Top Tips To Dial Down Stress On The Go
I've spoken in more detail about migraines, and the impact that stress has on them, but I wanted to put pen to paper (or hand to keyboard?) and share five fairly quick, top tips for dealing stress down on a day to day basis.
1. Switch to Decaf drinks first thing in the morning
Now hear me out on this! My personal trainer, Jo, recommended this to me two years ago and my face must have been a picture judging by her reaction. Jo suggested that it only needed to be my first cup of the day, but that switching to decaff would help manage my energy levels better, and I wouldn't be swinging from caffeine high to sugar high, and breaking this first thing would be really helpful. It is also thought that caffeine can cause a cortisol spike (1), which is one of your stress hormones, and would mean your heckles would be up first thing in the morning. Now, I have subsequently switched entirely to decaf so it's been quite a journey personally, and you don't have to do this by any means, but perhaps start the day with a decaf... and it might not be immediately obvious but stick at it
2. Essential oils in your workspace
This is something that I really felt the benefit from during lockdown: making your space a haven as much as possible is really helpful. Not just because it's nice to feel comfortable in your environment, but because essential oils can have a profound impact on mood and wellbeing, and diffusing blends like these in the workspace can be a fairly low-energy way to help facilitate that. Particular oils that you may find helpful include, lavender (2, 3, 4), grapefruit (3), clary sage, geranium and many many more (5) . If you're in an environment where you can't have a diffuser, then a nice way to incorporate essential oils into your day is diluting them in a body oil or lotion (check that the oils are safe for your skin, and diluted at the appropriate level), an aromatherapy roll on, or a few drops of your fave blend on a cotton wool pad, in a little jar. That way you can have a really good whiff, without impacting anyone else in your work space. Neat eh!
3. Herbal Teas
Ok so I may be biased in this, as I make them, and because I gave up caffeine, but a hot drink can be really soothing, in particular herbal teas (6). The ritual of making yourself a cuppa can also be a grounding and mindful activity, and in fact that's something I'd urge you to consider when you are making yourself a drink. A few moments of calm and ritual can really help to balance. If you don't have time during the day, then making yourself a thermos full of tea at the start of the day means that you're having your calming ritual first thing, whilst also banking some hot tea for later, when your day has really started (and stress levels may have picked up!)
That moves me really rather spectacularly onto mindfulness. A 2021 review on mindfulness based interventions found that they were effective and relatively safe, for a myriad of conditions, of which stress was one (7). Mindfulness is about trying to be in the moment, and drawing your attention and focus to your bodily sensations, breath, feelings, your immediate environment and thoughts. The idea is to be present in the here and now, and is thought to help reduce stress and overwhelm, and to stop the mind whirling and spiralling. This can take some practice, but starting small, with focusing on things you can see, hear, feel, taste and smell, can be a really effective way of dipping your toe in the water, and help you to familiarise yourself with the concept.
Breathing is something that we all do, but we don't necessarily do it effectively: when we are stressed or anxious we can tend to breathe from our chests, short, fast breaths, which can then in turn feedback to our body that we are in a stressful environment. What can really help is a few good, deep breaths. It doesn't need to be loads: just a few, breathing in for the count of four and out for the count of eight, can help us to take a big healing breath of oxygen in, and helps discharge any adrenaline that's built up. Using an app can be helpful for this, not just to help guide you, but to help this become more of a habit and mechanism that you call upon when you need it (8, 9). If you're feeling especially wired and wound up, you may find that some movement prior to the breathing is helpful to discharge some of that excess adrenaline! I like to do a bit of a body shake personally, but whatever works for you is fine.
6. Curate your social media
Ok, so this isn't something that's quite so instantaneous as the other things, but it is fairly easy to do and it can have a profound impact: when you encounter certain challenging content on social media, acknowledge your reaction, it might be internal rage, annoyance, irritation, or a physical response. If you can take a moment to do that, acknowledge that reaction as important, and then use that to create change. In my mind a good way to respond to that would be to curate your social media - whether that's unfollowing/blocking or muting specific people and pages, so that you're not catapulted into a fight or flight stress response when you happen across certain content online. Honestly, no one knows if you mute them, and it could be a REALLY good move if you have someone you can't quite bring yourself to delete/unfollow (yet) but that you find stressful to keep seeing every time you log in.
Ok so I did say that this was going to be five top tips - but the sixth one is one that came to me and I thought it was important to include - and it doesn't require lots of effort (in theory) on your part, and the pay off can be huge!
If you have any thoughts on the top tips, or what you might prioritise in your list, then I would love to hear from you!
1 - Lovallo WR, Farag NH, Vincent AS, Thomas TL, Wilson MF. Cortisol responses to mental stress, exercise, and meals following caffeine intake in men and women. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2006;83(3):441-447. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2006.03.005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2249754/
2 - Karadag E, Samancioglu S, Ozden D, Bakir E. Effects of aromatherapy on sleep quality and anxiety of patients. Nurs Crit Care. 2017 Mar;22(2):105-112. doi: 10.1111/nicc.12198. Epub 2015 Jul 27. PMID: 26211735. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26211735/
3 - Takagi C, Nakagawa S, Hirata N, Ohta S, Shimoeda S. Evaluating the effect of aromatherapy on a stress marker in healthy subjects. J Pharm Health Care Sci. 2019 Aug 14;5:18. doi: 10.1186/s40780-019-0148-0. PMID: 31428439; PMCID: PMC6693249.
4 - Johnson K, West T, Diana S, Todd J, Haynes B, Bernhardt J, Johnson R. Use of aromatherapy to promote a therapeutic nurse environment. Intensive Crit Care Nurs. 2017 Jun;40:18-25. doi: 10.1016/j.iccn.2017.01.006. Epub 2017 Feb 23. PMID: 28237089. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0964339717300186
5 - Setzer WN. Essential oils and anxiolytic aromatherapy. Nat Prod Commun. 2009 Sep;4(9):1305-16. PMID: 19831048. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19831048/
6 - Bazrafshan MR, Jokar M, Shokrpour N, Delam H. The effect of lavender herbal tea on the anxiety and depression of the elderly: A randomized clinical trial. Complement Ther Med. 2020 May;50:102393. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2020.102393. Epub 2020 Mar 30. PMID: 32444033. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32444033/
7 - Zhang D, Lee EKP, Mak ECW, Ho CY, Wong SYS. Mindfulness-based interventions: an overall review. Br Med Bull. 2021;138(1):41-57. doi:10.1093/bmb/ldab005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8083197/
8 - Kim J, Gray JA, Johnson H. The Effect of a Web-Based Deep Breathing App on Stress of Direct Care Workers: Uncontrolled Intervention Study. J Altern Complement Med. 2021 Oct;27(10):876-883. doi: 10.1089/acm.2020.0541. Epub 2021 Jul 5. PMID: 34227854. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34227854/
9 - Perciavalle V, Blandini M, Fecarotta P, Buscemi A, Di Corrado D, Bertolo L, Fichera F, Coco M. The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurol Sci. 2017 Mar;38(3):451-458. doi: 10.1007/s10072-016-2790-8. Epub 2016 Dec 19. PMID: 27995346. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27995346/