Most of us struggle with life’s challenges from time to time. Finding techniques to help us navigate these stressful periods will be hugely beneficial for your general health. I’ve put together 12 natural strategies for mental health that I have found to be the most useful.
STRATEGY ONE: Take a deep dive & examine your stress. Question your troubling thought / belief:
This is an amazing & simple method that anyone can use. Credit to Byron Katie I highly recommend her youtube videos, books & her app ‘The Work’ (app store). This technique can be life-changing, & once practiced a bit, can be done in seconds, on ANY thought that is stressing you out, therefore eliminating it – sometimes eliminating a whole pile of stress in one session! (Tip – watch a few Byron Katie You Tube clips first so you ‘get the hang of it’ before trying the process below). Here’s a starter: ‘The Work’ On Resentment & Self Hate Masked As Concern For Others’.
So once you’ve seen it in action, here’s the process to try on yourself. Take 15 mins & try it on what’s bothering you.
Step 1. Think of a concerning / troubling thought – what’s stressing you out? ie ‘I’m going to lose my job & struggle financially’. or ‘My husband will leave me’ ‘My mother hates me’ ‘My house is terrible’ ‘my child is throwing their life away’ ‘this planet is ruined’ etc etc etc. Just work with one thought at a time (you may want to keep a list of troubling thoughts to work on, just note them down as they pop up, & then when you get a quiet moment, work through them on the app).
Ok – so think of your troubling thought, then ask yourself the following questions:
1 – Do you know that’s true? Y/N (if yes, go to Q2, if no move to Q3).
2 – Do you ABSOLUTELY, 100% know that it’s true? Y/N
3 – How do you react / what happens, when you believe that thought?
4 – Does that thought bring peace or stress into your life?
5 – What physical sensations come up when you see that thought, the images created by it?
6 – What emotions come up when you believe that thought?
7 – Do any obsessions or addictions come up when you believe that thought?
8 – How do you treat the person in this situation when you believe that thought? How do you treat others & yourself?
9 – Who would you be without the thought?
10 – OK, now turn the belief / thought around: – ie to the self, to the other, to the opposite…ie: I’m gonna lose my job & be great financially / My job will lose me & struggle, I’ll keep my job & prosper, I’ll find a new job & prosper, etc etc etc – all the different variations, any way you can think to turn the thought around & see how they feel. Now find at least 3 specific & genuine examples of how (each) turnaround statement is true for you in this situation. ie I’m still working now, there are plenty of jobs advertised that I can do, what I do is valued etc etc
Also – consider the following: Most things that stress us / cause us ‘dis-ease’ stem from one (or more) of the following:
- Limiting beliefs
- Blocked emotions
- Conflicted values
So, use these to try & figure out what exactly you are stressed about – that will make your next steps easier to figure out. Also remember’ this too, shall pass’. Everything eventually does.
And how many times in your life have you thought ‘oh no, this is a terrible thing happening’ – only to later discover that it was highly beneficial for you (our greatest challenges are usually later found to be our greatest gifts!) You just see it afterwards, not so much while you’re ‘in it’!
Use breathing to quickly change your physiology: You can do this driving, sitting on a train, in a bathroom, in bed before sleep, on your lunchbreak, in front of your computer – wherever. Your breath has a huge influence on your stress response – you can bring down stress messenger chemicals in your brain & blood stream JUST by altering your breathing. Here are a few methods to check out: 17 Easy-to-Follow Guided Breathing Videos for When You Need a Minute
One great thing about all the recent lockdowns & uncertainty has been the increase in regular meditators! Scientifically proven to alleviate stress (as well as all the health issues that go along with chronic stress), it’s a must. If you are the type who says ‘I can’t sit still’ or ‘I have no time for meditation’, then you are the type who could benefit most! Easy starter video here: Release Anxiety Stress & Overthinking Guided Meditation 10 Minutes
If you really can’t bring yourself to meditate / ‘sit & do nothing’ lol, then yoga might be a great step. You can still be physical, moving ‘doing something’ but it’s like a ‘moving meditation’ & has similar benefits for stress relief, PLUS you’ll tone your muscles, become more flexible, less injury-prone & a giant list of other physical & mental benefits. Do it. Here’s a great ‘You Tube Yoga’ teacher, just press play on your phone or iPad & follow along – all you need is a mat & some floor space: Yoga With Adriene
Regular bodywork / massage:
Such great preventative medicine on a physical level, but also AMAZING for helping us drop into the ‘rest & digest’ mode of our nervous system more often (we spend so much of our crazy modern lives in the stressy ‘fight or flight’ mode). Book a treatment with someone local.
