Daily steps to support health and mitigate the impact of stress
Women’s health expert Jessica Ferrari-Wells shares her tips to help mitigate the impact of stress, even in the busiest of times.
It’s certainly a stressful time – transitioning out of lockdown, new ways of working, juggling meetings and childcare… But there are many steps you can take, even in the busiest of days, to support your wellbeing and mitigate the impact of stress.
Wake at the same time every day (not usually a problem with little ones!) to regulate your “circadian rhythm” which in turn aids good sleep.
Make your bed – studies have shown it boosts feelings of productivity, accomplishment and happiness.
Warm water with lemon juice to detoxify and hydrate. You can add anti-inflammatory turmeric and soothing ginger.
Prioritise a balanced breakfast full of hormone loving fats, blood sugar balancing protein and gut loving fibre, easily made the night before.
Starting the day with a green smoothie is like having a resilience boosting multivitamin in a glass and can even be prepared before bed! Include healthy fats and protein by adding unsweetened natural yoghurt, coconut milk, avocado, seeds or plant-based protein powder. Flax and chia seeds are excellent as they are rich in both omega-3 fats and fibre. Overnight oats is another simple breakfast and you can add plenty of nutrient rich foods, such as berries (frozen are cheaper and easier).
Perhaps it’s time to get the kids to school (or home school!). A mid-morning snack keeps blood sugar levels balanced – important for energy and focus. Good snacks include protein and healthy fats, keeping you fuller for longer. Nuts and seeds (a good source of magnesium and zinc, important for mental wellbeing), unsweetened yoghurt, and boiled eggs are all excellent.
Lunch should be well balanced with complex carbs, healthy fats, and protein. Complex carbs (wholegrains and vegetables) are nutrient packed and contain plenty of fibre. Healthy fats are vital for supporting mood and brain function, especially omega-3 fats. Oily fish is the best source – salmon, mackerel, tuna, trout or sardines. Sunflower seeds, flaxseed and walnuts are also good sources. Try adding these to salads or as a topping on your breakfast.
Nurture your adrenal and thyroid glands, our hormone glands most affected by stress, by eating:
● Iodine in fish, eggs and seaweed
● Zinc in meat, shellfish, whole grains and some nuts
● Vitamin E in olive oil, nuts and seeds
● B vitamins in eggs, rice, meat, fish, wholegrains, pulses and dark green leafy vegetables
● Vitamin C in peppers, broccoli, citrus fruits and berries
● Selenium in Brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs
● Magnesium in green leafy vegetables and nuts
● Vitamin D in sunlight, oily fish, eggs, liver and mushrooms.
Focus on adding foods rather than restriction. When it comes to improving diet, a lot of the information is around cutting down on certain foods. However, you can gain just as many health benefits from adding nutrient-dense, mood-boosting foods as you can from taking out unhealthier options.
Take a lunch break outside if possible. For many, lunch is a natural break in an otherwise hectic day. Seize this opportunity and go for a walk. Getting outside in daylight helps regulate our circadian rhythm and is a great stress reliever. This can also be a good time for some breathing exercises – see it as a middle of the day reset!
The afternoon slog
Try to avoid turning to caffeine. Some people experience a ‘slump’ in the afternoon, but caffeine raises your stress hormone (cortisol) levels and might interfere with your sleep. If your energy crashes then it’s likely your blood sugar levels are not balanced so look at your breakfast, lunch and snacks. Are they filled with protein and healthy fats?
Keep sipping water! Late afternoon is often a busy time for juggling mums – kids finish school, emails pile up and bedtime feels too far away! Keeping hydrated is simple, but often forgotten. Dehydration causes fatigue, affects mood and focus, and raises cortisol levels. If water bores you then herbal teas are excellent and can be drunk chilled on a hot afternoon!
Sleep supports our health and mental wellbeing. An evening wind down signals to our brains that it’s time to sleep:
● A bath or shower to ‘wash away the day’. Light a candle, use bath oils and take time to breathe. You might not have time for this every day, so aim for once a week. Adding Epsom salts increases your intake of vital magnesium (absorbed through skin).
● Dim lights, turn off the TV and don’t check emails or social media for an hour before bedtime. Light emitted from screens inhibits melatonin, our hormone which aids sleep as well as playing many important roles in promoting health.
● Replace screen time with an unwind – Try gentle stretches, breathing exercises, or simple meditation. There are some amazing apps – Calm and Headspace are popular. Try Yoga Nidra. It’s a conscious relaxation of your whole body. Studies show it dramatically improves sleep and reduces insomnia.
● Write a journal of things you are grateful for. Science has shown that it increases life satisfaction and reduces anxiety.
● Have a herbal tea – calming herbs such as chamomile, oatflower, limeflower, valerian and lavender are great before bed.
You’re not going to be able to do all these every night – the point is, having a routine really helps sleep. You could even have two routines – a luxe one for Sundays and a speedier version for weekdays.
Deep sleep is nature’s inbuilt stress-reduction mechanism. Of course, the ideal 7-9 hours often isn’t possible, but we should prioritise the odd early night where we can and try the following:
● Consider your sleeping environment. It should be quiet, dark and cool. The perfect temperature for sleeping is around 17 degrees Celsius.
● Keep your bedroom technology free. Leave your phone in the kitchen and use an alarm clock instead.
● Make your bedroom a sanctuary. Declutter, treat yourself to beautiful candles, make it a kid free zone and invest in good bedding. Try a pillow spray or aromatherapy diffuser to add a calming scent.
Steps to support health and mental wellbeing are ideally woven throughout our day. You may not need to work on all the above areas but focus on those most relevant to you. When I work with clients, identifying simple, effective changes which feel manageable is so important as these are the changes which will last.
Jessica Ferrari-Wells is a nutritionist, wellbeing coach and women’s health expert. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Prior to working as a nutritionist she studied Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford and spent ten years working as a lawyer so is familiar with the pressures and demands of the corporate world. She now specialises in supporting busy women to thrive in these demanding environments; focusing on hormone balance, postnatal recovery, energy, stress and resilience.
Jessica Ferrari-Wells BA(Hons)(Oxon), DipION, mBANT, mCNHC
Follow me: @jessicaferrariwellsnutrition
Find out more: www.jessicaferrariwells.com
In this Summer Coaching Comment issue:
- The Great Re-integration
- Inclusive Leadership – Why & How
- Three Practical Ways to Support your Wellbeing During Change & Uncertainty
- ‘Couples that Work’ – How to Thrive in Love & Work
- Blitzing the Boredom this Summer
- SWOT to help Your Transition out of Lockdown
- The Parental Fog Index Report 2020
- ECC’s new ‘Shifting the Needle’ Podcast : Flexing Leadership Styles with Harriet Minter