“You’re a teacher? Lucky you, with all those holidays!” I have lost count how many times I have heard this statement or even worse, “Wow, you teachers always seem to be on holiday. Do you ever work?!” In the beginning of my teaching career I used to feel guilty about our quarterly holidays, but not anymore. As passionate as I am about teaching and learning alongside my students, I appreciate and cherish the breaks we have in between each term as this is time for me to recharge my depleted batteries and give my mind a much-needed rest from the constant planning and decision making which teaching involves.
Recently, I was thinking about a statement a friend once made about how as humans, we tend to wish our days away (even unknowingly) as “we are always counting down the days to Friday/Summer/holiday/weekend” etc and it suddenly dawned on me how true this is (and how I am guilty of doing the same). But why? After some introspection, I realized that it often boils down to an inability to cope with the day to day stresses and demands that we face in our lives, whether from our family, friends, bosses, colleagues etc. As much as I think I am dealing with my stresses, I realize that waiting for the next breather in my day to day routine does not really count. It’s like driving a car on empty for many kilometers and holding your breath until you spot the nearest petrol station (which I’m embarrassed to say has happened once before – never again!) We all know this is unwise and rather poor planning, yet how often do we “drive” our lives the same way? We move along at a rapid pace, often running on empty (and sometimes almost burning out) before we notice that flashing red light and think, “Oops, I forgot to fill up!”
As I’m sitting here, my 2 week holiday behind me and a whole 2 month term before me, I am determined not to make the same mistakes this time round. However, how can I ensure that by the time I reach my next holiday, God-willing, I will be in a relatively happy and calm state of mind rather than frazzled and “burnt around the edges”? Is there a way to maintain a healthy mind, body and soul even in the midst of the day-to-day grind? I believe there is!
Even if you find that many of the tips which I’ll be sharing are nothing new, hopefully they will serve as useful reminders and will help you to reassess your current “stress-status”. If you’re anything like me, I need constant reminders as it is so easy to “fall off the bus” in certain areas of my life. Revisiting the basics, I can usually pinpoint exactly which areas I have been neglecting.
“You are what you eat”
Yes, what you put into your body plays a huge role in what you get out. Back to the car scenario, how careful are we with the quality of fuel and oil we put into our cars, yet often don’t think twice about what we fuel our bodies with? Ever heard of the quip “stressed spelled backwards is desserts”? 😉 This may be true, but did you also know that while sugar and processed treats make us feel better for a few minutes, they wreak havoc on our bodies and minds and actually aggravate stress and anxiety? Doesn’t seem worth it, does it? I won’t go into too much detail now, as this is a whole other topic (and perhaps a later post!) but as Mary Ann Shearer writes in her book, Perfect Health, “Processed sugars and grains especially deplete the body of the vital B complex vitamins. The reason for this is simple. The body needs vitamin B complex to assimilate sugar but this vitamin is removed or destroyed during processing, resulting in the body robbing itself of the vitamin B it requires. As vitamin B is the anti-stress vitamin, we then find that we cannot cope very well with stress without it…. Refined sugar and alcohol have a similar effect on blood sugar levels in that both raise blood sugar very fast. The body then reacts (basically to save your life as high blood sugar can put you into a diabetic coma from which you could die) and the pancreas goes into overdrive to produce insulin and down your blood sugar comes. Over time this usually results in low blood sugar or hypoglycemia”. And all that just for the sake of a moment’s pleasure! For more info on how sugar and stress are not a good combination check out this article:
So, how can you avoid those moments of weakness when it feels as if the only answer is chocolate (or some other guilty pleasure!)? This brings me to the next point…
Set yourself up for success (ie: remove temptations!)
When doing my weekly grocery shopping I am very careful with what I purchase (and when – don’t shop on an empty stomach!) I will not buy foods or treats which I know are harmful for my body. And no, not even for a treat or “cheat-day”! I do not have very good self-discipline when it comes to food, so I know that “just one or two blocks of chocolate” will most likely turn into the whole slab, which in turn may escalate into more chocolate-hunting. Instead, I ensure that I keep a supply of treats which are both tasty and good for me and which will not cause my stress levels to rise even more. These could include a trail mix (eg: with dates, nuts, seeds, goji berries etc), or treats which I can store in the freezer and access when needed such as date/power balls and raw chocolate brownies (see first post for recipe). These are especially helpful when I visit my family and may be surrounded by biscuits, cake or other refined and processed treats (yes, I keep a stock of healthy goodies at their house too!) What if your emotional-eating craving is for something salty? Reach for those nuts and seeds, olives or even a bag of GMO free baked corn chips/nachos (with no preservatives or additives). Or make your own popcorn from scratch (pop some GMO free popcorn kernels in a bit of coconut oil, and sprinkle with herb salt, nutritional yeast, chilli flakes, turmeric or any other natural flavouring). It takes a bit of pre-planning and preparing, but once that is over, the rest is simple! It all depends on how serious you are about taking care of YOU!
Move along, stress!
I am certainly no “gym-bunny” (and no offense to them either – I admire their dedication and commitment!) I would much rather be hiking, walking on the beach or riding my mountain bike, but of course, this is not always possible on a day-to-day basis. I tried doing a home programme which worked for a while, but a few missed days and I had “fallen off the bus”. However, I noticed a huge difference in my stress-coping ability when I was active and this was not just a hunch. We are designed to move and when we don’t, problems ensue. According to the American Psychological Association, “When it comes to good health, physical activity matters. Exercise and physical activity improve overall fitness, body mass index, and cardiovascular and muscular health. Studies even show exercise can relieve stress, reduce depression and improve cognitive function”.
According to many health experts, including Mary Ann Shearer, exercising helps to regulate hormones, may help to prevent and control blood sugar, increases endorphins, improves quality of sleep and enhances our cognitive function (which results in better decision making and less regrets!) Currently, I am training 3 times a week with some of my colleagues, taking part in classes which involve body weight training. Besides feeling physically and mentally fitter and stronger, my stress levels have also substantially reduced.
Even if you can only manage to walk around the block each day, go for it! I can’t tell you how many times I felt so drained and thought that all I could manage was to “veg out” on the couch for a few hours. However, each and every time I forced myself to get up and walk, the result would be more energy and better clarity of mind.
In order not to scare my readers away with long articles, I have decided to split this article into 2 parts… tune in next week for other tips about coping with stress including a daily dose of sunshine, sleep and having an attitude of gratitude.
Meanwhile, I would love to hear how you deal with stress – what works for you and what hasn’t? Do any of the above tips resonate with you?
Until next time… to your health and happiness! 🙂