There’s a moment in the third season of The West Wing where President Jed Bartlet declares that stress is something that happens to other people. Sadly, many of us are holding ourselves to the same harsh standard with devastating consequences for our health.
Stress is a natural physical reaction and it’s useful – the problem is that in modern life we don’t give our bodies time to recuperate. Instead we subject it to yet more stress and the cumulative effect can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure or poor digestion.
My wake-up call came recently when I fainted at a public event (this one) and was carted off to the hospital in an ambulance (thankfully at no cost since I live in the UK and it’s all covered by the National Health Service). The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me whatsoever and I can only conclude that it was my body’s way of telling me to look after myself.
When I stopped to think about it, I knew that I’d been feeling stressed for some time. Everyone has stresses in their life – the recession and financial problems is a big one for many people at the moment, while life events such as redundancy, divorce and moving home rank right up there, as well. The biggest stress in my life is organising my wedding, which is less than a month away now.
For me the idea of wellness and ecology are intrinsically linked. If I’m wound tight with stress, I’ll inevitably go for the fastest or easiest option and not necessarily the greenest one. I’m more likely to order take-out because I’m not in the mood for cooking or catch a cab because I’m running late.
I might feel guilty about it but guilt is not a productive emotion. On the other hand, a more peaceful and relaxed state of mind gives me the space to make eco-friendly choices. If I nurture myself, I can nurture others and the world around me and I can practice compassion and creativity.
I started making changes to alleviate stress on my own and then last week I went to a workshop on understanding stress at the Neal’s Yard Remedies store in Covent Garden (NYR sells natural, organic beauty product and treatments at stores in the UK and through their online stores in the US and Japan).
I thought I’d share with you the changes I’ve made and what worked and what I’m yet to try. In this post I’ll write about the changes I initiated on my own and I’ll do a follow-up post to share what I learnt at the workshop.
1. Diet: I already eat a healthy diet but I’ve made more of an effort to focus on nutrition so that I have the energy to deal with stressful events. I eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat protein and I’ve cut out most sweets and fried foods and limited my coffee intake. Bonus – this will also help me look better in my wedding dress!
2. Exercise: I find exercise is a highly effective stress-reliever. You might be tempted to skip it if you’re feeling tired but actually it gives you more energy because it gets the oxygen circulating and triggers your body to release endorphins. I’d been slacking off a bit so I picked it up again. I like to run, but walking is also very good exercise and a great way to clear your head. I don’t like the gym but I do find exercise DVDs can be a godsend at this time of year when it’s cold out. I also resumed my morning yoga practice – just a simple 10-minute routine but I could feel it dissipating the stored tension in my neck and shoulders within days.
3. Vitamins: My iron levels are slightly below par (although this was not the reason for the faint). I already eat plenty of iron-rich food and making further changes to my diet wasn’t practical so I started taking an iron and vitamin C supplement (vitamin C helps your body absorb iron and, hey, it’s also good for you).
4. Sleep: I started going to bed earlier. My new rule is no computer after 9pm and I’m trying to get to bed by 10pm or 10.30pm most nights. I can operate on less sleep but I feel so much better with more. It doesn’t have to be a permanent change but it’s helping me right now.
5. Productivity: A major source of stress is my own ill-discipline – I am the world’s best procrastinator. I obviously can’t blow off my work nor the wedding preparations, so I’ve been trying to work more effectively instead. Wasting time doesn’t get my work done, it just leaves me less time to do it, and hence adds to my stress. I find the Getting Things Done system helpful and I’ve also tried to curb my addiction to tools such as Twitter.
6. Treats: We all know that all work and no play makes you dull and it doesn’t do anything for your stress levels either, so I’ve been making sure I schedule in fun things with friends and loved ones. I also went for a remedial massage – Neal’s Yard Remedies offers cut-price treatments with its graduates once a week, and I picked up the leaflet for the workshop while I was there. I’ve also enjoyed small treats like a bubble bath or a few squares of dark chocolate.
What are your top tips to deal with stress? Please share with us in the comments section.
Image: Townend Photography