10 Calming Strategies for When Tension Mounts

20150921_192644000_iOSYou create your menu plans and a weekly rhythm and have a half-decent system for managing your finances. You work to stay organized and even have a strategy in place for self-care. But life throws you a couple curve-balls and you miss some sleep and someone dies and Revenue Canada audits you. And the tension mounts.

Here are 10 strategies I use to calm myself and keep focused on WHO and HOW I want to be in the world when the waters of life become a little agitated:

I aim to get quality sleep. When life gets a little more hectic than usual there might, in fact, be a clear reason that you cannot sleep as much as normal (new baby, dying family member, you procrastinated on a work deadline). But we should understand the significant impact of losing sleep on our physical and emotional health and genuinely do our best. It is during sleep that our bodies and minds repair and rejuvenate. Perhaps we can take a 20 minute nap in the afternoon or before supper even if it means the floor remains unvacuumed. Perhaps we can cut out evening news or a favorite TV show and climb into bed an hour earlier. Adequate sleep is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing I do to manage my health and well-being.

*A book I recommend that delves into the importance of sleep is Sleep Smarter, by Shawn Stevenson (amazon store affiliate link).

I eat a mood and hormone-balancing diet. Ensuring I eat plenty of greens, protein and healthy fats keeps my blood sugar and moods balanced. Ensuring I actually pause to eat at regular intervals works wonders too:) I also focus on magnesium rich foods (cashews and other nuts, seeds, dark chocolate or cacao, dark leafy greens, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit) as magnesium is a crucial mineral for coping with stress. Our soils tend to be deficient in magnesium and chronic stress can deplete our magnesium stores even if we do eat a diet abundant in magnesium-rich foods. Health Canada estimates that an average of 42.9% of Canadians have an intake below estimated required intake although many consider this to be a very conservative figure. I also treat myself with calming teas like Tulsi (Holy Basil) or a herbal blend with extra dried lavender thrown in (like this Easy Day Tea or my daughter’s Fairytale Tea. I’ve included these links so you can check out the ingredients and create your own blend or look for something similar from a local shop). Something I will try this fall (my budget forced me to wait 🙁 ) are drinks made with adaptogenic mushrooms like these (affiliate link). Adaptogens help our body adapt to stress and exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.

*Before ingesting mushrooms (or any herb/supplement), do some research if you have allergies or are taking medications in order to avoid an unpleasant reaction.

I take certain supplements that help with stress. Certain B vitamins help modulate stress and may play a role in alleviating anxiety and depression. B vitamins work synergistically to promote overall health and energy production; it is usually best, therefore, to take a complex. In the morning I take a methylated B-complex which provides more bioavailable forms of different B’s. Gut health is critical to overall wellness including mental health (gut-brain axis). As such, in addition to eating fermented and prebiotic foods, I take a quality, multi-strain probiotic supplement.  I have already addressed magnesium earlier in this post and mentioned its use for stress but it can also help with tension (sore muscles/migraines) and encourage restful sleep- all useful when life feels hectic. I supplement with magnesium oil (a magnesium chloride solution that you spray onto your skin and rub in), enjoy epsom-salt baths (magnesium sulfate), and we have a powdered product called Natural Calm (combo of magnesium carbonate and citric acid which creates magnesium citrate) that we add to liquid and drink before bed during seasons of stress. Zinc is another mineral that plays a part in modulating the brain and body’s response to stress and which supports a healthy immune system (it is so easy to get run down during times of stress). I use a zinc-copper balance supplement to avoid creating a mineral imbalance.

I use essential oils and deep breathing. Research on aromatherapy, including the use of essential oils in conjunction with deep breathing, is limited. However, many people including myself, find that it is super effective at reducing stress and anxiety. The idea behind it is that it stimulates smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system — the part of the brain that controls emotions. There are many calming essential oils (ex. Chamomile, Yuzu, Neroli, Vetiver) but two of my staples are Lavender and Sandalwood, although smell is so individual (meaning you might hate what I love). My favorite company right now for essential oils is  Living Libations with both U.S. and Canadian sites, although I also enjoy other brands including Mountain Rose Herbs in the States and Saje Wellness in Canada.

*none of these are affiliate links

I practice gratitude. Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of The How of Happiness (a book I thoroughly enjoyed- link to my amazon astore), tells us that gratitude boosts happiness by helping people cope with stress and trauma (among its NUMEROUS other benefits). Robert Emmons, another happiness researcher and writer, defines gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” There are, of course, many ways to practice gratitude but my favorite is to bookend my days with bringing to mind three things that I am grateful for when I wake up and as I lay down to sleep at night. I feel that this practice sets me up for success by regularly drawing my attention back to all that is beautiful and positive in my life.

