Mental Health. I recently posted a few thoughts and a story of my own on this topic, in particular stress and anxiety. The impact that these can have on our physical health can be minor but also extremely severe. Today, the prevalence of anxiety, depression and unhealthy stress levels is frightfully high, amongst both men and women. There is an increasing amount of awareness which is fantastic but we still have so much to do, on so many levels – as a nation, within our states, within our communities, our work places, and amongst ourselves.
As someone who has experienced healthy levels of anxiety but also unhealthy levels of anxiety I completely understand and empathise with those who experience anxiety too. The fact that our bodies as a whole, including our mind, soul and spirit, can only manage so much is only human. We are not made of steel. We are not designed to stay well with high levels of stress. To not cope, break down, burn out completely, fall apart or fall ill is a biological process of survival. It’s a message from ourselves to ourselves to please stop, listen within and take care.
Now, you may be thinking ‘yeah yeah, I know, I’ve heard this before’. Many of us have. People are talking more openly about mental health, stress, anxiety and depression these days. But if you’re someone that sometimes or often feels incredibly drained, down, super stressed, highly anxious, worried, sad or just really flat and don’t feel like you manage these feelings and find it really hard to prevent these feelings from happening, then it could be very helpful to put aside some time to reflect. Putting time aside to think and decide on a few things you could do which you enjoy, to rest, feel better and better manage stress (and how you’re feeling overall) is a very good idea.
About a year ago, when experiencing a period of ongoing stress I read a lot of literature, books and blog posts about stress and anxiety. Through my own experience and research I developed a much deeper understanding of how stress and anxiety relate, why we experience anxiety, why it can become unhealthy and why it’s so common. I spent time thinking about my needs. It helped to cement what I need for myself to stay centered, grounded, calm, in charge, at ease, at peace and happy. Often we know what it is that we need, want or miss but actually making the time and setting it as a ‘non-negotiable must-do’ activity isn’t so easy. Especially when we live extremely busy lives. We may think.. ‘oh I don’t have the time right now, I’ll be right, I’ll do it next week’. But the truth is, especially when life is so busy, we NEED to make time and prioritise time out for ourselves as we would work or eat or sleep. When we are cold we put a jumper on. So when we’re exhausted, down or agitated why don’t we react in a similar way by making time to feel better?
Anyway, I’m rambling on a bit but wanted to provide a little background as to why I’ve decided to list and elaborate on certain things I do to keep my calm, to stay being myself, to not let too much stress get on top of me. I will also add that a few years ago, for a very long time I did always make time for these things, they were just a normal part of my day. But a period of too much stress led me to let go of such rituals and I ended up burnt out and very anxious, and this can happen to anyone – even ‘wellness gurus’, those who live by healthy practices daily or those who are usually very chilled out.
As we are all different I appreciate that rituals, activities or strategies that you enjoy may be very different to the ideas below. If this is the case, I suggest making time to think about what you love, what relaxes you and helps you to stop, relax and revive. It could be just one thing you do daily or weekly, it doesn’t have to be several things at all.
The things I enjoy to keep myself centred, feeling good and reduce any stress
- Eating fresh, wholesome nourishing meals and snacks
- Being active – enjoying movement daily
- Spending quality time with loved ones regularly
- Keeping a journal and a diary
To break these down into much more detail in case a few ideas are helpful, here is a list of things I enjoy daily and weekly:
My morning cup of tea ritual. This is quite entertaining, as my mum does exactly the same thing and has since I can remember. On waking and getting up in the morning the first thing I do is put the kettle on. Black tea with a splash of milk is my everyday wake drink. I take my mug of tea to my yoga mat and practice yoga, sometimes for 5mins sometimes for longer, while sipping occasionally on my tea (not very yogi-like I know! A green smoothie, juice or hot lemon water may be more yogi-like but I LOVE tea. It’s comforting). I have this almost every single morning. The only time I may not is if I have an early breakfast date out or if start work super early and need to leave home at 6.00am, in which case I make a coffee for the road.
Yoga. Every morning I spend 5-30mins on my mat. For me yoga awakens my body and stretches all muscles. As I enjoy running, cycling and gym sessions regularly a morning stretch helps to fix any tight muscles and helps to wake me up. Focusing on the breath with each movement gives my mind a break and creates a calm and present start to the day. I feel centred and awake after, energised in fact while also feeling calm. After yoga, I finish my tea while getting ready for the day, then make breakfast and at this point (not before!) I might begin checking social media, emails, etc.
Regular meals, full of whole foods (unprocessed), plus lots of water. I’ve always loved good food, have taken an interest in food, cooking and nutrition from a young age so eating delicious wholesome meals is something I enjoy and makes me happy. Regular meals and snacks, and responding to what I feel like keeps me feeling good and energised. Drinking lots of water daily, usually about two to three litres keeps me feeling bright, and I do love my one mid morning coffee (which I enjoy slowly with glee). We also keep coconut water most of the time, it’s wonderfully hydrating and nice to add to smoothies. I will also add that I certainly do enjoy chocolate, ice cream, gelati and wine very much, and enjoy these as treats here and these. No restriction. I enjoy the things I feel like when I feel like them. As the saying goes – everything in moderation.
Revist diary and list of ‘to-dos’. I have always loved keeping a paperback diary, to plan my weeks and months. A little planning and organisation has always helped me to stay focused and reduce the stress that comes with juggling several things. If I have a day of my own work (nutrition consulting), I also begin with revisiting my diary and to-do list, prioritise tasks and then get started.
Mid morning coffee ritual. If working from home I take a mid morning break to make a coffee and enjoy it. It’s almost a sacred ritual! The process of making and and drinking a coffee creates a pause in my work day, plus the taste, the caffeine – pure happiness!
