4 EFFECTIVE WAYS TO COMBAT STRESS
Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives. Whether it’s work, relationships, money or home life, many of us frequently complain about being stressed but then do nothing about it. Stress takes its toll on our bodies and can lead to a weakened immune system, anxiety, headaches, depression, insomnia, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease, so it’s important to look for ways to combat stress and lead happier, stress-free lives. Here are some top stress-busting methods that will soothe and relax you…
Massage is an extremely powerful tool which has been used for thousands of years to improve health and well-being. It can open blocked energy channels, improve circulation, enhance mental clarity, relax muscle tension and ease aches and pains. Having a massage is the ultimate way to pamper yourself or to treat injuries, but if you’re feeling stressed, have you ever thought about having a massage especially designed to reduce your stress levels?
Aveda Lifestyle Salon & Spa in Covent Garden offers a special treatment called a “Stress-Fix Body Massage” which uses aromatherapy, meditation and a combination of different massage techniques to reduce tension, calm your mind and increase circulation in high-stress areas of the body.
I arrived at the salon and instantly felt a sense of tranquility when I was offered a cup of Aveda’s special caffeine-free “comforting tea” which combines flavours of liquorice roots and peppermint. My therapist, Erik, lead me downstairs to the treatment room through a corridor of oriental bliss. Dark Eastern style lanterns guided the way to the treatment room which had soothing instrumental music playing, dimmed lighting and a crisp white robe waiting for me.
The treatment started with my feet being soaked in a bowl of warm bubbly water and a gentle exfoliating foot scrub was applied. It was here that we talked about areas of injury or tension, so that the bespoke massage could be tailored to suit my needs. The massage combined elements of Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, foot reflexology and acupressure. If you’re looking for a massage to relieve your stress but can’t decide which technique is the best for you, then the stress-fix massage is the perfect solution.
The massage went from head to toe, beginning with a soothing Swedish neck and shoulder massage, before deep tissue techniques were used to ease the knots in my back muscles. Hot compresses were applied during the massage to warm the body and ease muscle tightness and I mentioned that I had strain in my calves so this tension was focussed on. The reflexology treatment targeted trigger points on my feet to ease stress and brought a great feeling of calm.
During the massage, my therapist sprayed a mist of stress relieving scent in the air, held a bottle of Aveda’s special stress-fix fragrance under my nose and instructed me breathe deeply. Aveda’s Stress-Fix aroma combines lavender, lavandin and clary sage and inhaling these scents is clinically proven to decrease anxiety and raise your mood. Aromatherapy is particularly effective at relieving stress because as you inhale the scents, your limbic system is stimulated to release chemicals that promote feelings of happiness and relaxation.
The treatment was very thorough, and as well as my back, shoulders, feet, and legs, I had a light scalp massage and a hand and arm massage. At the end of the hour, a cool minty oil was used to massage my neck and shoulders and gentle awaken me from my blissful state of relaxation. The massage sent me into a heavenly snooze and I woke up feeling as light as a feather. My therapist was very helpful and even sat me down afterwards to give me some tips about how to relieve headaches using acupressure. From the cup of tea when I stepped into the salon, to the soothing foot soak, to the cooling mint on my shoulders, this experience was pure luxury at its best and was the ultimate stress-fix solution.
Many experts believe that yoga is the best stress relieving workout. It is used as a complementary or alternative medicine for stress as it helps strengthen both the mind and body. Yoga originated in India over 5000 years ago and there are two key components to a yoga class – postures and breathing techniques. There are many different types of yoga, so make sure you are wise about which type you choose. Bikram yoga, for example, is practised in 40 degrees Celcius heat and will send your heart rate soaring, so it’s not ideal if you’re trying to calm yourself down and lower your heart rate. Hatha yoga is a great choice for stress relief as it is a gentle form of yoga, suitable for beginners and has a slower pace, centred around introductory yoga poses. It doesn’t matter how flexible you are or what your religious/spiritual inclination is, yoga is about discovering yourself and working at your own pace to enhance your sense of physical and mental well-being.
