Natural Stress Relief Guide For Parents
Parenting is stressful, and sometimes life can feel unmanageable, and like you just need a break. Put those worries to rest. This ultimate guide to natural stress relief was written especially for you.
Just think for a moment about what that word makes you feel.
I bet it made you feel anxious just reading it. Yet we see everywhere all kinds of solutions offered to us on how to avoid it, how to deal with it, and how to simply ‘de-stress’.
Which is kind of counteractive when you think about one vital issue surrounding the term ‘de-stress’. Our subconscious mind doesn’t recognise the word ‘NO’.
I mean that if you tell it ‘No stress today please’, it will likely only understand the complete opposite. I’m saying this to try and help you get an understanding of how our brain works. We’ll touch on that again later.
What does stress mean?
Before we dive into methods of natural stress relief, I just want to take a moment to put the word ‘STRESS’ on the table… Dissect it a little and understand what this word actually means.
I feel like when you get to the bottom of something, it’s when you actually have the power to change.
Now, the word stress has been used in the Physics world for centuries. But it was actually Hans Selye in 1936 who defined the word as ‘the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change’. Source
Unfortunately, the term has been moulded and more often than not overused, leaving us now with a vague notion of what it actually is.
Is it the cause of an action that allows us to feel stress? Or is it the combination of total actions that leads to this feeling?
Fight or flight
Originally, when we were cave people fighting for survival, our bodies produced a natural cocktail of hormones from the hypothalamus. (That’s a small portion of the brain that regulates and directs the nervous system.)
Now, when we were faced with real danger, such as a fight or flight situation during a hunting battle, for example, the hypothalamus releases two hormones known as non-epinephrine and epinephrine.
The only difference between the two is that one is activated through the bloodstream (adrenaline) and the other acts through the nervous system. Source
The problem of society today is that people are constantly surrounded by ‘mini threats’ as I would call them. Even something as simple as driving a car and avoiding all other obstacles and vehicles on the road is a threat.
Long term effects of stress on the body
These threats provoke an unnecessary need for the stress hormones to be released. When looked at in a long term perspective, you can imagine your heart rate rising and breath becoming shorter, to start with.
This, in turn, takes its toll on the body in the form of headaches, fatigue, and low self-esteem, to name a few.
The need to slow down
It’s needless to say that we gotta keep this whole stress thing in check then, right?
You’ve probably read already that we need to adopt a slower routine, do less.
Years ago, life was at a different pace.
We would walk to see the neighbour two hours away. We would need a horse and carriage to travel 300km… Nowadays we can travel that distance in an hour and a half.
We can cross the world in 24 hours.
We’re missing out on all that natural stress relief of days gone by.
So how do we slow down and decompress in today’s high speed world?
Here’s where I go through different natural stress relief methods. You will gain insight and be able to choose which one works best for your needs.
Without further ado…
Natural Stress Relief Options
Are you like me, thinking exercise is just for getting fit? WRONG! Exactly why I decided to put it first on the list.
Contrary to the latest popular belief, exercise is not only good for the body but also for your mind. It is a great form of natural stress relief.
It releases the body’s natural ‘happy hormones’, which in turn have a domino effect on vital mental health factors such as balancing your mood, getting to sleep better, and releasing tension.
According to studies for an article on Sports Med (source) ‘The adaptive capacity to deal with stress is one’s fitness’. This makes sense when we consider that as a society on a whole, we have become more sedentary.
What kind of exercise Gives Natural Stress Relief?
Exercise comes in all shapes and forms, from high energy (now known as HIIT) to more gentle practice on the body.
Let’s explore a little.
The focus here is getting your heart rate up. That not only trains the muscle and reduces your overall BPM, but also plays an important role in releasing endorphins.
This means that the more high energy workouts you do, the more you’ll get used to it. And your body will actually crave more! Win-win for when you’re down on motivation.
Many people have a vision of high energy workouts to be mainly running – not true. While some of you may get your kicks from getting your shoes on and getting out for a jog, a lot of people find it a struggle.
You can always pick a fun Zumba or Body Combat class at your local gym to get your sweat on. Or start with some YouTube videos if you’re feeling a little shy, or don’t want to spend money on something you don’t know just yet.
Bare in mind though that most courses will offer a free first class so you can go along and try it out. So you’ve got nothing to lose!
