I come from a highly stressed, anxious, ‘go at a million miles per hour’ type family. Unconsciously, I had embedded these traits, habits and behaviours deep within myself. In fact, I'd made them such a prominent part of myself and my life that in 2010, I was hospitalised and on the brink of a nervous breakdown. On top of that, my immune system decided to pack up and go on holidays... It was quite the wake-up call.
For the past few years I have had to work really hard at implementing new habits to live in a stress-free, calm, peaceful space (both internally as well as externally). I’ve had to learn how to tame my inner Mean Girl and not let her run the show. The truth is, usually stress isn’t warranted and can be avoided with some conscious awareness.
Tune in with yourself and ask…
“What is making me feel stressed right now?”
Stress causes the release of adrenaline and cortisol in the body. This puts you into ‘fight or flight’ mode, preparing your body to respond to whatever triggered it. It's an incredibly effective protective mechanism if you happen to encounter a one-off life or death threat — like a sabre-tooth tiger or a burning building — but it is not a good state to exist in long term. While these stress hormones are an important and helpful part of the body’s response to danger, it’s vital that the body’s relaxation response be active so that it can return to homeostasis following a stressful event.
However, in today’s high-stress culture, often your stress levels don’t have enough time to recover and get back to normal. The down side is that having high levels of stress hormones — particularly cortisol — present for extended periods of time has been shown to be seriously detrimental to your immune system and your digestive tract. High stress levels cause negative reactions such as insomnia, inflammation and hormone imbalances, just to name a few. This is why, not only for our mental health but our physical health, we need to keep our stress levels down.
These are the 7 things I do daily to not let stress and overwhelm sneak in:
Meditation is a great way to calm your mind and bring you back into the present moment. The best thing about it is… It’s free! You can do it anywhere at any time. All you need to do is sit cross-legged on a cushion or upright in your chair, car, bus, plane, park bench — anywhere. Make sure you are comfortable, with a straight spine and your chin tucked in. Your shoulders should be down and relaxed. Make sure you have turned your phone off and removed any distractions. Then, sit quietly and concentrate on your breathing. Slowly breathe in and out through your nose. Please note that thoughts will come into your mind when you sit still. But when they do, just gently let the thought go and bring your attention back to your breathing. Repeat this for twenty minutes first thing in the morning and again just before bed. If you’re new to meditation, start with five or ten minutes and slowly increase the time as your meditation practice improves.