Stress is normal. In fact, without it, we may not have survived as a species. However, in those very early days – threats were very real because they were mostly physical, with a likely life or death consequence.  Fast forward a few thousand years and we still experience stress. However, many of these threats are either imagined, or based on a feared future outcome or event. Do you have a healthy relationship with food? Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this. The problem is that our body responds in much the same way: elevated stress hormones, increased blood pressure, shallow breathing, or poor sleep. All these symptoms are designed to prepare our body for survival. Fight, freeze or flight.  Of course, the other difference is that typically these symptoms disappear once the threat has vanished. In the case of modern stress, many of these anticipated or feared threats continue to rattle around our heads wreaking havoc with our body’s internal threat response system. The key is to know your triggers; those thought processes that keep your stress hormones high and learn ways to manage and reduce stress levels. Often, this involves a range of strategies; from lifestyle changes, including exercise, relaxation and mindfulness as well as focusing on things like nutrition and sleep. Image: iStock Think of it like a toolkit. You can’t rely on only one or two tools to build a house. In the same way, learning to manage stress involves having a range of tools that you can draw on in different situations.  My hacks for calming stress and anxiety: Start a gardening project: Gardening calms the nervous system, and helps you focus your attention away from negative and unhelpful thoughts. It also contributes to a sense of achievement and more positive mindset. Limit exposure to the news/media: Spend a limited amount of time catching up on news (we do need to stay informed) – but then make a conscious effort to avoid watching/listening/talking about negative events (COVID, especially). Focus on your nutrition: During times of stress, it’s important to be mindful of stimulants and foods that can trigger inflammation (caffeine, sugar, alcohol) and increase intake of fresh fruit, vegies, and soluble fibre. There are direct links between nutrition and mental health, especially stress. Get outside: Fresh air, Vitamin D and physical movement are the BEST ways to reduce stress.  Spend time with your pet: This increases oxytocin (the feel-good bonding hormone) for both of you, and helps to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone)  Make a playlist of calming music: There is research that shows listening to calming music has a direct effect on reducing stress, by slowing brain waves.  Try some yoga: Focusing on breathing and becoming grounded in your body has a direct impact on reducing cortisol. During times of increased stress and anxiety it’s common to become disconnected from our bodies. Yoga/massage/mindfulness helps to bring our bodies back into focus. Image: iStock While stress is normal, suffering is optional. Understanding our internal stress response, including how it’s triggered and maintained is important. However equally important, is building a toolkit that empowers us to know how to manage stress.  Once we accept that stress is not our enemy, we can begin the process of learning how to work with it, instead of fighting it. This type of understanding and acceptance enables all of those tools in our kit to work their magic and reduce unhelpful and prolonged stress. An experienced psychologist with additional qualifications in health and fitness, Leanne has an impressive career as a therapist and health coach spanning 20 years. She is currently working with Melrose Health on their new nutrient powder Stress Support. It is specifically formulated to help the body combat the negative effects of stress; the blend contains key essential vitamins and minerals + herbal extracts ashwagandha, holy basil, and rhodiola.

Psychologist approved hacks for calming stress and anxiety

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