Tuesday, 15 September 2015


I am not sure about you, but from where I sit (when I get a chance) - life looks mighty busy. I often work long hours on multiple things (clearly not this blog though, ahem) and have a full life with kid things and work things and adventure things and just lots of things. My default answer when anyone asks how I am is - 'busy'. Generally they are all good things - fantastic things - and I am extremely grateful for the life I have created, but when you throw a few extra things in the mix, like a physical injury (tick) and an intensely difficult divorce settlement (tick) suddenly you have a big pile 'o stress on your hands. And so having just been through a very stressful period of my life, I am here to tell you - stress is not your friend, sister.

I've spent the last 12 months or so devouring any information I could on the subject, as my health took a giant left hook. This was particularly frustrating because I had just come from feeling the best I had ever felt in my life after changing my diet (and my life) completely. I was eating really well, and so why was my body heading for the hills? However as I learned, while a lot of health problems are related to food and unhealthy diets, you can't out-eat stress.

While stress is fantastic for what it was designed for - running from a sabre-toothed tiger - in this day and age we perceive all our stressors to be actual threats to our livelihoods. Your body doesn't know any different if it's a real or perceived threat - it's busy pumping out the adrenaline and raising cortisol readying you to fight or flee. Working long hours? That tiger is ready to pounce. Raising children? Run faster. Divorce? Those teeth are mighty sharp. Public speaking? Kill me now. Once you're dealing with on-going, long-term stress then you can likely say hello to weight gain, hormonal imbalance, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, muscular and back pain and pretty much all other health problems known to man. Exaggeration you say? Science suggests not. Nutritional biochemist and author Dr Libby coined the term 'Rushing Women's Syndrome' - she explains it very succinctly in her Tedx talk that I think all women should watch. So just get rid of the stress right? Not always so easy.

There are lots of things you can do to help reduce and alleviate stress, but according to the emerging science one of the best things you can do to turn it around - or even better, prevent any issues happening in the first place - is simply mindfulness meditation and deep breathing. Sounds pretty woo-woo hey? Stick with me here: woo-woo is where it's at. Calming the chaos in your mind not only has the potential to reduce negative health problems, it has multiple positive benefits too - it increases creativity, productivity, resilience, emotional intelligence, wellbeing, connection, kindness, and most importantly, happiness. Who doesn't want all of that?! It's been a revelation to me, so much so I even started a Facebook community called Calmer Chameleon to share some of this life-changing information (because hey, I have lots of spare time right?).

So how do you actually do this, and how on earth do you fit this into your already busy life, I hear you ask? Ok maybe that's what I asked. Slowing down isn't always easy, but it's so important - if you're busy focusing on the past and the future and the what ifs and imaginary tigers, then the now gets missed. And really, there is no other time but now. And so here are a few ideas to help bring some peace and calm into your life, some of which I do, some of which I aspire to. You don't need to run off and join an ashram, and there's no tie-dyed lycra required. I am by no means an expert, and I am still on my journey to healing my health, but these tips are little things that have made a big difference for me and so if I can fit them in, I am pretty sure you can too. It's all about learning to be quick, without hurrying. My life is likely to always be busy (and right now I wouldn't have it any other way), but I've found that by simply bringing a touch of mindfulness to my day it means I am better able to take on the world and its busyness, without losing my mind, health or sanity. Most of the time.


Three deep breaths
This is the simplest one, but possibly the most effective. If you can't manage to squeeze in some time out for meditation in the morning or evening, then just do three really deep breaths (filling your belly, not your chest) throughout the day when you remember - making breakfast, driving to work, opening emails, pulling siblings apart, before answering the phone, when you go to the bathroom, even during conversations. Deep breathing calms your brain so that you are better able to respond to the situation at hand with clarity and insight (and will make you less likely to hit send on that highly-charged email response).

Yoga Studio App
I usually can't find the time to get out to a yoga class, and with many great apps now available, there's really no excuse. This is something I try to do every morning no matter what, and I LOVE it. We all do - my man and I do a short relaxing or stretching session at night before bed and even the kids often ask to join in on weekends. Yoga Studio is what we use - it's an iPhone app with video classes ranging from beginner to experienced. And there are even 15-minute classes, so don't let me catch you saying you don't have time. Set your alarm a few minutes earlier in the morning if need be. Yoga combines breathing, mindfulness and movement - a powerful punch of peace and calm. Other apps available for iOS and Android (that I haven't used) are YogaGlo, FitStar, Salute The Desk (for work), Kids Yogaverse (for kids) and the new Yoogaia website with online, live classes.

