Do you suffer from stress or anxiety? Or both? Well, here’s a great article for you!
I know so many people who suffer from stress and anxiety, and I think with today’s fast-pace, it has only been elevated. It has almost become the new normal.
And if you suffer from it, my heart goes out to you.
I too have had my own personal journey dealing with both stress and anxiety. And it has taken me years to transition from an anxious stressed-out state of being to a more peaceful place.
And while stress and anxiety is a deep and layered topic, I want to keep this article super simple and share 5 healthy habits that you can implement into your life to help you find more balance in your body and relieve some of your stress and anxiety over the long term.
It’s important to remember the words long term. This article is not about instant quick-fixes. This is about slowly making lifestyle changes and building these healthy habits into your life. And by making these habits part of your life, and practicing them regularly, you’ll be able to self-regulate easier and find more peace.
Ready to get started? Let’s dig into 5 Health Habits to Help You Relieve Stress and Anxiety!
1. Exercise regularly
Exercise is so important, and this is a great place to start.
Especially if you’re very anxious, because when you exercise and start moving, it feels good because you’re doing something with all that extra energy inside you.
As some of you know, when you exercise, you release endorphins, known as the happy hormones. Even if you don’t feel like doing exercise, I encourage you to switch off your thinking brain and just go and do some exercise. Even if it’s just a brisk walk around the block, 5min HIIT YouTube video, a 15min yoga stretch or climbing some stairs in your apartment block. Whatever it is, it’ll get your body moving, releasing some of those happy hormones, and you’ll feel better.
If you don’t exercise much, when you start working out, you may not feel it as much. But, over time, with regular exercise your happy hormone release becomes more predictable. With consistency, more endorphins are released, and over time your exercise literally becomes your happy place.
And it’s interesting because, when you’re stressed and anxious, your sympathetic nervous system is activated, contributing to what is known as the “fight or flight” response. This response causes the body to respond as if it’s fighting off a threat. And this signals the adrenal glands to release hormones called adrenalin and cortisol.
But, when you exercise, your other nervous system is activated – the parasympathetic nervous system. And this stimulates other hormones, like the happy endorphins, to be released. So exercise actually counteracts the activated response caused by stress and anxiety, and instead promotes relaxation.
So, if you’re suffering from stress and anxiety, prioritising exercise is the perfect place to start.
If you know you need to exercise, but you’re struggling to build the habit, feel free to book a free wellness consultation with me and we can chat. As a health coach I’m here for you, and can teach you some useful strategies and hold you accountable along the way.
2. Reduce stimulants
Ooooh this is a big one.
As mentioned above, stress and anxiety trigger the SNS (sympathetic nervous system) which causes the release of your stress hormones. Then, when you add stimulants to the mix, it just amplifies it.
And sometimes you can get into an unhealthy loop with anxiety and stress. One such loop is when your stress and anxiety leads to a lack of sleep, and then you feel tired and use stimulants as a pick-me-up. And on the cycle goes, wearing you down over time.
There are many stimulants out there, some less obvious than others.
Caffeine is one of the most obvious stimulants. It’s most people’s go-to pick-me-up.
Don’t get me wrong I LOVE coffee – so if you love it, it’s not about cutting it out forever right now. But by at least reducing it slowly, especially after lunch and if you struggle with sleep. By gradually reducing your intake (such as replacing 1 coffee a day with a cup of tea), you can slowly adjust to a new and less ‘wired’ normal. Over time I went from 10-13 a day to a maximum of 3 a day – so if I can do it, anyone can do it!
Nicotine is another stimulant. Having nicotine in any form – chewing, vaping or smoking it – has a stimulating affect on the body. It’s not so easy to just quit smoking (I used to smoke, so I get that it’s tough!), but it’s worth trying to slowly cut down if you really struggle with anxiety and stress.
And then, a slightly less obvious stimulant is refined sugar.
We all know that refined sugar, no matter how tasty, is not good for you. And when it comes to stress and anxiety, it’s ‘bad’ for a few reasons. Firstly, it is a stimulant. Secondly, it causes spikes in blood sugar levels, which are usually followed by a crash – This rise and fall of your blood sugar can lead to energy dips, food cravings, and moodiness – all side effects that just make managing your anxiety worse.