Yoga has always fascinated me because of its multitude of health benefits. As well as being effective for stress-relief, it improves balance, flexibility, fitness, strength, posture and your sense of calm. I recently went to one of Clare Roberts’ ISHTA yoga classes at the Health ReCentre in Balham. The word “ISHTA” translates to “individualised” in Sanskrit which means it is a personalised type of yoga, and the acronym stands for the integrated school of Hatha, Tantra and Ayurveda.
The session started with us lying down and taking some time to focus on our breathing and calm our minds so we could leave our distractions and stresses behind. After this short meditation, we worked our way through some of the fundamental asanas (postures) such as downward dog, cobra pose and child’s pose. The poses ranged from stretching on the floor to forward bends, lunges and more challenging standing balances. The poses were ideal for beginners but Clare gave advice on how people could take the stretch further if they felt they could push themselves. This meant that people with different abilities could attend the same class but we all worked at our own pace and modified poses depending on our ability.
One of the reasons yoga relieves stress is because you are so focussed on achieving the postures and controlling your breathing that other thoughts are put to the side and your brain is given a rest. It’s a time to allow yourself to be free from mind-clutter and be completely present in the moment. This was definitely true in my ISHTA yoga experience – I was so focussed on listening to Clare’s guidance, working on the postures and controlling my breathing that I felt completely relaxed and in the zone. As well as the poses, Clare guided our breathing (pranayama). Controlling your breathing is very important in yoga as it can help to control the postures as well as quietening the mind. The session ended with us all sitting in a crossed legged position for a brief seated meditation. With a bow of the head and a “namaste,” I left the class feeling revitalised and calm.
Meditation is recommended as a daily stress relief solution by many doctors and it has been proven time and time again to relax the mind. I had never attended a meditation practice before so went to a beginners 2-part group meditation class organised by the London Buddhist Centre to learn how to meditate. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to attend and everyone is welcome. I walked into a room which was filled with neat stacks of three cushions and meditation mats. There was a statue of Buddha at the front, with 3 lit candles, a bell and a wooden stick. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I was curious to find out what happens in a meditation session. Our teacher welcomed us to the session and revealed that there are two different forms of meditation that are taught; the “Metta Bhavana” and “The Mindfulness of Breathing.”
The Metta Bhavana technique was the first technique taught and this is all about showing a loving kindness to the world and everyone around you. The first part of meditation session involved a body scan – which is where you close your eyes and take the time to do a mental scan of your body, from your toes upwards. It’s all about focusing on the physical sensations your body is experiencing such as the feeling of your toes against the floor, or the material on your skin. The aim is to concentrate fully on your body rather than any other issues on your mind. Being an unexperienced meditator – the sensation of pins and needles took over in the body scan and I felt distracted by the lack of feeling in my right leg!
Before the next part of the meditation, our teacher talked us through postures and I soon learnt that kneeling on two cushions was a better pose than crossing your legs for an extended period of time. The stages of Metta Bhavana meditation involved bringing different people to mind and concentrating on how you feel towards that person, and if it’s a negative feeling, changing it to a feeling of positivity, until finally you have a sense of loving-kindness towards everyone in mind. Our teacher mentioned it’s important not to get lost in thoughts or narratives and to just focus on feelings of positivity.
The other technique of meditation is called “The Mindfulness of Breathing” and this uses the focus on breath as a way to concentrate. This practice was really interesting because something as simple as concentrating on counting after each in and out breath made me realise how often our minds jump from one topic to another and how hard it is to simply concentrate on your breathing and nothing else. The object of The Mindfulness of Breathing is to develop discipline and to learn to concentrate on the present rather than dwelling on past events or forward planning. We have such fast-paced lifestyles and as a result, our active minds rarely get the chance to rest apart from when we’re asleep.
Each meditation session has several progressive stages which increase concentration. Concentrating on your breathing has a great affect on both physical and mental state. After the meditation session, I definitely felt a lot more relaxed and it made me realise just how much our thoughts wander and our minds are racing rather than concentrating on the present. Meditation is definitely something that improves with practice and by taking 15-30 minutes a day to meditate, it is an excellent way to release stress.
