You know those days when it seems like the toast just keeps landing avocado side down? You reset your ponytail and keep on going, then boom! Another slice hits the ground. I recently had one of those days. All three of my kids were late for their activities. Which were, of course, on opposite sides of town. And traffic that day was more brakes than gas pedal. So I missed the barre class I had been looking forward to all week at my “no refund, no excuses” studio. When I got back in the car, inwardly (okay, outwardly) cursing, my tire blew out, causing a highway commotion that ended with me on the side of the road stuck with a flat—without my phone charger. In other words: Avocado. Everywhere. When I finally made it back to my house, instead of thinking about how to relieve stress by taking it to the mat or grounding in the backyard with a cup of Natural Calm, I did what many of us do… poured some booze on the situation.

I decided a good, stiff cocktail would do the trick, even though I knew that one would probably lead to two (three), which would inevitably put me on my back heel in the morning. A couple of G&T’s deep, the stress of the day had subsided, but, as anticipated, the throbbing headache the next day showed up like an unwanted houseguest. And to top it all off, my old friend Anxiety, which I do my best to keep at bay, arrived in full force once the booze finally wore off.  

Clearly, I needed to have a new set of wellness fixes in my toolbox that didn’t include gin. Determined to preemptively take care of myself for future bad days, I caught up with New Zealand-based holistic health and wellbeing coach, Sara Acland to give me a few pointers on how to easily and naturally manage stress. 

Acland, a busy mother of two, began her journey when her hormones were wrecked from stress—so much so, that her doctor said her hormone levels were consistent with that of a breast cancer patient. Knowing she needed to make big changes, Acland took a holistic approach to her own healing, which transformed her life and jump-started her career to help others thrive. First, she studied anatomy and physiology, so that she would have a better understanding of the human body, then she became an ICF-certified coach from the Human Potential Institute and more recently completed the IIN Health Coaching course. She also trained as an Emotional Body Coach, where she learned how our emotions affect our bodies so that she can now gently guide clients through releasing emotions.  Acland believes, “intuition is an important part of this coaching—seeing between the words being said and figuring out what is really going on with the client so we can best support them on their road to being healthy and fulfilled.” And we couldn’t agree more. 

Keep reading for Acland’s thoughts on how to turn your own bad day into a better one:

In your work, what have you found are some of life’s biggest stress triggers?

Ha, I could write a whole essay on this! Sometimes it is unprocessed emotions, so our emotional cups are full before we even get out of bed, and then it doesn’t take much for it to overflow and for us to feel stressed. Or living a life not aligned with our values can be stressful.

For some, it is perceived stress rather than actual stress—we are unable to enjoy the moment we’re in because we are constantly looking backward or in the future, worrying about what we have done or what is coming up.

Others, it can be a lack of organizing—so much to do and no plan! Work pressures—working too much, piling too much on their plate, not enjoying their job—and they feel out of control. Of course, Covid and all of the unknowns and curveballs that has thrown at us, too. 

How does a person identify the source of their stress?

Our bodies hold a lot of wisdom—take some mindful breaths and get centered, then think of the individual possible sources of stress and notice how your body feels when you think of each. You will feel a physical response if there is stress—your heart rate will go up, you may feel flushed, knotted stomach, etc, listen to what your body is telling you. Stress is really how we respond to external challenges, and usually, the bigger the challenge, the bigger our stress response is. Sometimes the response is the perfect way for us to activate our capabilities and do what we need to do. In theory, after the challenge is over, we rest and recover but, either the challenge is ongoing and we can’t relax and take the break we need and/or we’ve activated our sympathetic nervous system fight or flight mode and many people are stuck in this. So, the key is to figure out when the appropriate stress response turns into an unhelpful and ongoing response.

What do you recommend to help keep stress at bay?

1. Excercise regularly.

Exercising reduces stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and increases feel-good endorphins. Different body types thrive on different types of exercise. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to exercise, but at least a 20 to 30-minute walk a day can make us feel so much better. Getting outside in nature to exercise is the best.

2. Meditate.

Try telling a busy, stressed person to sit down and meditate for 20 minutes… it’s just not going to happen. So, the key is to start off slowly.

Breathing into your diaphragm, focusing on your breath for a few minutes is a great start, and gently bringing your focus back to your breath when you get distracted with a thought.

Having a program to follow when you’re starting out is a great way to learn and get you into a habit, such as this one. So yes, meditation and mindfulness practices can absolutely help us with stress. There are entire university faculties dedicated to studying just this, and there is a lot of science behind the positive effect it has on reducing stress and regulating emotions. 

3. Get Your Sleep.

It is so important! We can cope with pressure much better when we’ve had a restorative night’s sleepit improves our brain function and balances hormones. Everyone is different and some people need more sleep than others but usually between seven and eight hours gives your body time to restore. 

4. Let it out.

Screaming in the car when you’re alone can be cathartic, or if that can’t happen, then scream into a pillow, every day for a few weeks.

5. Write it down.

Journaling is so good for getting the whirlwind of our stress and thoughts out of our heads and down on paper. It helps us organize our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Once it’s on paper we can make sense of it.

Ideally, about 20 minutes a day of free-flow writing—and trying not to control or overthink—is so beneficial. 

6. Breathe.

Breathing slowly through your nose, into your belly brings you back into the parasympathetic nervous system—rest and digest rather than the sympathetic fight-or-flight mode. I personally love the Wim Hof method of breathing to bring me back into the parasympathetic mode if I’ve had a stressful day.

7. Consider supplements and a healthy diet.

A good B-vitamin complex is great to support yourself when under stress, as it helps with the production of neurotransmitters, such as GABA and Serotonin. Magnesium supports good sleep and mood, Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that helps mediate the stress response. Curcumin is anti-inflammatory, so it helps combat the inflammation caused by stress.

I would recommend a high fiber, vegetable-rich diet that is low in refined carbohydrates (sugar, white bread, white pasta and rice, potatoes) as insulin production and blood sugar is negatively affected by stress and these foods strain the body.

Plus, I recommend avoiding excess alcohol and caffeine, which increases cortisol and affects sleep quality.  

8. Seek help.

When the stress leads to chronic anxiety, depression, and insomnia, or if you’re dependent on substances to cope with your stress. When you’ve tried all of the things you can possibly think of but still can’t shift the unhelpful thought loops that keep you in stress mode. Or you simply just need someone to share your worries with and get perspective on your stressful situation—best to get help earlier rather than later before it spirals.

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Anne Campbell