There is a saying, ‘been there - got the t-shirt’ which could sum up my dealing with extreme stress and how I went about learning techniques to deal with it.
It’s amazing when we reflect and look back on situations and the journey we have been on. Especially as a young person starting out in the work place and trying to prove your worth, without really being taught the life-skills to handle real - heart-felt stress. Thank goodness for my early journey to yoga and especially meditation as I have found it to be life changing.
Finding techniques to deal with stress that make you feel emotionally aware and help to quickly switch your focus can help immensely with everyday stresses and how you handle that intense boss at the same time as your home life falling apart! I feel you. Luckily, the workplace is slowly changing to be more human, more compassionate and more balanced, industry dependent. We are more aware as a society about stress and how damaging it can be, how the communities we create and live in matter the most and to speak out about mental health.
Here are 8 of my top tips to help relieve stress - before you reach for a vice - please, take a moment on your mat! It doesn’t have to be hours of Yin Yoga to relieve stress… There are many techniques for stress that help your over all well-being everyday so try some of the below to ease your chronic stress and see what jells with you and find a practice that sticks!
Following a very highly stressful time in Hong Kong, when my home-life was not supporting the stress of my work-life - I ended up with crippling back pain, signed off from work and told to go to the beach and relax! A week later returning to work, my home was burgled and I thought at that moment it was a sign to switch up my lifestyle, my mindset (and move house!).
Now, I dig deep into that toolbox when dealing with stress and anxiety and these lessons - to never sweep stress under the carpet as it will come out in your life in other ways, we must always be learning and growing and facing life’s challenges with as much patience and grace as possible.
So let’s get started and try these 8 techniques to combat stress, I hope they help!
STRESS RELIEF TIP 1 - MAKE SPACE, WALK IT OUT
The is the most important step you can take to relief stress, especially chronic stress - is to just stop. Stress builds up in the body and can effect so much about our health and in women it can easily affect your hormonal balance - not only changes in mood, but it effects your exercise plan, your balance, your appetite and even your periods. It is very important to learn how to manage stress and if your periods are irregular a first step might be to look at your hormones and the balance you have in your work/life for stress…
Take a step away, when it’s getting to much - go for a mindful walk, preferably in nature - make a cup of herbal tea - a few mint leaves in a pot and switch off from what you were so focussed on. Remember stress effects your whole body, it is not worth battling through as we once did. Your health is far more important… If you feel complete overwhelm at work it might be time to talk to your boss, or write out those thoughts and burn the papers to release those emotions.
The below meditation from my teacher, Dr Itai Ivtzan, is lovely to listen to when out walking in nature or simply stretching you legs as you walk slowing and mindfully around your room, taken from the zen buddhist practice.
STRESS RELIEF TIP 2 - TAKE A ONE-MINUTE BREATH BREAK
BREATHE - This may seem so straight forward, but when we’re busy and stressed it is the hardest thing to do, we tend to breathe really shallow or hardly at all as our bodies tense up and we wind up into panic. Take a one-minute breath break. Take yourself outside even for a moment in the light, especially if you have a desk job - roll up your sleeves and get some vitamin D on your skin!
Short breaks throughout the day are really useful, the one minute breath exercise below can help to switch off in a moment and de-stress, if your super up against it, is just a lovely way to reset your mind without having to take up a lot of time - set a reminder on your phone to step away, move from your desk, move your body, make a herbal tea and sit for a one-minute breath exercise, once an hour and with small breaks throughout the day to walk or move as well. You will feel more energy, more clarity and more focus this way.
It’s amazing how you can feel refreshed so quickly and re-boosted to get back to it. Follow my guided one minute meditation below - you can download to your phone, as soon as that alert goes off - move away from the screen, get comfortable for one minute breath break.
STRESS RELIEF TIP 3 - MOVE!
Stress can produce all sorts of symptoms and energy going through the body - from chest pain to migraines - shakes and eye twitches and physical sickness and heart palpitations. Stop. Breathe. Step away and our stress relief top tip number three is to move your body.
Movement is very effective to ease stress, even more than simply walking - though that is a great place to start. You could simply start to shake out your body - shake out your wrists - jump up and down on the spot - feel the energy move through the body and ask it to leave... Shake out your legs, move your head from side to side, twist your waist - it’s all about releasing that stress from the body. It’s difficult to feel focus and calm in a body full of knots and tight shoulders - so that’s why yoga teachers often have students wake up and shake out the energy from the body at the start of class. A body reset does wonders!
