The more I think about 'health' as we know it, the more I realise that managing stress is the BIGGEST thing we can do to improve it.
I don’t care whether you’re eating a 100% organic wildcrafted non GMO gluten free vegan fairtrade diet and drinking pure glacier water from a mineral rich Himalayan spring. If you’re living in a state of chronic stress, you’re never going to be healthy.
Ironically, this is a situation that rings true for far too many people I speak to. They focus so much on perfecting their diet to the decimal point that they forget all of the other aspects that contribute to good health. Most notably, stress.
And then they stress so much about their diet that they pile on more stress to their already stressful lives, making their health worse in the process. Double irony.
If you’re serious about dramatically improving your health, the easiest place to start is by managing your stress.
In fact, I want you to stop messing with your diet, supplement schedule and exercise routine COMPLETELY until you’ve kicked stress in the balls once and for all.
Here are 28 ways to do it, and unlock a healthier, happier, stress free version of you.
Nothing gives a sucker punch to stress quite like exercise. I know personally that when things are getting a little too much, nothing sets my mind back on track like a few hill sprints or some time in the squat rack.
I think the endorphin rush is one part of this process, and is obviously the part that scientists like to focus on. But I think there’s also a lot to be said for exercise being a meditative practice, helping to anchor your mind in the present moment and forget (even just temporarily) about all the worries and problems you’re facing.
For me, this is the biggest power of exercise. Those moments of headspace when you’re under a heavy barbell or going to town on a HIIT session, where it’s impossible to think of anything else besides the present, are extremely powerful.
So exercise is without question a powerful stress buster, but that doesn’t mean you should always exercise when you’re stressed. In fact, you may need to…
2) Take a rest day
Whilst we all love exercise for it’s ability to flood the body with endorphins, too much of it can end up causing more stress. If you train hard and train regularly, sometimes taking a few days rest is exactly what your body needs.
As wonderful it is, exercise is still a physical stressor on the body. And all forms of stress (including exercise) deplete your adrenal glands, which is what causes us to feel fatigued and run down in times of stress.
So how do you know whether to work out or hold back? The easy rule of thumb is this:
Do you feel refreshed and energised after exercise? Awesome. Go work out.
Do you feel tired, drained and fatigued after exercise? Not good. Take a few days rest.
In moments of fleeting stress, exercise can be one of the best stress relievers on the planet. But in times of chronic stress where our adrenals are taking a beating anyway, the additional physical stress from exercise is not what you need. It’s at these times that I actually recommend backing away from the squat rack for a little while.
3) Listen to music
Wellness warriors will tell you it has to be played on the didgeridoo by a Balinese monk sitting at the summit of Mount Batur. It doesn’t. Whatever kind of music that makes your soul feel good is the best option for kicking stress in the balls.
4) Drink a cup of herbal tea
Slowly. Let it envelop your senses and flood your body with warmth. Taking time for a herbal tea first thing in the morning is one of the easiest ways to show the rest of the day that YOU are in control.
5) Show gratitude
Even when you feel the world is against you, take a moment to acknowledge something or someone that you are thankful for. Stopping to appreciate all the great things in your life is the easiest way to stop focusing on the bad ones.
6) Get outside
I’m still yet to meet someone that doesn’t feel recharged after time spent in nature. Break away from your screen for 20 minutes each day and soak up that precious oxygen and vitamin D.
7) Play a sport
The combination of fresh air, exercise and companionship make sports the perfect stress reliever. But the key is not to take yourself too seriously. There will be times when you miss a shot, drop the ball, score an own goal or even just fall flat on your face. It’s all part of the fun. Get up, dust yourself down, laugh and carry on.
Who cares whether you’re ‘artistic’ or not? Grab a palate of colour, put brush to canvas and create. Lose yourself in the process, release any expectations for how it ‘should’ look and have fun.
If you can’t paint, I recommend a mindfulness colouring book or even just the simple act of drawing a picture.
9) Light a candle
More specifically, a lavender one. Research by the Medical Association of Thailand found that the fragrance of lavender caused subjects to experience a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, along with an increase in theta (self-belief) and alpha (mindfulness) brain waves.
10) Take an Epsom salt bath
Epsom salt baths are one of the best ways to flood your body with magnesium, a vital stress busting mineral that most of us don’t get enough of. What’s more, stress actually depletes the body of magnesium, meaning you need even more during testing times.
Epsom salts also relax your muscles and ease tension, so light a candle and slip into your tub in an evening to kung fu kick stress right in the balls.
11) And eat your magnesium, too.
Magnesium rich foods include most nuts and seeds, leafy greens, and dark chocolate.
12) Take care of your gut
A disrupted gut microbiome wreaks havoc with our mental state, and has been strongly linked to high stress levels and even depression. This is because the gut and brain are closely connected by a pathway called the vagus nerve, along which messages are exchanged backwards and forwards.
Poor gut health sends negative messages to the brain, causing us to feel unnatural levels of stress and anxiety. This is the reason that many cases of depression, and even mental disorders such as autism and ADHD, can be improved or even reversed by taking care of our gut health.
Eating a diet high in fermentable fibres, low in sugar and processed foods, and taking a regular probiotic supplement will create a less stressful environment in your gut, and in turn, a less stressful environment for you.
13) Get a dog
Research has shown that people with dogs are less stressed out than their pooch-less counterparts, along with having higher levels of self-esteem and self-confidence. I agree with this wholeheartedly, except for those times when my dog is chewing up the cushions or leaving muddy footprints on the carpet.
14) Say no more
Stop saying yes to everything and ticking off pointless tasks on a to do list. Focus on the stuff that really matters and have more respect for your time.
15) Turn off your notifications
Whatsapp, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat… turn them all off, now. Reacting to notifications all day is the biggest time suck on the planet, and one of the main reasons so many of us spend our lives in a state of chronic stress.
If it’s THAT important, they’ll call. Otherwise, deal with your messages and social media at a time that suits you.
16) Use Himalayan salt
In times of stress, our adrenal glands take a real beating, but using Himalayan salt is a great way to give them a little TLC. Take a ¼ tsp in a glass of lemon water first thing in the morning for some natural adrenal support.
17) Belly laugh
Every damn day.
Don’t overthink it. Don’t get frustrated when your mind is going ten to the dozen. Just take a few minutes each day to sit, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Acknowledge your thoughts as they drift into your mind and slowly dissolve. Anchor yourself in the moment and just be.
19) Lower the lighting
Excessive light (especially blue light from computer and phone screens) in the evening overstimulates our brain and is the reason many people struggle to ‘switch off’ at night. Dim the lights (or light candles) in the 1 – 2 hours before bedtime, and try to distance yourself from technology. This makes the evening the perfect time to…
Losing yourself in fiction is a great stress reliever, and also an excellent way to broaden your imagination and boost creativity. I love to read before bed as a great way to switch off.
21) Hug it out
Squeeze someone hard and tell them you love them. There’s nothing more important on the planet.
What are your favourite ways to kick stress in the balls?