Month: May 2013

Conquering Stress

It seems to be something we are doing all day long, trying to conquer our stress. We wake to an obnoxious noise, immediately jump into the morning routine, the school run, the commute, the endless emails, texts and calendar updates. The dinner prep, the chores, the kids in bed and then what? Exercise, logging on, paying bills or TV. Or all of those together perhaps.

We rarely slow down. Taking a few minutes in your day to notice where you are and what you are feeling WILL make a difference in your stress levels.

There are various apps that can ring a bell on your phone to remind you to stop. Personally, I like iMindfulness, which despite it’s name, it not just for iphone. It’s available on android as well but costs somewhere between $2-3. The actual meditations are annoying but the bell meditation will ring at certain points of the day that you preset. If you prefer to be “surprised”, try the Mindfulness Bell, which is free and is just a bell that rings at random times of the day. This is useful as well as it’s hard to predict all your stressful moments.

The other things that I suggest to help with stress is:

1. Get enough sleep. The work, the chores, social media and anything else that keeps you up late will still be there tomorrow. Make sure your room is dark, quiet, cool and free from electronic devices to get the best quality sleep.

2. Exercise every day. It doesn’t have to be formal but a walk to the subway, a walk at lunchtime, running after kids or cleaning are all forms of exercise. As long as you not sitting all day.

3. Include formal exercise. This is time out for stress relief. Find what you enjoy so you can really relax. And be open to try new things. Never a runner, I’m trying the couch-to-5K challenge because running suits my lifestyle and time restrictions at the moment.

4. Eat well. Cut back or omit sugar and caffeine. Replace them with fresh fruits and green tea. A handful of almonds, a small plain yogurt or 1/4 cup of hummus helps include protein into regular snacks to stabilize blood sugar levels.

5. Include supplements. A fish oil (choose pharmaceutical grade such as Ascenta Nutrasea or Carlson) is helpful for reducing stress as is a B-complex, B5 and/or Vitamin C supplement.

6. Go outside everyday for 15 minutes. 15 minutes of sunshine increases serotonin and vitamin D levels (in the wintertime, take a vitamin D supplement).

7. There are many other supplements you can take as well, 5-HTP, Valerian, GABA or Relora can all help but are very individual. Get assessed and a prescription from a naturopathic doctor.

8. Clear clutter. Especially in your work area, keep a clean workdesk, perhaps adding flowers, photos or inspiration quotes.

9. Schedule yourself a Time Out. Use this time to practice the tried-and-tested stress relieving techniques; draw a bath, light some candles (peppermint is currently considered the best scent for stress as it’s been found to lower cortisol levels) and play some music. Enya, Loreena McKennit or Marconi Union are good bets.

10. Practice mindfulness daily. Experience life.


No Such Thing As Can’t

Yes there is. There is definitely a limit to what we can achieve in a day, a week, a month or a lifetime. We live in a society where it’s possible to achieve anything and everything, or so we think.

I’m not talking about ambition and drive. It’s the continual strive for perfection, for more, for the idea that we are better than our neighbour that I’m talking about. The lengthy to-do list every single day of our lives. This attitude contributes to a gross overload of stress.

Sometimes, it’s important to let go. To say, screw it. The world isn’t going to end if this doesn’t happen today. Everything comes together in the end.

The last few days have been busier at my house than usual. So many unexpected interruptions to my day have put me behind with so many things. Some I will drop, some I will delay, some will require me to be up later than I would like.

My body tells me when it needs rest, and today it needs rest. Overdoing it and cutting back on my sleep will surely lead to overeating. So I’ll be back tomorrow with a fresh new perspective.

Have a restful evening!



Book Recommendation

I’m adding a book recommendation to my reading list.

The Mindful Way Through Depression is an inspiring read for everyone. You don’t have to have had (wow!) depression to benefit from this. It’s an depth read of what I am talking about here, altering your state of thinking through mindfulness.

One of the authors Jon Kabat-Zinn is the creator of MBSR, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. His sessions have proved so successful, that it’s been adopted in hospitals throughout the US and Canada as an alternative to medication for depression and anxiety. A program based on this was specifically designed for depression and anxiety by the University of Toronto and has made it even more widespread.

As the speed of our lives increases, we are conducting our tasks and activities with very little awareness. Do you have those moments when you can’t even remember what you did yesterday? This is a classic example of living life mindlessly.

I’ll summarize my points regarding stress tomorrow but this is a truly great read if you want to investigate further.

My Local Veggie Box

I digress because I’m excited about my local veggie box delivery. For weeks, we’ve been eating carrots, rutabaga and parsnips. Although I like them, it was way too exciting to get my box of local spring produce yesterday. In it was, included mixed greens, wild leeks, radish and the real treat, fresh asparagus that I wouldn’t dream of cooking.