Make it fun, do it with friends
We all know our best friend is our biggest motivator. So why not use that as an opportunity to try something together?
When you make a commitment with a friend to meet her at a class, you’re much more likely to go.
PLUS you can have a good old belly laugh when you mix up the moves!
Another idea might be to join in a team sport for fun. It could be anything from tennis, football, handball, rugby… Whatever you feel inspired by. Team sports are not just for kids!
Having competition – even on an amateur level – can make exercise more motivating.
Lower intensity, softer workouts
Just to be sure we’re on the same page: just because lower intensity workouts are slower on the whole doesn’t mean they don’t do their job as a natural stress relief.
Not everyone is a team player or will get their high from goal scoring and running up and down a field.
However, you can still socialise and have fun doing a softer workout. Something like the following.
Yoga goes back a long way in time. We’re talking over 5,000 years ago when the beginnings of the practice were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati salivation in India. You can learn more about the history of Yoga here.
Nowadays, yoga has come a long way from where it first started out and has evolved into many different types of practices.
The most well known of those tend to be: Vinsaya (fast paced, fluid movement), Hatha (takes more time on each pose), Restorative yoga (gentle poses held for longer periods of time) and Power Yoga (a little more challenging than Vinyasa, works on strength). Source: Doyouyoga.
Whatever style you choose, there are so many options out there that you can definitely pick one tailor made for you.
A lot of sites, like doyouyoga, often offer free courses you can do right from the comfort of your living room.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll see that you don’t need to follow a certain class. Sometimes you can just get those 20 minutes in before bed that will leave you feeling so much more relaxed or try it in the morning to start the day refreshed!
Pilates gives you a flexibility boost like yoga, with the difference that it actually targets strength building too. You’ll learn, among other essentials, good balance and muscle tone which could help you eventually with your posture.
Did you know that having a correct posture can avoid all sorts of unnecessary niggles like back pain and headaches?
It will also leave you feeling more energized, which will, in turn, decrease your stress levels – what’s not to love?
Just like yoga, you can choose to go to a class and join in with other like-minded people or you can try it at home with just your mat and no distractions.
2. Write Away Your Stress
In a world where you have to balance home, work, kids, exercise, and maybe socialising from time to time – it’s really no wonder we have an ongoing to-do list in our heads.
But did you know that this constant buzz is actually doing us more harm than good?
If you don’t already have a planner for keeping track of your appointments (I’m pretty sure you do), now’s the time to invest.
The monthly calendar collecting dust on the fridge just ain’t cutting it.
Get into the habit of writing
If you need a place to empty your thoughts out onto a page more spontaneously, you might want to try bullet journalling. It’s just another version of this method of natural stress relief.
You can get inspired to start a bullet journal, which can be a lot easier than you think, with this post by Traci, a friend of mine who inspires anyone to get organised and plan, the creative way.
Or if you’re looking for a simple planner, Rhoda will help you choose what’s right for you in this post.
It doesn’t have to be anything highly elaborated – unless that’s what you’re into, in which case, by all means – just get it on paper.
There have been times in the past where I’ve written down thoughts I felt I no longer needed or no longer served a purpose for me, then burned them. Yeah it’s cliche, but it worked, you know?
Sometimes we have stuff buried deep down we need to be liberated from before we can take in something new.
PLUS not only can you write about random thoughts that come into your head but also you can use this time to organise or be grateful, for example.
I, for one, have an app on my phone called gratitude which is actually really simple with a coloured notes form. I try to push myself to write out the things I’m grateful for in my life and I end up getting a whole new perspective.
Gratitude journaling on it’s own is another great form of natural stress relief.
3. Spend time with your loved ones
Please note I’m talking about quality time. That means, no tech, no telly, no distractions.
I feel like sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up on what’s happening; whether that be the news or your favourite program, that we forget the most important things that are dear to us.
I don’t mean you always have to abide by this rule but just bear in mind when you make time for your special ones that you truly dedicate it to them.
Making time for people when you’re really busy can feel like another chore on your list but I guarantee that you’ll come away saying ‘We should do this more often’.
The natural stress relief that comes from spending time with friends and loved ones has added benefits of social connection, which provides additional boosts to our health.