Without getting complex, when you’re managing anxiety and stress, you want to find relaxation and stability wherever you can find it. And stimulants do the opposite by wiring you up!
So it’s important to look at how many stimulants you’re adding to the mix. And by slowly reducing them, and replacing them with healthier alternatives, you can reduce the stimulation, and allow your body to relax more.
3. Eat a balanced diet
What you eat truly has the power to change everything.
And without getting too complicated, what you eat is basically information for your body. It serves as fuel for your body and impacts all the processes in your body.
It has been highlighted many times how your digestive health has an effect on everything else in your body. And there is a big link between your gut and your brain. One incredible fact is that most of the body’s serotonin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) is made in the gut. That is why gut health can have a big effect on how you feel, playing a role in anxiety and depression.
When you eat a nutritious balanced diet, you allow your body to operate optimally. Many of us don’t give our body’s enough credit. Our bodies are, in fact, highly intelligent bio-computers, and when we give it what it needs, it finds it own natural healthy balance.
When I studied Nutrition at The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, one of my absolute favourite quotes was:
Given half the chance, your body will heal itself.
Of course there are specific foods that are known to be stress-busting foods, like green leafy vegetables, bananas, nuts, avocados. And you can go deeper and check out particular foods for gut health and foods for brain health and start adding these to your shopping basket.
But it really doesn’t need to be complicated.
When in doubt you can just focus on 4 things:
Eat real food – Eat foods that are as natural as possible, like whole fruits and veggies. And avoid processed packaged foods., which usually contain additives like sugar and other nasty ingredients that just cause trouble.
Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables – Even as much as 50% of your food if possible! And remember, if you’re watching your weight, because fruits contain more sugar, just eat more veggies than fruits.
Avoid refined sugars – As you may know, refined sugars do no good for your body for a variety of reasons. And one of the biggest, when it comes to managing anxiety and stress, is that is causes blood sugar rises and falls – messing with your energy, your hunger, your cravings and your mood. If you have a sweet tooth, look for some healthy alternatives to help you wean off the refined sugars, like this homemade cacao date ball recipe. Or, if you love milk chocolate, start by slowly eating darker chocolate, working your way up to 60% or higher (which is actually pretty good for you!)
Eat whole grains instead of refined carbs – Refined carbs like packaged chips, cookies and white pasta, have been linked to negative effects on the body, like inflammation. And they don’t support the digestive health. Instead, opt for whole grains where possible – these complex carbs promote gut health, digest slowly and keep your blood sugar levels more constant. Some examples of whole grains are brown rice, 100% rye bread, quinoa, or oats.
It’s common when wanting to eat healthier to get carried away by what specific foods to eat. But, I encourage you to just start with the above and keep it simple. When you focus on these, you can naturally create more balance and stability in your body, which will support you in feeling more stable and regulated.
4. Practice meditation
Meditation is seen as woo-woo by many. But, for those of you who suffer from stress and anxiety, I encourage you to make time to explore it.
You don’t need to do complicated meditations, chanting mantras and going to far-off forests. You can simply focus your meditative practice on the breath.
I always say breathing is SO under-rated. Because, just by taking 5 long slow deep inhales and exhales, you can activate the relaxation response in your body. And this can help you get out of that thought-loop that stressed out people often find themselves in.
If you find yourself feeling anxiety and stressed, take a moment to sit still with your eyes closed. Then, inhale slowly for a count of 5, and exhale slowly for a count of 5. Repeat this a few times, Make your breaths deep and slow. This practice alone can help you signal more relaxation in your body and mind.
For beginners, yoga is a great place to start your meditation journey.
For those of you who are complete beginners, a fantastic way to get into meditation is via yoga.
Yoga is, in fact, a form of movement meditation. This is a great way for anxious and stressed out people to get into meditation because oftentimes sitting still feels like torture. Instead, with yoga, you can mix the move while you breath. And by exercising and breathing mindfully at the same time, you’re getting two benefits in one go!