Yoga is of course a wonderful stress relief and we will delve more into particular practices later that can help with mental and body stress, but to start - just move and get the energy moving and flowing with the body - we all have the ability to flow to music - or step away from the desk and shake everything out.
Below is a video of FLOW DANCE MEDITATION - a dance meditation series created by the lovely Lindsay Jay. Take her inspiration and have a go next time you feel the physical clues to stress coming over your body and shift and release that energy… you can then create your own shorter version to your favourite music that makes you smile - a great one for the end of the day as well to really shake out and feel human again!
STRESS RELIEF TIP 4 - CHOOSE MEDITATION
I love coffee, it simply brings me joy. For a while I gave it up and replaced my morning cuppa with natural herbal tisanes and realised that I really missed it, so for me coffee is not especially a bad thing - in moderation... My younger self, working in the highly pressured world of fashion design would fuel the late work nights with coffee and I would experience palpitations from having too much with stress to battle through! That is how negative a vice can be, know your body and timings, I feel the same alertness from breath-work or meditation exercises, than from coffee, especially breathing methods such as Wim-Hof or Belly Breathing.
According to The Institute of Stress, 20 to 30 minutes of belly breathing each day will vastly reduce anxiety and stress and I know this to be true, here’s how to try it... Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. You can try sitting in a chair, with a straight back (so energy can flow freely) - on the floor sitting cross-legged, or lying on your back with a small pillow under your head and under your knees. However you find most comfortable...
Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your belly.
Allow your belly to relax, without forcing it inward by squeezing or clenching your muscles. Let’s make time to relax.
Breathe in slowly through your nose. Move the air into your nose and downward so that you feel your stomach rise with your other hand and fall.
Exhale slowly through slightly pursed lips, you can use the sound of breathing a guide to calm. Take note of the hand on your chest, which should remain relatively still - expand the belly.
You can use this calm breathing technique whenever you need to - you may want to set a gentle timer so you can relax and gently come out of breathing when needed. The Wim Hof breathing method is a much stronger breathing technique that really brings oxygen into the body fast, I practice this with my mum, who has bronchial disorders and she enjoys the fullness of the breathing technique. Below, Vicky Fox Yoga guides us to 10 minutes for breathing - we can all spare ten minutes!
STRESS RELIEF TIP 5 - YOGI TEA
Gosh, we love tea! The whole ritual of making a cup of tea, sharing tea and de-stressing in the process. Also being born in Hong Kong I also have a special love of ceremony of taking tea, the preparation, the ritual and the quality of ingredients, that sometimes I think we are missing in the UK, though I do love an English breakfast tea too! So another top tip for a de-stress moment is the mindful ritual of making tea!
It sounds so simple, but one of my favourite teas to make is yogi tea. I have a big pot that I like to make it in, it’s very easy to prepare and a joy to drink and share. I like to have it gently simmer whilst doing my practice of meditation or yoga. The aromas fill the whole house and they are just lovely.
Taking the time, in silence, to mindfully chop and smell each ingredient (not just chucking into the pan) is a big part of the ritual, and then holding gratitude practice whilst warming my hands on the pot. It is a great practice of just taking your time to switch awareness into the present moment. Even this practice alone can help to calm, you could make this in your break ready for consuming later after the work day.
-Filtered Water (the base starts the tea - 2 quarts or so - it depends on the strength you would like)
-Slices of Fresh Ginger (about 10)
-10 Black Peppercorns
-3 Sticks of cinnamon
-20 Whole cardamon pods
-1 Tea Bag (black or white tea)
-A little Honey
Simmer into the pot and strain into your tea pot to serve - I like to add a splash of Oat Milk, but it is also delicious without - you can add other things you enjoy - some love to add cloves (yuck) :)
STRESS RELIEF TIP 6 - MANTRA & SOUND
Mantras and sound meditations are a really powerful way of affecting the nervous system – different sounds have different effects on the body, energy pathways and the Chakras. We connect with the vibration of sound at such a primordial level. There are many mantras and chants you can use, I often use the mantra ‘Sat Nam’ meaning ‘my true essence’ these meditations are designed to be uplifting - I have written about before about these mantras alongside the Sa Ta Na Ma technique you can read here.
Sit on a cushion on the floor - crossed or folded legs - pelvis slightly raise (I have a cork block underneath my cushion) - with hand mudra – straight spine – chest lifted – chin gently tucked – eyes closed and focused at the brow point, taking in deep belly breaths and using these sounds and pulse point oil - aromatherapy to bring calm. Inhaling deeply before starting - the aromatherapy calms quickly and feels relief. I also have my yoga mat, mala beads and cushion out permanently in my room, inviting me to practice, keeping that space clear and clean.