Boost your self esteem and wind down With This Form of Natural stress Relief
The time you spend together can make you feel wanted, increasing your self worth. In turn, a good sense of worth works wonders on your self esteem and motivation in life.
On the physical side, as with exercise, being together gives you a happy boost – this time with oxytocin. Think – if you combine the two you’re onto a winner!
Not only that, it will increase your sense of belonging, which in this day and age is essential to our survival in a pretty individualist society.
Go catch up with your old friends to have coffee or take a walk in the nature – you can thank me for it later.
Cuddle up together
Have you ever wondered why we enjoy watching a film together at home in a couple or family?
I bet you agree with me if I say that it’s also because you can get closer and cuddle – whether that be laying on your partner’s chest or with your little one on your lap.
The exact time you need a hug to last to get your dose of oxytocin is 30 seconds, yet sometimes we don’t bother with more than a peck on the cheek on the way to work.
Make time for little moments during the day and kiss your partner more often – it will give you a boost and make you feel more encouraged and motivated, I promise!
4. Get in your me time
Yes, we might have just discussed the opposite but taking time out to do nothing but be you is also important when you want to beat stress naturally.
For some of you, me time might be higher up on the list than seeing friends and that’s fine. Whatever you need.
I once saw a comedy sketch of a woman who told the story of falling in love… with herself. Though it’s quite a bold idea, it’s exactly what you should do.
I mean, go out and date yourself if you like, watch a movie, eat a pizza… you get the gist.
You don’t even have to go out if you don’t feel like it. Put your favourite music on, get in the groove, catch up with that book you’ve been longing to read.
Take time to do you
It doesn’t matter what you do, what’s important is that you do YOU. Having time to yourself can help you re-organise your thought process and as a result, de-stress.
Use this time as a challenge to see if you can focus on one thing at a time- multi-tasking is known to increase stress levels as your brain isn’t wired to think of multiple activities at once.
When we take time to pause, it can be an opportunity to observe ourselves and sort of see where we’re at. Call it ‘checking in’ if you will. Checking in with yourself is a potent form of natural stress relief that shouldn’t be ignored.
If you read about hypnobirthing when you or your partner were pregnant, there are a lot of similar concepts.
Listen to relaxing music
If you’re a metal head, you can skip what I’m about to say and get head-bashing already.
For those of us softer folks out there, it might be useful to know that there is a correlation between the vibration you hear and how that resonates on your body.
Makes sense when you see how chilled out people are at a Dub festival – it’s because there’s all that bass going on. But it’s not only about pitch – it’s also the frequency.
There are different frequencies for each mental state you are trying to achieve – for example, something upbeat and dynamic would be known as ‘beta’ and for a more relaxed, deep trance state you would be looking at alpha or deta, which is the lowest frequency used for achieving sleep. You can find more info on that here.
Some other examples are Classical; Celtic or Native American music, depending on your preferences.
Experiment and see what feels right for you.
5. Deep breathing
How many times have you heard already ‘Take a deep breath’?
Do we actually know why we should do that in stressful situations? Let’s get into the science of it…
Well, remember in the beginning of this post where we touched on the effect of stress on the body? It was in the fight or flight section, if you missed it and need to scroll back.
But here’s a quick re-cap: as stress is related to two parts of the body, being the nervous system and the bloodstream – they are what we want to focus on. When the nervous system is activated under stress, it’s usually accompanied by shallow breathing.
How will deep breathing help me?
So what deep breathing does, is counteract the shallow breathing. How?
Our nervous system is actually split into two parts. Or if we want to imagine an On/Off switch that’s fine too.
These two parts are known as the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight or flight response, and the parasympathetic, which controls the rest and relax response. It therefore goes almost without saying that only one of them can work at a time.
What deep breathing does is allows us to tune into our bodies, take a moment to listen, slow our heart rate down – all of which allows us to feel more peaceful.
It also releases more carbon dioxide into the brain which in turn ‘quietens down’ parts of our brain that constantly buzz. Read more about it here.
There are different types of deep breathing you can try – the most common known as diaphragmatic breathing, which as a singer by nature, comes pretty natural to me but can take some practice at first.
To locate your diaphragm, place a hand gently under your ribs, at the same level of your stomach. Take a steady breath in at a normal pace and as your breathe out, imagine that you’re squeezing your gut inwards as you do so. You should automatically feel the muscle tense but don’t worry if you can’t recognise it yet – just keep trying.
