Back in the swing of things...
The last few months have been an extremely odd (and stressful) time for most of us, and with some of our children now back in school, working life is slowly getting back to normal!
I know I am very lucky that my children's school is now open, whilst many others are still closed, and a lot of parents are still having to juggle work and childcare. This juggling is hard, and can lead to constant stress, known as chronic stress, which is when we experience stress for weeks or even months on end. So, I was keen to focus this week's blog on stress and how to manage it, effectively.
Chronic stress can put us at risk of numerous health issues, and can lead to damaging inflammation in our bodies, which has been associated with many chronic health concerns, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain and decreased immune function. So, we need to reduce the stress in our lives as much as possible - easier said than done in a time like this!
Some of the most effective and scientifically proven ways to reduce stress, include:
Meditation and mindfulness
Enriching friendships and relationships
Moderate exercise, such as walking/jogging, swimming or cycling has been shown to very effective at reducing stress, however, intense exercise may actually make us more stressed. So, find an exercise, which you enjoy that you can practice at a moderate intensity - you want to get your heart-rate up, but not so much that you are unable to maintain a conversation.
Yoga has also been shown to help reduce stress, reduce blood pressure and slow down the heart rate. There are some great yoga apps too now, and you can choose live or pre-recorded classes, that you can do in your own time, with classes ranging from 10 minutes to 90 minutes. I keep a yoga mat in my office, so at lunchtime, I can whip it out a do a 10 minute yoga video, which helps to limit any back discomfort or tight hips from sitting down for hours. Just 10 minutes eases any discomfort I may have, and whilst I do it at lunchtime as a break from sitting at my laptop, with these convenient videos you can do it at any time (almost anywhere!)
Meditation is a simple technique that can be practiced for just 10 minutes a day to reap the rewards. It can help reduce and manage stress, anxiety and can even help improve cardiovascular health and promote heart health. It took me a long time to be able to meditate, and I find 10 minutes is the right amount of time for me before my mind starts wandering. It isn't for everyone, and can take a while to 'learn', but it can be so effective at reducing stress, it is well worth persevering.
Enriching friendships are so incredibly important, and have been scientifically proven to help reduce stress, and make coping with a stressful event easier. In fact, according to a study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, feeling lonely can decrease your lifespan by a whopping 26%! I think there is nothing better for those days when you may be feeling down or stressed, than to go for a stress-busting walk with a close friend. Laughter has been shown to benefit us physically, mentally and emotionally.
Also, I think it is important to mention nutrition here as well - in times of stress, we may not feel like making the most healthy of food choices, but it is in these times that healthy food choices are more important than ever. Try to make sure you are including lots of different coloured (packed with different antioxidants) fruit and veg in your diet. Aim for 2 pieces of fruit a day and at least 7 vegetable portions, if you can. Also, ensure you have a good quality protein source in every meal (free range eggs, omega-3 rich fatty fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, or trout, or quinoa), and a small portion of 'healthy' fats such as olive oil. avocado or nuts/nut butter.
Also, we are more prone to reach for foods high in refined sugar and saturated fats when we are stressed - be mindful of this. Instead, try making your own homemade chocolate, which you can make a very small amount of maple syrup. I make this 'Almond Chocolate Crunch' chocolate, which tastes amazing and is a great recipe to make with your kids, too. It only takes 5 minutes (with added time for freezing to firm it up), and it keeps for up to five days - if you can resist it that long! It is also packed with healthy fats and protein - even sweet treats can be healthy.