In an article I read recently they were citing a study in which they asked kids what they wanted most from their parents. The parents all thought the kids would say they wanted more time together, but what actually came out of the research was that the number one thing that children wanted was for their parents to be less tired and stressed.
Now most parents would agree that this is a pretty tall order. Children almost spell stress and exhaustion. The minute they come along your expenses double, your time and sleep halves, you have more to think about, plan, figure out and far more problems to solve. This is not a recipe for peace, calm and abounding energy levels.
So what can we do?
Well, there are a few ways that you can reduce stress and even a few tips for gaining more time and energy. Here are some of my favourites:
The Victory Position: Put your arms up in a V, lift your head and eyes up as if you’ve just won the 100m sprint. Studies have shown that holding this position for just 2 minutes can drop your cortisol levels by 25% (see Amy Cuddy’s talk on how your body language shapes who you are: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWZluriQUzE ). Cortisol is a stress hormone that affects both how you see yourself and how others see you. Do this daily or find a quiet spot (bathrooms work well) when you are feeling highly pressurized.
Look up: Your eyes are connected to your brain and different eye positions are linked to different areas in your brain. Looking down is associated with the emotional centres of the brain and can make you feel worse. Looking up stops the brain connecting with its emotional centres and prevents you from descending into an emotional spiral. This is such a simple tool that can be used anywhere at any time.
Use Parasympathetic Breathing: The way that you breathe will activate either the Sympathetic (Fight or Flight) or the Parasympathetic (Rest and Digest) nervous system. Shallow breathing in the upper chest is associated with stress. When you feel yourself getting stressed or overwhelmed and on the brink of losing it you need to double the length of your outbreath. An out breath that is double the length of an in breath forces you to take a very short deep inbreath and then have a slow release. This will kick in the parasympathetic nervous system (acetylcholine) and will calm the sympathetic (adrenaline) and help you to feel calm.
Go into the Learning State: This is a mild form of hypnosis (no, you cannot be controlled by anyone else in this state – hypnosis is really a deep form of relaxation) and like the parasympathetic breathing, it tricks the body into believing that you are really relaxed and everything is ok. To do it, raise your eyes up and focus on a spot on the wall above eye level. Once the eyes get tired, expand your vision to the periphery (everything you can see to the left and right while still looking at your spot). Then bring the eyes back down to level, but keep awareness of the periphery. When we are very stressed (being chased by a lion) we have foveal vision – focusing intently on one spot (the lion). But when we are on the patio of our beach house, we expand our vision to take in the entire scenery. So when we activate our peripheral vision it tells our minds that we are on the beach not being chased by a lion and our physiology responds accordingly! This is particularly powerful when used in conjunction with the parasympathetic breathing.
Cutting off the sensory overload: Sometimes we really do need time out; to be removed from the excessive stimulus of daily living. Retreat to into a darkened room, go outside for a few minutes, use earplugs / headphones with relaxing music. There are some amazing musical tracks that are specifically designed to relax the brain and it may be worth investing in these if they appeal to you. If you know you are going to have a stressful day, make sure that you have quiet time beforehand, quiet time afterwards, and some tools to use during the day to keep you sane (see above!)
Get on top of your finances: There is nothing quite like financial issues to stress you out and affect your sleep. Know where you’re at. Look through all your bank statements and find out where your money is going. Know what debt you have. Then make a plan to pay it off. Cut back on non-essentials, stick to a budget, live below your means. Get the whole family on board.
Get more sleep: We need an average of 6-9 hours sleep per night. Make this a priority. If you’re struggling with insomnia, try some or all of the following… Stick to a routine – go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time. Even on weekends. Cut back on alcohol and coffee. Stop watching TV or working on your computer at least 1-2 hours before bed. Drink chamomile tea. Consider taking a melatonin and/or magnesium supplement at bedtime. Use the parasympathetic breathing at bedtime and any time you wake in the night. If you’re lying in bed unable to sleep, use this time to run through in your mind everything you are grateful for in your life.
Prioritise and delegate: This is a sure way to deal with overwhelm… Make a list of everything you think you need to do. Divide this list into 3 categories – things you can cross off the list (some things simply don’t need to be done at all), things you can delegate (and who you’re delegating to), things you have to do yourself. For the ones you need to do, prioritise them with an A,B or C. A items need to be done immediately or there are consequences, B’s have consequences but not immediate, C’s are items that need to be done sometime but can wait. Don’t do a B item if an A is undone, don’t do a C if a B is undone.
Cut out / cut down on sugar and refined carbs: Refined carbohydrates turn to sugar. And sugar is a major physiological stressor and energy thief in the body. Sugar also drains your body of certain vitamins and minerals. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can alone be responsible for your exhaustion. Cut out sugar as much as possible.
Get some exercise: Exercise is the most underutilized form of stress relief. Go for a walk or a swim or take up a yoga class. Make time every week to get some movement. Include your kids in your exercise so that you can spend time with them and teach them healthy habits. Exercise will also boost your energy levels.
Eat well and supplement your diet: Make sure you are getting all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function properly. Eat a balanced diet and supplement with a daily multi-vitamin and mineral as well as Omega 3’s.
We do live intense and often stressful lives, but they don’t need to destroy us or our families. Take some simple decisive action to improve your health, to reduce stress and to get your energy levels back up. You’ll be more productive, your kids will get what they most want, and you’ll be modeling how to cope in a modern lifestyle.