We hear it all the time. “I’m so stressed out.” “Yeah it’s been a stressful day.” “That’s stressing me out.”
Well how often do you actively do something to get rid of that stress?
Stress carries a negative connotation, but actually some stress is good! That’s how your body adapts to things. Want to build more muscle? Your body needs a stressor, ie lifting weights. Want to learn more? Your brain needs a stressor, such as reading.
However, the other thing about stress, is that it’s cumulative. Meaning that your body can’t necessarily distinguish being a “good” stress, and a “bad” stress. After a certain point all the stress you’ve placed on your body can affect your sleep, your mood, even weight loss!
The list below is not by any means all inclusive, but it is geared at optimizing not only your mental well-being, but your emotional well-being as well. If at any point you think to yourself, “hmm, I don’t know about this Jules, that’s weird.” It’s okay, you’re outside of your comfort zone. Which is the best place to learn, and grow.
- Work on your Breathing
There’s a reason why I listed breathing first. Breathing is so underrated, and underappreciated, yet it is such a crucial factor in everything we do. Want to run for longer? Learn how to breathe. Want to lift heavier weights? Learn how to breathe. Want to destress after a long day? Learn how to breathe. I could write an entire post on breathing (and probably will in the future), but here are a few breathing techniques appropriate for various situations.
To get rid of tiredness or sluggishness:
Breathe in through nose for 4 seconds feeling your stomach expand, breathe out forcefully through your mouth. Your exhale should imitate blowing out a candle. Do this 10-15 times
In moments of high stress or anxiety:
Inhale for 6 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, and slowly exhale for 10 seconds.
Breathe through your nose, into your stomach, feeling your belly expand like a balloon. Also exhale through nose. If you put your hands on your belly you should feel it rise and fall with your breath. Do this for 10-15 breaths.
These are just two of many different breathing techniques that could serve you in life. In general, try breathing through your nose as often as you can, there are many benefits to doing so. The book “The Oxygen Advantage” by Patrick McKeown is a great read that dives deeply into optimal breathing for sports performance, as well health.
Doing yoga, qi gong, or tai chi, are other great options as they typically are very focused on being mindful of your breathing.
- Meditation Practice
Chronic stress is rampant in our society. Our minds are constantly racing. Worried about what’s going on tomorrow, the day after, the email you sent to your boss, the text you sent to your significant other, the bills that are due at the end of the month, there no end to the barrage. Now I know meditation has certain connotations. I’m not asking you to become a Buddhist monk, there are many types of meditation. It can be as simple taking a minute or two before going to bed, to just unwind. It can be difficult to just sit in silence and NOT think. But there are many benefits to doing so.
The benefits of meditation include:
- Reducing stress
- Enhancing mood
- Increasing happiness
- Increasing focus
Those are just skimming the surface. One study even found that meditating helped reduce sensation of pain!
By the way if you’re an athlete, what usually prevents you from pushing harder? Pain!
Still not convinced? Phil Jackson, one of the greatest coaches of all time, coached Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Ever heard of them? He’s also coached teams to eleven championships. ELEVEN. Surely this man must be extremely high strung right? Actually one of his nicknames, is the “Zen master.” He was known for leading group meditations, as well as his devotion to Zen Buddhism.
Alright so you’re ready to give it a shot now right? Try this:
Close your eyes, and get in comfortable position. Bring awareness to your breath and breathing patterns. Now inhale slowly through your nose for 8 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, and exhale slowly through your nose for 12 seconds. Once again you should be breathing into your stomach, feeling it rise and fall with each breath. Focus on clearing your mind (I know ironic), and let go of any thought that enters your mind.
A simple google search can lead you to all types of meditation practices. In the picture above, I am wearing special headphones from a company called MUSE. The headphones provide neurofeedback by reading your brain waves, in order to help you meditate. You’ll hear a certain sound if you are in a meditative state, and a different sound if you are losing focus. Pretty neat, but also expensive. You can also try the “Headspace” or “Calm” apps which are free guided meditations that you can download to your phone.
- Keep a Journal
Similar to meditation, journaling has numerous benefits. Hey fellas, I know your scoffing over there, but this is especially useful for us. Society has conditioned us to think being in touch with our emotions isn’t a masculine trait, but we really have to get over that notion. Emotional intelligence is increasingly becoming regarded as crucial to becoming a leader, more so than your typical IQ in some cases. Journaling can be an outlet for unaddressed emotions, as well as help you get more in tune with your state of mind. Journaling can also help reduce stress, anxiety, and even help you become a better writer!
No matter what you write, you don’t have to share it with the world. Journaling is a great way to reflect, and unwind after a long day.
At the end of your day before going to bed, write a brief summary of anything notable that happened throughout your day. Start with a short paragraph, increasing the length and detail over time. At the end of your entry, write down one thing you learned that day, and one thing you’re grateful for.
- Proper Nutrition and Supplementation
I’ve talked about adaptogens in a previous post (see Mushrooms). Adaptogens are natural or herbal foods that are energizing and contain stress reducing properties. In certain cases adaptogens can be appropriate in supplementing your diet. Keyword, SUPPLEMENTING. Meaning that a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, greens, and proper macronutrients is necessary in optimizing health. That said, the compounds below are among popular and efficacious adaptogens. These can help bring energy up if its too low, or if you’re too stressed, helps bring that back down. Adaptogens can also help regulate sleep cycle, and support your nervous system.
Ashwagandha– Reduces cortisol levels, reduces anxiety, boosts immune system, increases energy levels
Rhodiola- Reduces cortisol, reduces fatigue, fights depression, increases energy
L-Theanine– (found in green tea) helps with focus, stress, increases alpha brain waves
- Giving gratitude
Think of 5 things you’re grateful for. Now think of 5 things that annoy you. Which list filled faster?
The fact is, we go through our days and we forget to appreciate the small intricacies of life. We start taking things for granted. Now imagine if those things that annoy you didn’t have the impact on your life anymore. How much happier would you be? Giving gratitude can have a major effect on our lives. Here are a few of the benefits.
- Improved mental health
- Reduced anxiety, stress, and depression
- Improved sleep
- Increase in dopamine
- Increased determination and enthusiasm
This might be the easiest of all to incorporate into your daily regime. Literally all it takes is a thought. You can do this as soon as you wake up, before you go to bed, or even throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be something profound either. You can be grateful for the ice cream cone you ate, or for getting a good grade on a test.
Try this: While journaling, think of 2-3 things you’re grateful for and write them down. Alternatively, you can think of something you’re grateful for as soon as you wake up.
Just as running, or lifting weights, or riding a bike improves our physical health, there are exercises we can utilize to improve our mental health. By now I’m sure you see a trend in all the aforementioned topics. You don’t need to adopt all of them, and maybe you feel like you’re doing fine without any of them. Whatever the case, do what makes you happy. Get a massage, do some yoga, watch Rick & Morty for a couple hours. Nourish the mind, and the body will be grateful in return.