I move my body. Exercise is a fabulous stress-reliever and mood-booster. Depending on your personality and current life situation you may need to modify your typical exercise; rather than your usual hard-core workouts, for instance, this might be the time to do more gentle stretching or yoga or to take long walks outside (if you fail to build rest and repair time into your life, exercise can actually raise cortisol which can increase stress and belly fat). On the other hand, some people simply feel best and experience stress-reduction only when they really work up a sweat. The important thing is to listen to your body as you move through different seasons of life and adjust your movement accordingly. In general, it is also best to avoid living a sedentary lifestyle and then trying to compensate with a couple intense workouts each week. Consider ways to simply move more throughout the day: create a standing desk; do some gentle stretches or squats in between clients or classes; take a brisk walk at lunch time; begin each day with 10 minutes on your mini-trampoline.

I reduce or eliminate numbing agents or distractors. Mindless surfing on social media, extra caffeine or wine, TV, a nightly habit of marijuana use, a tub of Haagen Dazs- these are examples of things we might use to numb out and distract from our uncomfortable feelings or situation. These things can mess with our hormones and sleep and keep us from being real about how we are feeling. They often lead to procrastinating on the action we need to take which only exacerbates stress! Become conscious of your preferred method of numbing when stressed and set some healthy limits on this habit.

I take a close look at my agenda and cross off anything that is non-essential. Seriously, if it doesn’t have to get done now, postpone it. This is not the time for painting your bathroom or guestroom (my girlfriend totally does this) or saying yes to hosting a baby shower. Prioritize. You may even want to go back and simplify your perfect menu plans. A frozen organic pizza with salad eaten with peace in the home is immensely better than a four-course meal with a stressed-out family. My point is, simplify wherever possible (although not to the point of sabotaging health)* to alleviate stress and workload. Consider freezing some healthy meals or posting a list of quick but humble and healthy meals that can be prepared at times such as this.

*I am referring to short-term adjustments for a life that is mostly calm and health-promoting

I focus on three main things to accomplish each day. This is an offshoot of the previous point regarding eliminating the non-essential. Take a hard look at what remains and consciously choose the three things that if you do this day, will have the biggest positive impact on your life. At the end of the day, if you have done these three things, you will feel satisfied. Your Top-3 will depend on your specific situation and responsibilities, of course. It will vary each day and might include items such as: spend time cuddling and reading with my children; complete two hours work on my client’s Program Plan; brush my teeth and shower (new baby, anyone?); make a double batch of healthy muffins for kids’ snacks; pay online bills; or move my body! Living very purposefully in this way (as opposed to running around frantically) can increase a sense of control over life which can, in turn, decrease stress.

I stay inspired. Some people love to listen to music as they find it supports them in mood balance. I find music agitating, for the most part. Instead, I love to listen to podcasts or to read to stay inspired. It is soooo easy to get off track when life feels busy or stressful, and to start behaving in ways that do not align with how we envision our ‘best life’ or ‘best self’; I find that through the storms, it is incredibly helpful to keep before me models of health, resilience, and strength. Like most of you, I am not rolling in buckets of free time to read at leisure. But I can listen to podcasts as I work in my home, exercise, or in the vehicle. I can bring a book with me (or just leave it in the car) for those little stretches of time when I am waiting to pick up a child, waiting for an appointment, or at a child’s piano lesson. Finally, when I find articles/blog posts online that I want to read, I save them to an app called Pocket; then when I have a ‘pocket of time’ to read but am without a book, a queue of articles is ready and waiting for me.

I hope you find a few nuggets of inspiration here to support you this week,

Krista xo

On Body Image & Respecting “Picky Eaters”

picky eatersMy parents were hard-working people who did an amazing job at providing my siblings and I with real food.

They grew a huge garden, my dad hunted, and my mom made everything from scratch. We didn’t have the money for fancy lunch-box treats and fast food or eating out was a very rare event for us. My mom was ‘weird’ – making homemade yogurt and cooking lentils that nobody liked, and for a while bringing home goat’s milk in big glass jars. She was also the best bun maker ever!

But looking back I also grew up with what I now consider some less healthy messages around food.

I had to sit at the table until I finished my food because “there are starving children in Africa” and because “this is not a restaurant” (all sentiments I have felt and used with my own kiddos, by the way). My mom did an excessive amount of baking over the holidays (as kids we loved sneaking frozen cookies from the deep freeze for months after Christmas). I was forced to eat meat even though meat/dead animals horrified me and I became vegetarian at age 19, a while after leaving home. And in high school, I watched my mom deal with her exhaustion via a daily indulgence of a bottle of coke and a chocolate bar when what she probably needed was a good, long nap.

I adored my mom and could see, even then, that she did not care for herself well or speak up for her own needs. And I followed in her footsteps.

