We both know stress. We get that feeling: having too much to do, not enough hours in the day to do it all, the pressing demands of kids and work, the feeling like you are a spinning top and sometimes it is all going too fast. We’re not alone: According to Statistics Canada, at least 1 in 4 Canadians report suffering high levels stress in their lives, and it is costing our health care system billions each year. Wow. Billions.
So, we are both really excited about this article. We wanted to know a little more about stress and how we can deal with our sometimes-stressful lives. Amanda Beaman is a clinical psychologist based in Toronto, who specializes in anxiety and sees lots of clients who suffer from stress. “You can have a stressful week and have an extra glass of wine to cope. The problem is when there is an accumulation of weeks, that’s when stress can lead to chronic problems, like tension headaches, upper back and shoulder issues, gastrointestinal symptoms, or even substance abuse. Our body goes into a ‘fight or flight’ mode, and we react like we are in danger, releasing stress hormones.” Stress then perpetuates itself, causing cortisol levels to rise, and creating more stress. It becomes a vicious cycle.
The good news is that you can manage, reduce and cope with stress. One strategy is: stay ahead of it: “Procrastination can lead to more stress. People look at their to-do list and sit and worry or analyze, instead of taking steps. If there is a problem, try and solve it immediately.” Also, let go of those things you can’t control: traffic issues, colleagues, other people’s behavior.
Stop trying to be perfect, too, says Beaman. “Perfectionism leads to higher anxiety levels. Sometimes, you have to accept good enough for some things in life.” And though this sounds obvious: don’t overschedule: “How much time do I realistically have each week? Think about all of this before you make your to-do list.”
One of the most important practices you should learn to reduce stress is to be in the present moment. “This is why meditation is so effective,” says Beaman. “It trains your brain to learn to pay attention to the present moment. Believe it or not, we have a choice of where we put our attention. In life, we are on autopilot much of the time, but our thoughts can dwell on old negative patterns of thinking.”
Meditation helps release you from your mind. “Imagine you are driving to work, thinking of what a horrible day it is going to be, how you have so much to do and someone put something on your desk the night before…our brain just goes off the rails, and suddenly your cortisol levels have risen,” says Beaman. If you simply stay present in the drive, listening to music, being in the moment and deal with everything at work, as it comes your way, you can manage your stress.
Developing a mindful practice isn’t always easy for beginners. “Sometimes you need an anchor: doing yoga, journaling, coloring, walking in nature – all these things can help you connect with the present moment,” says Beaman. “This keeps us outside of our negative cycles of thinking, which we often do without our own awareness.”
Well’s Top 6 Research-Backed Ways to Reduce Stress
Breathe in, breathe out. It can be that simple. Researchers from John Hopkins University in Baltimore looked at nearly 19,000 meditation studies, and found that across the board, meditation can help ease anxiety, depression and pain. There are many ways to meditate – you can use a mantra, silently repeating a calming word or phrase (for example, as your breathe in you could silently say “I am” and as you breathe out “Calm”; guided meditations are available as apps and downloads, and you can also get to that meditative state through practices like Tai Chi and Yoga.
This, and cooking, are two of Erin’s main stress reliefs. “I definitely use exercise to de-stress,” says Erin, who loves to strap on her running shoes and hit a trail by her house. Repeated studies have shown that not only does exercise produce endorphins – the chemicals in your brain that act as natural painkillers – exercise can help you sleep, and sleep problems often lead to stress. We have a bunch of ideas for helping you get into an exercise practice, including two great at-home workouts designed for Well.ca (find Erin’s 12-min workout here and Rebecca’s yoga sequence here)!
3. Aromatherapy and Scents
In a 2014 study, a group of elderly people with chronic pain were taken through an aromatherapy trial: their levels of depression, anxiety and stress were measured, and after four weeks they found aromatherapy had a significant impact on stress and depression levels. Both Erin and Rebecca use their Stadler aromatherapy diffusers regularly. Beaman says that a particular scent might help, too. “Scents can also serve as an anchor for you for the present moment,” says Beaman. “If there is an emotional attachment to the smell, it might draw you back to a happy memory, too.” Check out our Essential Oils Shop to get everything you need to bring aromatherapy into your home.
Colouring books were all the rage in 2015 and we don’t see any sign of the trend letting up. The practice of coloring helps you stay in the present moment, and can keep you calm. If you want to take it up a notch, actually creating art has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, too.
5. Green Tea
We’ve all heard the rumour that green tea reduces stress, but is it true? According to a Japanese Study, green tea has power antioxidants that reduce stress in your body, and it can have an overall calming effect on your. L-Theanin is the amino acid found in green tea that gives it the unique taste, and this compound is said to promote relaxation and modify the stimulating effect of the caffeine that is present in green tea (so we had always though green tea perked you up, but it doesn’t!).
Don’t just go for a peck on the cheek, no matter how busy you are: a recent study of 2000 couples found that those who kiss regularly have less stress! Here’s why: kissing creates a feeling of connectedness, and also releases endorphins and oxytocin, which are bonding chemicals and stress-reducing, says Beaman. “You get the same oxytocin ‘hit’ from breastfeeding, too! The only problem is that it doesn’t last.” But, if you are going to kiss why not have fresh breath while you are kissing: an Australian study showed that chewing gum reduced cortisol levels!
Be Well! Remember, we’re in this together! We’re dying to hear how your New Year’s Resolutions are going!
Rebecca is a mom to three young children and a passionate online shopper – and Well.ca’s CEO. She loves shopping for green & natural products at Well.ca to keep her family well.
Erin is a mom to three young kids, and she’s also Well.ca’s superstar CMO! She loves running, travelling, and cooking.