Another approach you can try is the 478 method. As the name suggests, this involves 4 seconds inhaling, 7 seconds holding your breath, and 8 seconds releasing. Try to do so in an upright position, close your eyes if it helps. Read more here about this and two other exercises you can try.
6. Have a nutritious diet
We’ve all heard of that saying – ‘You are what you eat’ right?
You see it’s not just our bodies that benefit from having a healthy regime, in fact the result of what we eat can also be seen on a cellular level, and affect our mind’s capacity.
Think about it – we’ve all seen how children react to sugar. Do they seem relaxed? What about you after more than your average dose of coffee?
Cutting down on sugar
Thing is, we’ve become so used to consuming sugar that we don’t know what’s normal anymore. It’s everywhere – even in the products where you least expect it, such as those ‘healthy’ granola bars.
But what effect does sugar actually have on the body?
Well, it’s pretty huge when you stop and think about it. It releases one of your body’s natural hormones called dopamine. This does actually happen with whole foods, too, just at a slower rate.
That’s why when you’re used to those afternoon biscuits, you’re likely to need and crave more.
The problem is, refined sugar doesn’t provide any nutritional value to the body, apart from a quick high that will slowly turn into a mood crash.
More on the affects of sugar on your body here.
What should we eat instead?
New research is finally emerging about the way food affects our mood. In fact, when we are deficient in a vitamin or mineral, we often feel it – but can’t quite put our finger on what.
For years we’ve been told that a balanced diet should include the right amounts of carbohydrates, fats, proteins and sugars.
But what if we dig a little deeper?
You’ve probably heard of omega fats. These are popularly known also as ‘good fats’, that can be found in fish and olive oil to start.
We also need a good magnesium intake (the lack of which can cause us to feel drowsy or sleepy), calcium (dry skin and muscle fatigue when there is a deficiency) and other minerals.
The reason why I mentioned sugar is that the consumption of too much sugar can actually affect your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients you need, too.
Here are some tips to improving your overall nutrition:
- Make sure you have an abundance of veggies in your day to day and snack on fruits
- Ditch white bread for a brown/rye/gluten free alternative
- Keep the dairy products to a minimum – you can start by switching to rice milk
- Try to get enough protein in each meal – think pulses, beans, lean meat if you eat it
- Increase your water intake, which will help with the absorption of nutrients
7. Change your mindset
Last but not least, we’re going to touch on the importance of having a healthy mindset when it comes to dealing with stressful situations or stress in everyday life.
Let’s just say, if you generally have a more positive outlook on life, you will try to see the positives in the little things and see opportunities to grow from your failures. I think you get the point.
Remember, stress is more often your reaction to a situation or series of events, if you change your overall outlook on life you should therefore see a significant decrease in your stress levels.
By saying this, I don’t mean you have to try to be happy 100% of the time. That’s just unrealistic. But do try to accept your emotions, deal with them and move on.
Some ideas for a positive mindset
- Practice gratitude on a daily basis – just jot down at least one positive aspect of your day
- Try positive affirmations – you can write them out or leave yourself notes
- Observe and start to train your subconscious mind
- Eliminate and work on old thought patterns that no longer serve you
the subconscious mind
As I did promise at the beginning of this post that I would touch upon this later so let’s just go over something briefly.
Your subconscoius brain is irrational – it is your in-built hard disk. It contains an insane amount of storage space, which is why you can sometimes remember events that ocurred way back.
Sounds good – where’s the snatch?
Well, that’s just it – that’s all it knows.
It doesn’t separate ‘good’ from ‘bad’. What you tell yourself day in, day out, it just swallows up and repeats. It is also why it doesn’t capture the word ‘no’ before the rest of your sentence.
That’s why you should adopt a positive mindset and use positive affirmations to be able to see real changes in your stress levels. Take a look at the difference in these two affirmations that share the same intention but are worded differently.
‘No smoking for me today’
‘I’m going to do something instead of smoking today’
See what we did there? We just tricked it. Learn how to do more of this practice on this site I found really valuable while researching for this article here.
You can put an end to stress, Naturally
I really hope this post has given you some things to think about if you’re looking for natural ways to relieve stress.
If anyone has something else that helps them get through stressful periods of time please share in the comments below. Something that works for one person, might not for another.