. It seems to have that nurturing and restoring aspect to it. Vetiver is also helpful if you’re suffering from insomnia. Just place a drop on your pillow and it will help you relax and drift off to sleep.
Warm, smoky, resinous and balsamic…. frankincense is a very spiritual oil and is deeply calming on the emotions. It is known as one of the best essential oils to slow down your breathing, which then helps in reducing feelings of fear, stress and anxiety. Frankincense is also known as the oil of empowerment and the aroma is useful in easing mental chatter and helping to still your busy mind. If you practice meditation then this is a perfect oil to have in your essential oil burner alongside of you.
Manage Your Time Well
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, Associate Editor, Psyche Central
One of the biggest stressors for many people is lack of time. Their to-do list expands, while time flies. How often have you wished for more hours in the day or heard others lament their lack of time? But you’ve got more time than you think, as Laura Vanderkam writes in her aptly titled book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
We all have the same 168 hours, and yet there are plenty of people who are dedicated parents and full-time employees and who get at least seven hours of sleep a night and lead fulfilling lives.
Here are Vanderkam’s seven steps to help you check off your to-do list and find time for the things you truly enjoy.
Involve Your Kids
Rochelle Gribble, Editor, Kiwi Families
One day, not so long ago, when I had three small, preschool children, I saw a meme posted on Facebook which said, “Hey mums! Make sure you take at least an hour each day for ‘you’ time.” And it had a picture of one of those really glamorous women looking all relaxed.
I just about spat out my coffee. It was so hysterical that I showed it to a bunch of my friends who also had small children. As if. As bloomin’ if. There’s not a single parent I know who feels like they have time to relax in the way that they once did or might like to.
So what to do? One of the best things I’ve found to do (and it’s getting easier as my children get a little older) is to get the kids doing the things I want to do. This summer, it’s been gardening. My poor, beloved garden has been sadly neglected for years. This year, the kids and I have got stuck in. They’ve pulled weeds, planted things and eaten the fruits of our labours. They’re not always the most focused workforce, and sometimes things don’t go quite as planned, but having them help me means that I get to spend more time in the garden and it’s vastly improved for our small efforts.
I’m happier because I get to do something I want to do and they’re happy to go along for the ride. It’s a double win and although it’ll never make a meme, it’s a tiny thing which makes a huge difference.
Kate Walker, Lifespark Nutrition
We all go through periods of stress (this is natural), as did our ancestors with feast or famine, extreme temperature changes, and being on the move for long distances. We have developed specific hormones and mechanisms in the body to cope with stress and to help our cells become more resilient and adaptive. However, in our day an age, we try and deal with many stresses, or our stresses go on longer than what the body can sometimes handle. We find it hard to ‘switch off’.
If you can’t minimise your external stress then at least remember that what you put in your mouth is either going to ‘fuel the fire’ or ‘douse it’. High sugar or refined/processed foods fuel the fire: they contribute to the inflammation and oxidation already happening in the body (long-term cortisol production from stress leads to a number of health issues). OR… you can douse the flames with anti-inflammatory and antioxidants-rich foods such as berries and Vitamin C-containing fruit and vegetables, plus essential fatty acids such as salmon, tuna or walnuts, etc. Eat these nutrient-rich foods and your body will remain strong and resilient. Consuming highly beneficial foods, including dark leafy greens and seeds for magnesium, can help you manage or reduce stress. They give you the energy for cognitive or physical performances to deal with stressful situations and challenges, ultimately leading to a better or improved outcome.
- Aim for 5 handfuls of vegetables per day, including leafy greens for magnesium and folate content
- Include berries daily if you can
- Avoid all refined foods and limit caffeine
- Include some good oils or fats daily, including fish, avocado, seeds, nuts, olive oil
- Take a Vitamin B Complex, Vitamin C and magnesium tablet if need be
The physical benefits of exercise — improving physical condition and fighting disease — have long been established, and physicians always encourage staying physically active. Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.
When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. So it stands to reason that if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, even breathing deeply can cause your body to produce endorphins. And conventional wisdom holds that a workout of low to moderate intensity makes you feel energised and healthy.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilise mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
Dr Shira Michaeli, Wellness Family Chiropractor, Connected Families Chiropractic
A common misconception about chiropractors is that we only help with back pain, neck pain and headaches. The reality, however, is that chiropractic care helps your body better adapt to all the stresses you are under. Stresses are more than just the mental and emotional stress you may feel daily at work, in traffic or when having a disagreement with your spouse. Stresses can also be physical and chemical. Physical stresses include injuries, poor posture and repetitive activities. Chemical stresses include everything you put into your body that is difficult for our bodies to handle, from medications, to takeway foods, soft drinks, processed foods and polluted air. When the combination of all these stresses becomes too much for your body to handle, that’s when you begin to feel “not so great”. For you, this may be back pain, neck pain and headaches and for others, it may be allergies, poor concentration and clumsiness.
When you are overloaded with stresses, your brain and body struggle to communicate with one another effectively and therefore cannot do their jobs at 100 per cent. When you see a chiropractor, they help clear up the lines of communication between your brain and body so your body can heal and function as it is designed to. This leads to less pain, less stress and improved function on all levels. Chiropractic care helps manage stress by bringing balance back to the body.
Recharge Your Batteries
HelpGuide, A trusted non-profit guide to mental health and well-being
There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. If you’re not regularly taking time off to de-stress and recharge your batteries, you’ll end up getting less done in the long run. After a break, you should feel more energetic and focused, so you’ll quickly make up for your relaxation time.
- Find ways to pamper yourself. Small luxuries can go a long way in relieving stress and boosting your spirits. Light candles and take a long bath. Ask your hubby for a back rub. Get a manicure. Buy fresh flowers for the house. Or whatever makes you feel special.
- Make yourself laugh. Laughter is an excellent antidote to stress — and a little goes a long way. Read a funny book, watch a comedy, or call a friend who makes you laugh. And whenever you can, try to find the humour in everyday situations.
- Get out of the house. Seek out friends and family to step in with caregiving so you can have some time away from the home.
- Visit with friends and share your feelings. The simple act of expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic. If it’s difficult to leave the house, invite friends over to visit with you over coffee, tea, or dinner. It’s important that you interact with others. Sharing your feelings won’t make you a burden to others. In fact, most friends will be flattered that you trust them enough to confide in them, and it will only strengthen your bond.