One mindful moment
Find just one thing in your day that you can use as a trigger to remind you to pause and take stock - washing your hands in the bathroom is a simple and effective one that everyone (hopefully) does daily. Wash your hands slowly and intentionally: feel the temperature of the water, focus fully on how the soap feels and smells, the sound of the water running and how the touch of your hands feel against each other. Breathe deeply. Direct attention exercises like this help to quieten the noise in your head, reduce mental fatigue, stabilise the mind and reset attention. You'll then be ready to take on the world (with really clean hands).

Smiling Mind
If you have no clue where to start with meditation or have trouble self-directing your own mind (yes and yes) then I highly recommend using an app or guided meditation program. Smiling Mind is the one we use - it's Australian, non-profit and free. Created originally for kids, it has been expanded to include adults and even corporate programs for workplaces. We do this with my son; he asks for it every day and it's been fabulous to help manage his anxiety (and mine) and to help him go to sleep. Teaching important, lifelong skills to children is oh so much better than fixing broken adults. A few other good meditation apps/websites are Headspace, Calm and Buddify.

So important. Many of us tend to wear the lack of it like a badge of honour, staying up late to squeeze every last second out of the day. But here's the irony: if you get a decent amount of slumber, you'll be more productive during the waking hours you do have. Sleep deprivation is a mighty serious thing, and has been linked to a host of health problems; obesity, heart disease, lowered immune system, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety and even cancer. Not getting enough sleep can turn your hormones topsy turvy (yes, I'm sure that's a proper description) and make you less able to cope with stress; reducing your mental functioning, resilience and emotional wellbeing. Sleep. Get some. Lots of it.

F.lux App
Melatonin (known as the darkness hormone) helps with sleep quality - it starts to increase once the day begins to fade, which is your body's way of saying it's time to hit the hay. If you happen to not live in a cave and have lights on in your house at night, and watch devices that emit blue light in the evening like iPhones, computers and tvs - melatonin production is suppressed and suddenly your brain's got a blue light disco going on, which might have you waking up before it's time to go-go. Ideally you should try to turn off devices at least two hours before bedtime. However occasionally there are far too many Important Things happening late at night on Facebook, and so I use an app called F.lux on my laptop - it automatically changes the colour of the screen when the sun goes down and is said to remove blue light emissions to help with restorative sleep.

Perception (change your mindset)
Admittedly not an easy one. And it's not as simplistic as saying 'be happy' or 'think positive thoughts' - it takes practise. However science has found that negative thoughts actually reduce your brain functioning and render you unable to see as many options available to you. And studies also show that if you can reframe how you look at things, seeing obstacles as opportunities to learn, it actually changes how your body physically responds also - lowering stress hormones, rewiring your brain and helping you literally open your mind to more possibilities. It's not always realistic (and certainly there are situations where it may not be possible at all) but trying to have gratitude and see that you are lucky to have a job at all, to have kids to run around after, or to even have a house that has to be cleaned (yes, really) can make a big difference to your state of mind and your happiness levels. Be glad for what you do have - many others have much, much less.

Get out in nature
The intuitive sea has many things to teach us - it breathes deeply in and out, and while waves are crashing on the surface, below is a quiet depth that seems to know all. The ocean is my medicine, my mentor and my muse - it's my first port of call when I'm stressed or needing insight. It seems there's good reason for this: studies show that being close to nature has been shown to reduce cortisol, lower blood pressure and restore feelings of wellbeing and hope. Make a date with nature whenever possible - learn from the sea, find yourself amongst a forest, play at a park or even just sit in your own backyard.

Face mask
This one may seem a little frivolous but as a busy, working mum time for self-care is often sacrificed on the altar of Too Much To Do, so I've found a way to fit it in even on the busiest of mornings. Now I'm not saying that having silky skin is going to bring inner peace, but I find that the addition of a little attention to yourself is a nice way to have a mindful moment, and can leave you feeling a teeny bit better about yourself. Double win. I have a few current faves - like these from OmvedaAntipodes and Lush - but you could just as easily use coconut oil. I recommend having ready-to-go products for this purpose, instead of the clay types you have to mix together. Once weekly after jumping out of bed, give your face a quick wipe with a warm, wet face cloth and then take a minute to apply gently and intentionally - breathing deeply and focusing on your face and the sensations of the mini massage. Then carry on with your morning; make breakfast, pack lunches or whatever your routine may be, and then wash off in the shower. Voila! Both skin and mind soothed and sparkly.