4) EATING STRESS-BUSTING FOODS
It can be a vicious cycle; the more stressed you get, the more you crave high-fat sugary snacks that give you a quick rise in endorphins but leave you feeling even more stressed (and craving more) after you’ve eaten them. On top of this – a reason some people get stressed so quickly in the first place is often due to a lack of essential vitamins (such as B vitamins) which enable your body to effectively deal with stress. Your body can only work with the fuel it’s being fed, so if you constantly feed your body junk food, you will feel lousy in return. Some of the foods that may be contributing to heightened stress levels include too much coffee and other caffeinated drinks, excess fatty, fried and processed food, and refined sugar. The key solution is to focus on having a healthy balanced diet of vitamins and nutrients that will keep you focussed, energised and on top of stress.
Diet is very important when it comes to physical and mental well-being, and scientists have discovered several foods that they have labelled as stress-busters. By adding these stress-fighting foods to your diet, you can ensure you’re feeding your body the goodness it deserves:
- Almonds – if you’re looking for a healthy snack to give you energy and boost your immune system, almonds are your answer. They’re rich in vitamin B2, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. Magnesium and B vitamins help with the production of serotonin which relieves stress and elevates your mood. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and zinc is a well known mood-enhancer.
Asparagus – another beautiful green! These health weapons are packed with folic acid which is known to boost your mood. A cup of asparagus provides two-thirds of your recommended daily dose of folic acid, so get munching!
Avocados – some people avoid avocados because of the high fat content, but avocados actually contain good monounsaturated fats and potassium which help to lower blood pressure. They are also very high in those winning stress-relieving B vitamins and are seen as a powerful superfood.
- Blueberries – these little stress-fighters are jam-packed with goodness. They are full of powerful antioxidants and vitamin C, low in calories and they are also a source of fibre. When our bodies are stressed, antioxidants and vitamin C help to strengthen and protect our cells so having blueberries in your diet can do no wrong.
- Chocolate – we’ve all been there; in a moment of stress, we’ve reached out for the nearest chocolate bar to heighten our mood. You may be thinking sugary snack = big no-no, but there’s evidence that in moderation, chocolate can actually be a very effective stress-buster. Dark chocolate contains flavonols and polyphenols, which are two important types of antioxidants. It can lower blood pressure, reduce the stress hormone cortisol and increase the “happy” brain chemical serotonin as well as your endorphin levels. A higher percentage of cocoa (ideally 70-85%) is better for you, so as long as you pick your chocolate wisely and eat in moderation, it can be an effective way of combating stress.
- Salmon – increasing the amount of fish in your diet can be a great way to tackle stress. Salmon is one of the best sources in omega-3 fatty acids which is excellent at helping to stop the stress hormone cortisol from peaking when you’re feeling under pressure. Most fish is also high in B vitamins, especially B6 and B12 which enhance your mood and increase serotonin production.
- Spinach – Popeye was on to something! Spinach is fantastic for your health and is packed full of magnesium, which helps control cortisol levels. A single cup of spinach gives you 40% of the recommended daily dose of magnesium. Not eating enough magnesium can cause fatigue and migraines so eating spinach is a sure-fire way to maintain a healthy mind and body.
LOOK AFTER YOUR BODY AND IT WILL LOOK AFTER YOU…
Whether it’s trying a new technique such as yoga or meditation, treating yourself to a massage or changing your diet, there are lots of ways to deal with stress. Some people like to go on a long walk or have an intense workout to clear their head. Regular exercise is a great way to release endorphins, improve blood flow to the brain and increase fitness. Another great way to reduce stress is laughter – watch your favourite comedy, meet up with friends and enjoy how laughter improves your mood and decreases cortisol and adrenaline production. Listening to music is also another effective way to forget about stress and enjoy the moment.
Perhaps the most important way to end a stressful day is to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation can leave us feeling sluggish, irritable and exhausted. You can encourage better sleep by making sure your room is completely blacked out, avoiding technology an hour before bed, not eating too late at night and having a calming camomile tea and a warm bath. So take life in your stride, use these tips and work out which stress-busting methods work best for you.