As I write this, I have no idea if I’ll get to see much-loved sisters and cousins at Christmas (those three-household negotiations are going to be tricky, aren’t they?). I’ve just learned about the Tier restrictions heading our way and I can already hear the furious despair of my 15 and 17-year-old daughters telling me for the millionth time that the best years of their lives have been stolen. It’s stressful. And I know I need a clear head to cope with what’s coming next, whatever it is.
This is the first of two blogs about how I’ll be encouraging myself, my teenagers and my coaching clients to avoid peak freak-out in the coming months.
1. Get outside
Yes, yes, we totally know this, don’t we? One of the very best ways to help yourself climb down from stress is to get into nature. The research is clear – your brain quietens right down when you connect with the wild, even for a short while. And even better if you can get into the sun too. Sunshine increases the happy chemical Serotonin so you’ll immediately feel a mood lift.
The thing is, it’s so hard in the winter, isn’t it? But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s true. I encourage you to grab your opportunities while you can. As I sit here writing today the sun is most definitely shining outside, and I’ll be heading into it when I’m done. I’m in London. It’s not the wilderness, it’s true, but there are trees and grassy spaces and the odd bird flitting about and that’s enough.
2. Watch your social media
I’ve been having to manage my stress and anxiety levels very, very carefully in the past few months. I know many of my coaching clients have been the same. FOMO, ‘Compare and Despair’, addictive dopamine kicks from ‘likes’, heading down the rabbit hole to emerge half an hour later – I could write a whole post (or five) about the negative affect of social media on my mental health and on others.
So, I’m making a massively conscious effort to limit the time I’m on social media at the moment – and it’s working. I’m keeping social media to short check ins a couple of times a day and avoiding scrolling like the plague. It’s ridiculously hard – I guess I’m as addicted to it as anyone – and I am more present and noticeably calmer. I consider that quite a result.
This is easy to say as well, isn’t it? And tough to do when your mind is whirring and there’s a million things to do. But slow, conscious, breathing really will have a hugely positive effect on your stress levels. The secret it to breathe from your belly. When it’s all shoulders you’re actually causing the muscles around your chest to tighten and you’ll end up with rapid, shallow breaths which won’t help you to de-stress. Stand up, breathe deeply through the belly and you’ll notice the difference even after just a minute or two.
4. Have a project
This is a stress fixer in so many ways. Small projects you enjoy such as decluttering a messy cupboard, planting bulbs or upcycling a chair honour your future self, someone who will enjoy colourful tulips popping out in a window box and a tidy kitchen when times are not so difficult. As an added bonus, often these are ‘flow activities’ which means you experience complete immersion and involvement in what you’re doing. Time seems to disappear and stressful thoughts get interrupted. It can be hard to motivate yourself to do things like this if you don’t feel great but you can start small. We all know the joy of a reorganised book shelf, after all.
My youngest daughter surprised me recently, by leaping down the stairs full of energy having danced about in her bedroom for just a few minutes. Ten minutes earlier she’d slunk off to her room, low and fed up. What a transformation! Apparently, research shows that it only takes three minutes to improve your mood by moving differently. Three minutes to save yourself from peak freak out!! Jump, dance, shake, maybe throw in an uplifting song and you will boost everyone’s best friend, the happy hormone dopamine.
This is my go-to activity when I’m stressed. I put on one of my absolute favourite songs, Saturday Night Fever, and groove about like it’s 1978. (Sometimes I even get the girls dancing too – one of my greatest parenting successes is that they love a bit of Bee Gees). Those swinging violins at the beginning take me back to the school playing field many years ago and all is good with the world.
Do you know what calms you down when you’re feeling up against it? What lifts you up when things feel too much? Whether you use my ideas or come up with your own, consider this an invitation to create your very own menu of feel-good fixes. It can be hard to know what you need when you’re stressed and overwhelmed, so it’s worth taking a moment now to give this some thought.
(Remember too that you don’t need to navigate difficult times on your own. If you need support, please do ask for it. If you feel I might be able to help, I’d love to hear from you. Just fill in the form below and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.)