Apart from it helping you get the bikini body of your Instagram dreams, exercise is well known to boost mood and resilience, increase feelings of happiness, improve sleep quality, reduce anxiety and strengthen your ability to cope with stress. So why aren't you doing any?! We often see exercise as an added degree of difficulty in our lives and so it's easier to focus on plumping your pillow than pumping iron. Too much high intensity exercise can occasionally be detrimental, depending on your health and hormonal situation, but some little bursts of movement woven into your day can help work out those mind muscles and break a mental slump. Blast a favourite song and dance your ass off before breakfast, take the stairs at work, go for a walk at lunchtime, or even just walk really quickly up and down the length of your house for 5 minutes when you need to reset unhelpful thought patterns or burn off adrenaline from a fight or flight response.

Out with the old
There's a Feng Shui saying - 'messy room, messy mind'. According to the Chinese philosophy, clutter and certain objects hold negative energy that can effect your physical, mental and emotional health, with 'stagnant' items draining your life force and jumbling your thoughts. Feng Shui or not, too much stuff is not a good match for the art of living simply. Dreams are lost in dust: shake things up and let go. Clearing out unwanted, excess things always feels rejuvenating and calming, and makes room in your life for positive energy and new opportunities (no, NOT more stuff).

Three good things
A great one for kids to help instil gratitude and to focus on the good things in life. We do this most nights at dinner - everyone says three good things about their day. A simple exercise that has been shown scientifically to help change and redirect your mindset, boost happiness hormones and calm your body and mind.

Social media and being online can be a double-edged sword. It's fabulous for finding like-minded friends and connecting with your tribe, but too much scrolling can lead to too many tabs open in your brain. Switch off. Unplug. Slow down. 'Like' your real life feed; it truly has #nofilter. Make time to connect with the people in front of you, and practise mindful listening - really hearing what your loved ones are saying without swiping left or right or up or down in the background. Try having a digital detox and leave your phone at home for the weekend - or just give yourself set times during the day you are allowed to go online. I have a friend that deletes her social media apps every few weeks to have a break from them, which eliminates being able to constantly check which acai bowl others had for lunch, if you're struggling to self-regulate.

Walk a mile in their shoes
Similar to the perception idea, this is essentially about trying to see things from another perspective. When another person is making you angry/upset/sad/frustrated/all of the above - remember this saying: hurt people, hurt people. Not always easy when the tiger is at the front door (and you'd prefer to slam the door in said tiger's face) but it helps to alleviate stress when you practise empathy, and realise that everyone has a story.

Be kind
Giving to others has been shown scientifically to be the biggest instigator of happiness; if you want to find the meaning of life, you'll find it in the act of kindness. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that compassion and 'pro-social' behaviour is an evolutionary instinct that boosts your immune system, promotes health and contentment and increases life expectancy. Giving to others has also been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Science aside, I'm sure any mum worth her weight in salt will tell you the golden rule: be good to one another. Try incorporating little acts into your week - buy a stranger a coffee, make lunch for a co-worker, say thank you to some who deserves it. It's cool to be kind.

Put yourself in someone else's hands
Sometimes you just need a helping hand to get back on track. Remedial massage, kinesiology, chiropractic and acupuncture are a few therapies that are great at helping to relieve stress and anxiety, rebalance hormones, reduce aches and pains, and help you let go of physical and mental roadblocks. And besides the many obvious benefits (including the calming effect of touch), getting a massage or treatment is like having an enforced meditation session (as long as you aren't spending the time worrying about the pile of laundry waiting for you at home). If you are in Brisbane, I recommend getting your stressed self to West End ChiropracticHawthorne ChiropracticGay Landeta (Kinesiologist and Life Coach) and Nathan Mlady at Ambience Body Therapies.

Eat real food
A bigger conversation best left for another time. But just know that what you eat affects not just your body, but your mind also. Certain foods (like sugar and vegetable oils) are being increasingly linked to inflammation, disease and emotional disorders, while gut health - and the integral part your microbiome plays not only in your physical health but in your mood and mental health - is currently an exploding area of research. Good fats, quality proteins and decent carbs (especially for women) are all essential to regulate hormones, keep cortisol in check, manage stress and yes, lose weight. Drink lots of water. And just eat real food.

Quiet time
Find a little space in your life for some quality quiet time doing something you love that calms your mind and soothes your soul - knit, craft, swim, paint, play a musical instrument, bake, write a journal, sew, create origami, read, drink tea, walk or even colour in (all the hipsters are doing it). Whatever floats your boat (in a calm sea - the aim is to sheer the ship towards slower brain waves here). There are lots of simple daily activities that can actually put you into a mild meditative state where the world melts away and stillness enters, bringing regeneration, healing, insight and wellbeing. Who knew that knitting could help you from unravelling?


{A little note} If chronic stress, anxiety or depression is getting the better of you, it's ok to put your hand up and ask for professional help - you are not alone. Or if you think someone you know is struggling, reach your own hand out. Help is available at Beyond Blue and Black Dog Institute.

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