We all experience periods in life that contribute to increased stress levels and anxiousness. Be it exams, a work deadline looming, moments of uncertainty, crisis, or big life events. However, it is how we cope through life’s ups and downs that is important. Maintaining good wellbeing is a crucial aspect of living that can help us endure and cope with periods of stress instead of floundering or struggling to cope effectively.
In moments of stress or anxiety our breathing patterns change. You might notice your breath is shallow, out of sync or you might find yourself holding in your breath at times. This creates a vicious cycle as out of control breathing is caused by stress but also causes stress, prolonging the symptoms and making them worse.
Whereas deep, controlled breathing has the opposite effect. A slow and steady inhalation and exhalation signals the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body down. As our breathing is an automatic, unconscious, habitual function of the body, we might not even notice how we are breathing. Therefore, it is important to tune into your breath.
There are countless breathing techniques which helps relax the body and mind, but the general aim is to shift from quick, shallow upper torso breathing to a slow, deep abdominal breath. Take a minute to focus on your breathing and its pattern. Then place your hand on your stomach and strive to feel the abdomen expand and contract as you breathe in and out. Pay attention to how you feel after engaging in this breathing technique, you are sure to feel calmer.
Food for thought
We all know the tendency to comfort eat when feeling stressed or emotional and it can be tempting to seek out sugary, high calorie, high fat foods for instant gratification or out of sheer convenience. This response however only works in the very short term and again can aggravate our stress levels.
Stress and anxiousness can create digestive and gut issues. Simple things like drinking more water to stay hydrated, reducing your caffeine intake and eating three balanced meals each day can help.
Stress can leave your energy reserves depleted and low on essential vitamins and minerals. Consume plenty of wholesome food that is rich in good nutrients. Foods high in Vitamin C are understood to reduce anxiety levels, while green leafy vegetables and nuts are high in magnesium which can help to down-regulate our stress hormones.
Rest and digest
For our brain to function optimally it needs rest and this responsibility falls to the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest system. The parasympathetic nervous system slows our stress response by releasing hormones that relax the mind and body and is where digestion, detoxifying and healing occur.
To activate the rest and digest system, there is no other option but to relax. For some that is mediation, practising yoga or indulging in some self-care. Self-care has become a popular notion in recent years, but it is not all bubble baths and face masks. Forms of self-care can be spending time in nature, exercising, reading, journaling, colouring, tidying your surrounds or spending time with loved ones.
Simply put, self-care practises are tools to help ease our response to stress and enhance our body and mind’s ability to rest, reflect and replenish.
It is important to also take regular breaks throughout the day, a brief pause in momentum allows the brain space to think and process information and brings clarity that helps you feel in control and ultimately reduce stress.
Get some ZZZs
The power of sleep to regulate our stress levels should not be understated. Stress and anxiety can lead to sleeping problems and a lack of sleep can affect your general wellbeing – again another vicious cycle we can find ourselves in.
When we are not getting enough sleep, it is more difficult to regulate our mood, emotions, and reactions. It can affect our concentration, memory and even lead to poor decision making. It’s not always possible to get as much sleep as we would like, generally we should be aiming for at least 6 hours of sleep a night but ideally, we should aim for 7-8 hours. To feel well rested, it is important we develop habits and routines that aid our ability to drift off.
Create a healthy sleep routine by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, avoid lie-ins and naps that can then disrupt our natural sleep cycle. Start your own personal wind-down by creating a night-time routine that you then begin to associate with sleep. It can be as simple as brushing your teeth and washing your face, developing a night-time skincare routine, reading a book, or stretching.
This is one of the harder habits to develop but try to limit your use of technology an hour before bed. Our devices keep us awake and stimulate the brain through the activity itself but also from the blue light emitted from the screen. Most phones these days have a blue light filter and can be scheduled to switch on at a certain time.
CA Support is a registered charity which offers emotional and practical support to our members, students and their family members for life. Should you find yourself in a difficult situation, CA Support can help you steer through life’s ups and downs.