Have you ever felt like your bucket was just too full? Like every little “bad” thing that happens is the last drop of water that makes the bucket overflow? This is understandable, considering the circumstances. This year alone, there has been multiple sources of increased stress, including job changes, child care changes and loss of loved ones. We are even asked to change how we celebrate life, graduations and weddings are held via Zoom and we need to ask if we are allowed to hug someone close to us. So how do you deal with all this stress? From meditation and mindfulness, to exercise and herbs, there are numerous tools that can be added to your stress management toolbox.
First and foremost, let us acknowledge it is okay to feel (you fill in the blank). Whether you are angry, sad, irritated, annoyed, happy, upset or anxious, however you describe it, your feelings are valid and recognized.
Now that you have acknowledged the feelings, ask where they are residing in your body? Did you realize you were holding onto them? Slowly inhale and visualize where those unwanted feelings are. Hold your breath for a few seconds and envision all of them gathering up into a big ball. Slowly exhale over a count of 1…2…3…4 and imagine releasing that ball out and away from your body. These feelings were helpful at one point, but are no longer serving you, and now you can release them with each exhale. Feel free to repeat that exercise today, tomorrow, next week, whenever you need that reminder to let go. That mindfulness exercise is one of many stress management tools that can be placed in your tool box.
Exercise is another helpful stress management technique. According to Merriam Webster, exercise is “bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness.” Exercise does not equate to going to the gym. Maintaining physical fitness encompasses numerous activities, including hiking, kayaking, tennis, running, walking, swimming, HIIT, weightlifting, resistance training, barre and yoga. Incorporating daily movement can be tailored to your preference and schedule by finding activities you enjoy and making time for them to stay consistent. Some of the numerous benefits of physical activity include improving blood sugar levels, reducing blood pressure, improving mood and ability to enjoy other experiences. If you do not already have an exercise routine, start with small goals over a long period of time. For example, start with a daily 15-minute walk, three yoga classes per week, or participating in a team sport. Make a goal to stay consistent for two months before adding another exercise or increase the frequency of the exercise you already enjoy.
What if you do not have the energy to even think about exercise? Consider your sleep quality. Quality sleep is necessary for our body’s ability to manage stress, effectively perform in school or work, and maintain an elevated mood. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average recommendation is between seven to nine hours of sleep per night for individuals ages 18 years old through 64 years old.
If you have trouble relaxing during the day, green, black or oolong tea might help. These tea variations are derived from the same plant and contain small amounts of l-theanine, which improves the body’s ability to deal with stress and elevate mood. Melissa officinalis and Avena sativa are two herbs that may be helpful at night to calm the nervous system. Melissa officinalis is also known as Lemon Balm and is used for individuals with difficulty sleeping, headaches, anxiety and depression. Avena sativa is also known as Milky Oats and is one of the best remedies to restore the nervous system. It is used when a person feels really depleted, overworked and/or depressed. Both of these herbs are gentle and can also be taken in tincture form if tea is not preferred.
There are hundreds of herbal remedies and supplements to help us empty our stress bucket. The intention behind the use of the remedies matters, because addressing the root cause of why a body is out of balance and restoring the foundations of health are always the most effective ways to maintain long-term health. The foundations of good health consist of the following: good quality sleep, proper nutrition, moving your body daily, and effective stress management practices. If the foundations of health are strong, it is much easier to bring the body back into balance.
Remember, you are in control of your own health. If you feel like you are out of balance and could use some wellness-focused guidance, there are numerous stress management resources in Vermont. Psychologytoday.com can be a terrific resource for finding local therapists. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) frequently provides workshops on mental health education. VT Crisis Text line can be reached by texting “VT” to 741741. Headspace and Calm are two mindfulness-based apps that can provide a daily reminder to take time for self-care every day.
Laurel Erath is a naturopathic doctor at Rutland Integrative Health.