Anxiety, sleeping problems, mood swings, stress, the “blues”… do these words sound all too familiar to you? It seems that as the years go by, these stress-related states are becoming more prevalent, with mental health problems fast becoming the number one health issue. If you are currently suffering or would like to prevent these debilitating feelings from consuming your life, there is, in fact, much that you can do to help yourself be the happy and healthy person that you deserve to be.
In my opinion it all starts with the basics: eating healthily, exercising regularly, breathing pure natural scents and setting aside a few moments in the day to nurture yourself.
Make yourself a priority. Set a period of time during which you can not be interrupted. Turn your phone off and spend some time doing what you want. Finish that book, practice meditation, exercise, have a bath, or simply give yourself a massage. However you choose to spend this time for yourself, make it a routine ritual that is sacrosanct for your sanity.
A healthy diet promotes a healthy mind. Even if you don’t suffer from a mental health problem, the following dietary recommendations will do wonders to help improve your mood and concentration, and help sharpen your mind.
• Graze rather than overeat. Large meals are harder to digest, place a strain on your organs and can result in indigestion.
• Eat a balanced, nutritious diet based on organic and biodynamic wholefoods: fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
• Eat both raw and lightly cooked foods.
• Choose a wide variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables that are in season.
• Take either a heaped tablespoon of ground flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds, or a tablespoon of blended seed oil. My favourite is Udo’s Omega 3:6:9 Oil Blend.
• Eat probiotic-rich foods to improve your digestive and immune health.
• Choose natural sea salt.
• Drink clean filtered tap water and herbal teas.
• AVOID alcohol, caffeine, smoking, fried foods, processed foods and take-out food with added chemicals and processed ingredients; AVOID fat free, diet, low or no cholesterol packaged foods ; AVOID cage eggs, dairy and meat that is not pasture fed; AVOID saturated fats from meat and dairy products; AVOID refined table salt, sugar and margarine; AVOID soft drinks, cordial, bottled juices and vitamin waters that are full of sugar and artificial additives.
There is so much research out there stating that regular exercise is one of the best physical stress-reduction techniques, that it relaxes tense muscles, helps you to sleep, improves blood flow to the brain and releases chemicals called endorphins in to your blood stream giving you a feeling of happiness. So, if exercise is not a part of your daily life and you suffer from low energy levels, anxiety, stress, feelings of unhappiness or an inability to fall asleep, for the next month make the effort to move your body for at least 30 – 45 minutes every day and take notice of the change in your overall sense of well-being.
Whether its a brisk walk around the block, a half hour jog in the park, a yoga class, workout at the gym, swim at the beach, laps in the pool, or bicycle ride, do something to get your body moving and sweating.
Every morning my (massive 90 pound Alsatian) dog wakes me by jumping on the bed, licking my face, and giving me nudges to get up and take him to the park for a walk. As soon as I get out of bed his intense and frantic racing round the house permits me all of 5 minutes to throw some clothes on, feed the cats and grab a Yerba Mate tea for the drive. Every morning, without fail, I am brought to laughter at his determination to get me out of bed and his uncontrollable excitement whilst slipping and sliding across the tiles. From my point-of-view it’s the perfect way to start every day – with laughter and exercise.
Aromatherapy is a true holistic approach to healing in that it uses oils extracted from plants and flowers to treat the physical, mental and spiritual body. Essential oils stimulate receptors in the nose which relay messages to the limbic system, the part of the brain that regulates emotions. The use of essential oils is nothing new, dating back thousands of years. The most beneficial part of aromatherapy, in my opinion, is that it can be incorporated into daily life via creams, massage oils, bath oils, compresses and for burning in an oil burner; and that blends can be tailor made to suit your requirements, for example, to calm and relax.
Calming and relaxing essential oils
• bergamot essential oil (botanical name: citrus bergamia) is renowned for its calming effect, whilst also having uplifting qualities that help to build confidence.
• neroli essential oil (botanical name: citrus aurantium) is regarded as one of the most effective sedative and antidepressant remedies; reputed to be wonderful in helping with states of anxiety and depression. It is considered one of the best oils to calm and stabilise the heart and mind.
• palmarosa essential oil (botanical name: cymbopogon martini) has a calming and uplifting effect on emotions, and is renowned for helping to alleviate stress and anxiety.
• rosewood essential oil (botanical name: aniba rosaeodora) is renowned for its uplifting, enlivening and calming properties especially in regards to helping treat stress and depression.
• rose essential oil (botanical name: rosa damascena) is referred to as a gentle but potent antidepressant with soothing and comforting properties.
(These five essential oils are the signature blend for all Be Genki Serenity products.)
Lock in “me time” EACH AND EVERY DAY. Even if I have a million and one things to do, I always take an hour break in the day to go for a swim at the beach, yoga class, daydream in my garden, soak in the bath, massage at a day spa, or some other relaxing ritual. By honoring my self and gifting a relaxing hour to my day not only provides me with the enthusiasm and energy to work productively, but also to help maintain my sanity.
One of my favourite relaxation exercises that I like to do, is to practice mindful breathing for 5 – 10 minutes every day. For me, it’s a lovely way to finish up the working day, making the transition to a relaxing evening at home.
• Find a quiet place at home.
• Sit with legs cross-legged and eyes closed.
• Breathe in through my nose for a count of 5 seconds.
• Pause for 2 seconds and relax any muscles that have tensed up.
• Breathe out with pursed lips for a count of 10 seconds.
• Pause for 2 seconds.
With every inhale I visualise breathing in relaxation and energising oxygen. With every exhale I visualise breathing out any and all stress that I have taken on throughout the day.
Another great stress-relieving ritual for when you get home from work is to add a few drops of calming/relaxing essential oils to your oil burner and brew a pot of herbal tea that contains calming herbs such as chamomile, St Johns Wort, licorice, lavender and lime flowers. Find a cozy spot and relax for 15 minutes, breathing in the scent of essential oils whilst sipping on the calming cup of tea.
Meditation is also widely recognized as being extremely effective in helping to decrease stress and anxiety levels. There are many different techniques of meditating to suit different personality types. Generally speaking, some techniques involve focusing on a particular object that’s outside of yourself, (i.e. a mantra, the sound of an instrument or a candle’s flame), whereas other techniques involve a broader focus, (i.e. the breath and internal body states). It’s really up to you to work out which technique suits you best. Your local health food store will most likely have flyers and business cards of meditation classes available in your local area, or you can purchase a meditation CD that will guide you through a practice.
Alternatively, if you’d like to jump right in and start practicing on your own, here are a few tips that I’ve learned over the years:
• Set aside a time when you will not be disturbed and turn your phone off (or on silent mode).
• Find a comfortable place to sit cross legged or in lotus position.
• Close your eyes.
• Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your nose.
• Avoid the urge to move, itch, scratch or adjust your clothes.
• Simply sit and observe the breath, and the sensations that are showing up throughout your body.
• Don’t fight the painful sensations hoping that they go away, and don’t hang on to the pleasurable sensations hoping that they stay. Accept that any of the sensations (pleasant or unpleasant) you may be feeling will indeed pass. Just as any cravings or aversions you have in life pass also.
The practice of mediation is a mental training. Just as we use physical exercises to improve our bodily health, meditation can be used to develop a healthy mind.
What do you like to do to de-stress?