Movement. I enjoy being active everyday. Most days I make time for something that gets my heart pumping. This could be anything from a jog, HITT class, dancing or a brisk walk. Exercise for me has always always kept me feeling good, in particular in my mind. It’s always helped me reduce stress and anxiety, plus I’ve always loved it. Perhaps growing up in a family where playing, running around and trying different sports was encouraged sparked a joy of movement from a very early age. But there have also been years where I haven’t been able to be as active as usual for example during year 12 at school and my final years of uni. There have also been times where I have done too much. Too much jogging and swimming in particular, and only because I was especially stressed and these activities really helped me manage the stress. But too much isn’t good. A healthy amount of movement is what we need, and for everyone that’s different.
Exercise should be enjoyed. This is so so important, it should NOT be a chore. Do the things you enjoy, and if you’re not sure just give something a go and with time you’ll find what you love. Walks, hiking, dancing in your lounge room, yoga, swimming, walking your dog, social netball, iceskating, there are so many ways you can move.
I now enjoy a mix of yoga, pilates, jogging, swimming and weight sessions at my gym (which I really enjoy as it’s time out for me, it feels good, I love to feel strong, plus I can listen to podcasts while I workout!). I also LOVE to dance so try to fit in latin dancing whenever I can, even if it’s while I’m cooking.
Making time to talk with my partner about the day – my day and his day. This is something that we both feel is important, it helps us to connect. My partner and I both run a business, he runs two businesses in fact so he is very busy. For several years now I’ve juggled my small private practice with other nutrition work as well as occasional hospitality work (when business has been quiet) and I also help Andrew when he’s completely under the pump. It sounds like a lot, and yes it is, but I do love it and have come to learn that I’m someone that thrives on being busy, and loves to work. But I love my partner and for us to stay connected, making time each day to check in and chat about things really helps us to stay connected. We also make time each week, even if for just an hour, to spend quality time together. A dinner date, shooting hoops at our local basketball court or breakfast out are a few examples.
Reading non-fiction, non-work related books. It can be really hard to fit non-work related reading in, particularly when you’re in a profession where continual learning is absolutely required. A requirement by most professions really! But only reading work- related literature can make it very hard to switch off. I also believe that reading non-fiction can help spark creativity and ideas for ourselves within the work we do. And of course, books provide an escape, a break from the world and can improve our thinking and writing too. So I always try to have a book on the go, for reading at night or whenever I have time or feel like it.
Communicating with family and close friends. Being very close to my family, having conversations and seeing family members regularly is something I really need. As all my immediate family members are now either interstate or overseas I chat with them over the phone weekly, at the very least. We also get together as often as possible. Creating work for myself in Adelaide, as a nutritionist or florist, has been a wonderful way to see family more often too.
A bath. Boy do I love a bath. With candles and music too. Plus either a coconut water, cup of herbal tea or glass of wine. It’s seriously wonderful ‘me-time’. I haven’t yet tried to watch Netflix while in the bath, which some people do, but am determined to give it a go soon!
Keeping our fridge and pantry full of good food. Good simple food, for Andrew and I, is something we love, enjoy, appreciate and care about. Now this doesn’t mean expensive food, it doesn’t mean copious amounts of ‘superfoods’, it just means a variety fresh food for meals and snacks. Fresh fruit, vegetables, proteins, dairy, and the things we love as a treat, in moderation including ice-cream, chocolate, beer, wine. I love to cook so most nights we eat at home and it’s always a simple yet delicious nourishing meal. Good food keeps us healthy, feeling strong and energised which we need to be able to do all the things we do.
Seeing and spending time with at least one good friend. Friends. They are GOLD. I’m sure you would agree. We all need friends and time with friends. I try to see at least one friend every week, but often it’s more than this. And if I can’t then they are only a phone call away.
Time in nature. For me, nature has always been something I’ve been drawn to, in so many ways. I paint it, draw it and nature provides inspiration for me with my work too. I love living near it and at any opportunity I make my way to nature, even if it’s a little suburban park or having a bunch of flowers in my home. Time in nature is so cleansing, energising, refreshing, it just feels good. Nature also, for many people, helps to reduce anxiety. I would recommend getting out into nature more often to anyone.
I count my blessings. For me this is a fairly new practise. I keep a journal and once a week note down all the things I’m grateful for. When life feels a bit much or work’s stressful or you desperately need a holiday but can’t see an opportunity in sight, making note of the blessings in your life can bring you back and help you put things into perspective. A simple activity that can make a really big difference.
Setting goals/tasks for the week. I used to set a crazy long unrealistic list of ‘to-dos’. Now I set a much shorter list, or if I struggle to keep it short I highlight the most important tasks for the week, and this may only be two or three things. It depends on the week, how busy I am, how much work I have scheduled, etc.
Journalling. I mentioned that I have a journal but I actually have two. One for counting my blessings and one for ‘anytime’ journalling. On and off, over the past 10 years or so, I have enjoyed keeping a journal. I find it extremely helpful for clearing thoughts and nutting out ideas.
Sometimes, or often, a million thoughts are jumping around in our minds (or perhaps sprinting and cartwheeling!). Blurting out everything that’s in your head – thoughts, ideas, worries, to-dos, etc – onto paper can be so cleansing, calming and maybe even enlightening. You may find that your worries no longer seem so worrying. Or you may feel more confident to address certain things. In addition to this, journalling is wonderful to clarify or develop ideas. If you’d like to journal but don’t know what to write I suggest finding a nice little book, a pen you love, and just start writing!
Now I’m going to stop there as this post is long!
I hope it’s provided even just a little inspiration.