While my husband scrambled some local organic eggs (also from the box), I made a quick salad with the asparagus, leeks radish and tomatoes. I added an avocado, some salt and pepper, drizzled some white balsamic vinegar and olive oil over top. I finished it by sprinkling some pumpkin seeds over the whole thing. With some fresh bread, I was in heaven. Finally Spring is really here!!

Mindful Activity

Yoga is a form of meditation. The focus on the breath and the pose is enough to keep the mind present. As you know, I’m a regular practitioner of yoga, it truly keeps me centred and I can feel the stress melt away.

But there are other activities that reduce stress. Walking is one. Running, skating (ice or inline), or skiing are others. Essentially anything other than a team sport can be used for personal mindfulness. These activities change the breath and give you an automatic focus, something to concentrate on as you repeatedly bring your attention back to the breath and the present moment.

In these cases, the activities are not so much for exercise but for stress reduction. Even 5 minutes will allow to step away from what’s known as “automatic pilot” and realign your thoughts. So it’s achievable to do it at least once during the course of the day. Leave your home or office and follow the same practice I suggested yesterday. Feel the ground beneath you, the sun (if it’s out) on you, the feel of the wind, the sounds around you. Sensations within your body and the thoughts that are constantly with you.

As before, the goal is to give you insight as to what is going on. But don’t worry if it doesn’t happen right away. As I said before, it’s the noticing that is the most important thing. Everything else will come to you in time.

Mindful Living

I’ve talked about Mindful Eating but incorporating mindfulness throughout other areas in your life can reduce stress and lower the risk of comfort eating.

It’s a frightening situation that you may be dealing with physical symptoms resulting from stress and not even realizing it because you are so used to them. Mindful living helps you become aware of them and their causes, leading to any necessary change.

This practice is exactly that, a practice. It takes time to build but can make an enormous difference once it’s incorporated into your life.

There are a number of programs you can take that teach mindfulness. There are also a number of writings and books that describe, teach and encourage regular practice.

Mindfulness can be time consuming as it can involve lengthy meditation or it can be very short and easily incorporated into your day. Essentially mindfulness brings us back to the present.

If you think about your thoughts during the course of any busy day, they are rarely in the present moment. They are taking you to plans for the afternoon meeting, presentation or chores. They are taking you back to events of the morning or days or weeks before. They are taking you way forward to a never ending to-do list. And that’s just the day to day. Never mind the events you aren’t looking forward to or events that you dwell on in the past.
Mindfulness is just noticing where your mind is going and bringing it back. It sounds too simple to do anything but it can be incredibly effective.

Try it. Set an alarm at a couple of points through the day to help you remember to do this. Choose times that you think you will be available for a few minutes to do this. For instance, a commute is a good time. When the alarm sounds, take a moment to concentrate on your breathing and notice your surroundings. What do you hear? What do you see? What do you feel? Use the senses. Keep breathing and notice where your thoughts are going. Let the mind wander if it wants to (it’s impossible to stop) but be aware of where it’s going. Notice any physical sensations or pain in your body.

Mindfulness is not about relaxation, it’s about awareness. It’s about noticing the stress because if you can’t notice it, you can’t fix it.

The Different Types of Stress

Stress is not always a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s good. The stress you feel prior to a big event or in the face of a dangerous situation will equip you with the skills to see it through.

This response is called the “Fight or Flight” response and is designed for short periods of time. The problem is that we can spend long periods of time in this mode, leading to acute and then chronic stress. And this is where the problems lie.

Acute stress is an accumulation of too many stressful events; usually running back to back throughout the day. It can be felt in a number of ways; anxiety or depression, muscular problems for instance back pain or headaches, digestive issues like heartburn or irritable bowel syndrome or other issues such as high blood pressure, chest pain, shortness of breath, clammy hands, cold hands/feet or a rapid heartbeat.

Although these issues are detrimental to our health and affect day-to-day functioning, they are rarely more than than. But continue like this every day, and you end up with chronic stress which is harmful to health especially when it isn’t always noticed because the person is so used to living with it, it just becomes part of life.

In order to eliminate harmful stress from your life, you need to find out what kind of stress are you dealing with? Do you recognize symptoms that come up and then dissipate when a certain event is over?

Do the symptoms of acute stress feel familiar to you? This is a treatable form of stress using techniques I will discuss in the next few days.

Stay tuned ……..

Chronic stress requires a drastic change in lifestyle and usually involves professional guidance. Of course, the therapies offered for acute stress will provide an added bonus so be sure to incorporate these as well.