Yoga is actually what led me to my meditation practice. I always preferred very intense exercise, like kickboxing and running. The intensity of the exercise helped me release my anxious energy. But, because of my ankles getting too sore, I started doing yoga. I wasn’t happy about it in the beginning, but I wanted to exercise and yoga was a safe option, so I went with it.
That was when I discovered heated vinyasa and bikram yoga classes – and it blew my mind how intense the classes were, even without all the jumping around. It was a revelation for me that I could have just as intense a workout without the high impact and sore ankles. Amazing!
Anyhow, long story short, Yoga’s primary focus is the breath. And as you practice more and more yoga, you become more and more mindful of your breath. And it’s this slow, steady and very intentional breath that helps your body self-regulate and find balance.
The power of slow deep-breathing
A central focus of meditation is the breath. And using the breath to find stillness, inner peace and balance.
In practical speak, by spending more time focusing on slow mindful breathing, you will activate the parasympathetic nervous system and promote relaxation in your body.
There are many types of meditation, everything from yoga, to tai chi, to transcendental meditation. Some use the combination of breath and movement, while others use a combination of breath and mantras.
I encourage you to go exploring and find something that works for you.
The power of a simple guided breathing meditation
If you’re just warming up to the idea of meditation, simply start with a short 5 or 10 minute guided meditation online. This gives you the path of least resistance and you can just sit down, close your eyes and press play.
I started out with this simple 10-minute meditation, and stuck with it for months while building the habit.
And sure, you may feel fidgety, get a sore back, or have thoughts flying around in your head. But I encourage you to stick with it. Be kind to yourself and when you find yourself wandering, just keep going back to the breath. Over time it gets easier, and you start to feel the benefits more and more.
As someone who has struggled with stress and anxiety, meditation has been one of my greatest saviours. In the beginning, sitting still felt like a punishment. But, over time I got used to it and have found much more calm in my life through it.
5. Build awareness of your thoughts and triggers
This is a much deeper topic, but I wanted to mention it because it has been very useful for me.
In a nutshell, this is about paying attention to what triggers your anxiety and stress, and then looking for ways you can adjust your life.
You can keep track in your notebook. Whenever you feel anxious or stressed, ask yourself what is causing this? Is it a situation, a place, a person, a specific task at work, a stimulant, or a thought you keep thinking? Write down everything you notice, and start building awareness and looking for patterns.
From this place of awareness, you can start to get real about what you may need to do to create more peace in your life.
You could be feeling stressed out because you’re over-worked and overwhelmed by your endless to-do list. And an approach could be to take a hard look at your schedule, and see where you could free up more time for yourself. You can then use this extra time for some extra self care.
Or your thoughts may be making you feel anxious – worrying about the future or something else, and they just won’t stop nagging at you. Practices like journalling can help a lot here, because you can clear your mind by getting your thoughts out onto paper. Either way, it’s a good idea to sit down with yourself and go deeper. Look at the thoughts you’re thinking about and how you want to move forward. It could be about creating a plan for yourself by setting some clear goals, and relieving some anxiety about the future. Or it could be about creating positive affirmations to say to yourself when you get anxious, that help you reframe your thinking into a calmer more positive state of mind.
People suffer from stress and anxiety for so many reasons. And while you can build habits to help regulate your body and mind, it’s so important to build self awareness – Look at the thoughts you think and what you worry about. And pay attention to your life and what triggers these feelings.
As you build awareness, you can start to take the most beneficial steps towards a better state of being.
With this being such a deep and layered topic, if you want to go deeper, feel free to book a complimentary wellness session with me and we can talk about it. Sometimes having someone to talk to in a safe, non-judgemental space can do a world of good!
Are you inspired to implement some of these habits into your life so that you can manage your stress and anxiety?
I hope that this post has inspired you with some ways to manage your stress and anxiety.
As someone who has suffered from my own anxiety and stress, I know it can be tough. But, by finding so much more peace and balance in my own life, I know that it is possible to make the shift. Especially by building healthier, more calming habits into your life one by one,
You can do it!
You truly can create a new normal for yourself, without the constant anxiety and stress.
Which of these above 5 strategies are you going to try? Comment below or send me a DM on Instagram, I’d love to hear from you!