Wim Hoff has popularised this ancient therapy in recent years, if you’ve never given it a try for your mental health I would HIGHLY recommend. I’ve spoken to a few people now at markets who’ve ‘tried everything’ for their mental health, & said that daily cold showers have made a huge positive impact. Cold exposure causes a type of stress ‘eustress’ that makes other stress easier to deal with, with repeated sessions. Here’s some more detailed info to read: The Benefits Of Cold Exposure
(& this video is hilarious if you’re already into ice bathing & you keep telling everyone how great it is…like me…Cold Plunging – The Hottest Biohacking Trend Right Now
Just lying in the sun is amazing – you’ll raise your serotonin & vit D levels (plus a heap of other beneficial substances we’re only just starting to learn about), decrease your cortisol & get your body to produce loads of melatonin as an anti-inflammatory & sleep helper. Sun = medicine. Obviously, use caution – the only difference between a medicine & a poison is the dose!
When we are highly stressed, our body is producing all the ‘fight or flight’ chemicals that are super useful when a tiger is chasing us, but chronically damaging when it’s just our Mother In Law or boss or ratty teenager causing us daily stress! You can utilise these chemicals & help clear them from your system (thus calming yourself) by doing something vigorous (ie a run / swim / weight session etc). If you are not a regular exerciser – become one. If you are a regular exerciser, you already know how it helps keep you sane – this is one of the reasons it’s addictive.
Positive feel good books, movies, podcasts, etc:
Sometimes it helps when life is getting a bit full on, to just take some ‘time out’ & escape into another world & stop thinking for a bit / interrupt your repetitive thoughts. Make sure the mental input is positive, ie scary movies may not be the best option when you’re already feeling highly strung – go for a love story or a comedy (you’ll benefit not only from the escapism but also decease your cortisol & stimulate the release of some feel good chemicals – oxytocin, dopamine & endorphins)!
Time With Friends, Lovers, Pets – share some love!:
Once again – swap that cortisol for some oxytocin, the release of which happens when we do lots of cuddling of pets, babies, friends, family & lovers (the biggest / most powerful oxytocin dump is the one triggered with orgasm, but cuddles & pats are also good!)
Support yourself with stress-reducing dietary choices!
-avoid / minimise caffeine (caffeine is metabolised differently by different people, some cannot tolerate any & some seem completely fine with it. For most it will create highs & lows / has a destabilising effect on our nervous system – not helpful if you’re aiming for a more chilled out life! Keep if for when you absolutely need it, or for special occaisions.
-avoid / minimise alcohol (tempting to escape / take the edge off, a great short term stress relief strategy perhaps…but alcohol just leads to poor sleep, feeling crappier long term, making poor choices, decisions & mistakes – all of which will just lead to more stress!)
-avoid / minimise unnatural foods & environmental toxins (these just add to your stress ‘load’ as more things the body has to deal with).
-avoid / minimise excessive blood sugar fluctuations (if you’ve ever observed the mood fluctuations in kids during / after a birthday party with loads of sugary junk food, remember – similar things happen in adults too – we get a sugar high, then we get ‘dumped’). Stick to natural, nutrient dense whole foods, plenty of good fats, protein & fibre. Especially important to get breakfast right – cereal just doesn’t cut it. Blend 11 ticks all of the boxes when it comes to a healthy breakfast.
Supplement where useful.
If you know your diet is lacking / has been for years, or your stress ‘load’ has been higher than normal, supplements can help immensely to quickly bring nutrient levels up & help calm you. Some great ‘stress-less’ nutrients are: Magnesium, omega 3, protein powder, activated B vitamins & herbs specific to nervous system & adrenal support. See your local naturopath or health store for specific advice here.
Get out into nature, esp the sunshine.
Sun exposure boosts serotonin, which helps us feel happy, calm & focused. Being out in green spaces / forests / nature is highly therapeutic – especially if you can incorporate it into your daily rhythm. Some things that are particularly awesome are – getting out into the early morning sunshine, seeing the sun go down, hiking in the mountains, walking on the beach & even just walking in green spaces like gardens & parks. Consider adopting a dog if you have room in your life & can’t quite get yourself to do the ‘daily nature walk’. (But also consider that pets can add to your stress load too – not a decision to make lightly)!
Nourish your gut microbiome:
An unhealthy gut microbiome & gut lining can drive inflammation in our body, which is linked to many health issues, including stress, anxiety, hormonal disturbances & depression. Get plenty of diverse, fermentable fibre & stay away from your known gut aggravators (commonly gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol – but can be many others, depending on how your system digests & reacts to things).
So many people are feeling extra stress at the moment – I hope you found some of this useful, & please feel free to share! Lots of ways we can help ourselves through the rough patches!