My poor relationship with food and body image started quite young and escalated over the years. The story goes that when I was a toddler my parents would awaken to find me asleep in the cupboard, hand in the cracker box. I stole my big sister’s Halloween candy and desserts from the fridge and still remember the intense shame I felt over my actions. I began binge eating in high school and it worsened over the next many years until I surpassed 200 lbs*; I did not respect myself nor did I know how to deal with my emotions except to numb them away through food, drugs or alcohol.

I developed adult-onset allergies to a variety of fruits, veg and tree nuts but kept eating these foods anyways (until my airway started closing) because, after all, everyone knows they are good for you. Then there was a time, about 14 years ago, that I restricted my eating to the point of my stomach hurting most of the time – but I felt in control of that part of my life and people kept complementing me about my weight loss. I was having panic attacks and felt desperately lost inside but at least I looked good, right?

A central part of my healing journey has been to learn to listen to and respect the messages from my body, my spirit, and my soul. To love myself enough to act on what I hear. To stop numbing and learn to face pain, fear or other strong emotions in my life in healthier ways. 

And I want to model this to my children.

We say we want our children to grow up respecting themselves and their bodies, and trusting their intuition (for instance to protect them from abuse or unhealthy relationships), but then we dismiss them when they give us cues or inform us, loud and clear, of their food preferences (general likes and dislikes) and how they feel when they eat certain foods. But we cannot have it both ways.

When they learn to identify and voice their feelings and we consistently shut them down we train them that their opinions or feelings don’t matter. Or that they are wrong and cannot trust themselves to make good decisions. I believe that this is training ground not only for developing a heathy relationship to food but also for bigger issues like a strong self-esteem and healthy sexuality (where they are clear on what they do or don’t want and are confident to voice their feelings on the matter). But lest you feel I am getting carried away here I will bring the conversation back to food.

“Mealtimes should be warm, comfortable, and positive times for families to talk and bond; you should work toward making sure the meal table is not associated with negativity.”

Jennifer Kolari, MSW, RSW

Every adult I know has clear preferences when it comes to food. I was vegetarian 15 years then pescetarian another 9; I expected my family to understand and respect this choice. Should my kids not also benefit from the same right to choose? I eat a varied and nutrient-dense diet but, frankly, I dislike squash and don’t care for my husbands West-African dried fish sauces. Does that make me a picky eater?

I not only have food allergies to work around but I also choose to limit grains, dairy, sugar, and yeast because I recognize that I don’t feel great when eating them. If I have this right, do my kids not also have the right to certain accommodations (ex. one is disgusted by mushy textures like polenta, pudding or oatmeal while another hates foods all mixed together as in soups or casseroles)? Sometimes I want a little treat and will enjoy a piece or two from my good-quality dark chocolate stash. My kids, too, deserve to have a little stash of favorite treats to pull out on occasion.

I absolutely believe that good nutrition is critical for health, energy, and mood-balance. I also believe that food can be soul-nurturing and a fun part of celebration, if not abused.

But it is also one of the most consistent opportunities we have for teaching our children to pay attention to how they feel and empowering them to make good choices for themselves (there are many adults who do not have these skills). I am NOT advocating a processed/ junk food free-for-all any more than I would advocate an anything-goes approach to media. I do, however, believe that it is entirely possible to offer a healthy spectrum of foods, including yummy treats for our kids AND give them room for personal choice and expression.

We do not need to fight over food or become a short-order cook. We can teach our young people kind ways of expressing themselves (not “this …disgusts me”). We ought not shame children or use food as punishment or reward. Just think about this for a moment: if you have a child with anxiety around food or their body, would shaming or punishment bring healing or harm?

We can engage our kids in conversation around how they feel when they eat certain foods and the benefits of certain foods, and model healthy habits (For instance, do we regularly over or under eat? Do we take time to sit down and fuel ourselves well? When we make a mistake do we acknowledge it without shame so that our kids can see that we are all imperfect but learning?)

We can discuss food waste and poverty away from the supper table and invite suggestions from family members on how to take positive action on these issues. We can invite our children to help plan meals or special treats they enjoy and to share in the shopping and food prep. We can compromise sometimes and model flexibility and when our teens have jobs and choose to spend some of their own money on totally crappy food, we can try not to fall apart or nag (ahem!) but do our best to affirm and encourage them in life.

I know that life probably feels far easier when everyone must eat the same thing, no questions asked.

But easier is not always better. And I invite you to consider how respecting your “picky eaters” might actually contribute to raising strong, confident, and healthy individuals.

With love,

Krista xo

*weight is relative and is not actually the point of my post – the problem was that I did not love myself nor treat myself with respect. And this can happen at any weight!