Sat Nam can also be practiced more with sounds and using longer and shorter holds. This is great way to progress from sitting and using the mantra to switch off your mind and de-stress to a more advanced sound practice. The Sa Ta Na Ma mantra can be practiced in different time lengths and has hand movements (or mudras) to follow - you can read further in the blog here - on this practical mantra meditation.
You may find the use of vibrational sounds better for clearing the mind than the use of words or chanting. Sometimes, we just all need a little quiet! The below singing bowl and purity sound bath is a beautiful way to switch your focus and practice deep belly breathing for calm and stress relief.
You can read more about the use of Singing Bowls here.
STRESS RELIEF TIP 7 - MANTRA WITH MALA BEADS
When I first saw mālā beads I thought they looked just like my prayer beads from Temple and also Rosary Beads used in religious faiths, so what makes them different?
As with many things in yoga, in order to have respect and appreciation it is important to know the origins of certain things, in this case the mālā beads. More than simply worn as jewellery, they are a vehicle to deepen your practice and are deeply connected to the yoga sutras and the practice of mantra meditation. Japa is the repetition of a mantra, often with the use of a mālā, a strand of 108 beads. Some like to wear their beads as a symbol of their intentions and practice, others, like prayer beads prefer to keep them private and only used during practice.
When we practice yoga with mantra, using a mālā bead to help us repeat the mantra, the whole practice becomes greater. A full cycle of 108 repetitions is counted on the mala so the practitioner can focus on the sounds, vibration and meaning of what is being said (and not have to keep count at the same time). A great catalyst for your practice and your spiritual path, to switch off quickly from the stresses of the world around you and delve deeper to connections within.
To start with you could choose any words that resonate with you – it can be a single word or entire sentence – and have them to hand when you’re feeling anxious. Repeat them in your mind or out loud until you feel calmer, for example, ‘I am safe’ or ‘I am full of love’ can be great for feeling that gritted in your heart.
For more reading on this practice you can see our blog here.
STRESS RELIEF TIP 8 - STEP ONTO YOUR MAT - YOGA
A great way to wind down the mind is yoga - we all know the amazing benefits of yoga and the movement of sun salutations. Sun and Moon salutations are a series of gracefully linked asanas that are practiced in flow series. By repeating that sequence for 10 to 20 minutes – you disconnect from the distractions of daily life and enter a meditative state with the breath. A great way to distract the mind from the ‘chatter’ and by focusing on the body and how it feels with the breath.
Firstly, take a moment to ‘tune in’ to the breath at the top off the mat - one of my favourite asanas is mountain pose. Then using movement as the catalyst to flow energy through your body quickly and expel stress along with it, until you feel your body and mind uniting and moving as one, grounding through the mat. Then you can move into other areas of your practice from there if you like, whether thats meditation or deeper asana practice, by the end of your time on the mat... you won't think of the stress you were experiencing! It’s so worth taking that little time out of your day.
Self-Practice is an important part of being a student of yoga – by having in place parts of your practice that you can learn off by heart and work with when with your teacher to develop upon. Salutations are used in Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa as well as other types of yoga and are a key part of practice that helps you switch off. Because Sun Salutations moves the whole body in all directions, it helps to clear the energy pathways and build heat. It is a balancing sequence and each movement touches at least one of the chakras. It helps to invigorate the body while creating space and clearing the mind. You can start off gently and build, as a beginner you can play on the mat and see how each repetition makes you feel - and build to do at least 12 repetitions daily.
There are many variations and your teacher can guide you - especially if you have any pains or wonky bits (as my mum would say about her hips or knees). Moon Salutations are great for calming and a more gentle sequence practice for the evening, a great one to switch from ‘work mode’ to evening ‘human being’ mode and a gentle practice to balance stress in contrast with Sun Salutations which build heat with energy and really wakes up the body - the balance of moon salutations are also great to get into your daily rituals to switch off, perhaps while you simmer some yogi tea.
So these are some key tips I have used to de-stress - to get some rituals in place that help you centre and calm. Breathe through anxiety and focus on the present moment when you are stressed, these will help - even if you try one per week and see what works best for you and let that guide you on a path to further learning.
Would love to know your go-to tips for dealing with stress below, have I missed any ones that others would enjoy? I look forward to learning and growing more together. Sadhguru says it all so well, work with a teacher on your practice and you will get so much calm, peace and joy from your daily rituals.