By Jennifer Scott
For some people, anxiety is something you have to manage on a daily basis. For others, anxiety pops up out of nowhere, especially around stressful times like the holidays, weekends and vacations. Personally, I fall somewhere in between these two. Dealing with chronic anxiety means I have to stay committed to healthy activities that help. Yet, even with these strategies, there’s something about the holidays that can quickly derail my mental health goals, despite my best efforts.
As Verywell Mind explains, holiday stress is predictable. I know it’s coming each year, but for some reason, it still creeps up on me. After years of this catching me off guard and struggling with episodes of anxiety around the holidays, I’ve finally realized how much it helps to simply anticipate vacation stress. This realization has been life-changing, which is why I felt it was so important to share how powerful it can be. Because when you accept that vacation stress will happen, you can find strategies to handle it and even keep it from turning into full-blown anxiety.
Strategy #1 – Keep Up with Healthy Habits
Wait, weren’t we talking about anxiety?! The truth is that many people underestimate the role our habits play in managing stress and anxiety. Being active, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough rest are all habits that keep you healthy physically, but they also keep mental health in check. This doesn’t mean you should do anything drastic! In fact, the nutrition blog Lively Table recommends not starting a diet over the holiday season. Instead, aim for balance, with healthy breakfasts, extra helpings of vegetables, and supplements that fill out your nutritional needs.
It’s also a good idea to consider supplements that help with anxiety, such as CBD oil. CBD oil comes from the cannabis plant, but it doesn’t contain the psychoactive chemical THC. What this means is that it delivers a calming effect without the high feeling you get from using marijuana. When it comes to buying CBD oil, the best quality can often be found through a CBD dealer who comes highly recommended, or through a marijuana dispensary that also sells CBD products, which may include capsules and edibles in addition to oils.
Strategy #2 – Lean on Your Support System
As much as personal habits can help you manage anxiety, no one should try to cope without the help of a strong support system. And while many of us spend extra time with family during holidays, weekends and vacations, all that family time may lead to extra stress — not support. This is one of those stressors that you can anticipate, which means you can have a plan for how to handle it. If you’ll travel to visit family and will be away from your support network, stay in touch with those who can help most by calling and texting. Just be sure that your data plan will have you covered, as you don’t want to get hit with overage charges, especially around the holidays. If you need to make changes such as adding more data, survey your provider’s unlimited phone plans before the season gets hectic.
Strategy #3 – Embrace Acceptance
Even when you have the healthiest routine and the best support system, stress during your periods of time-off will still happen. This is why Greater Good Magazine encourages acceptance. Accepting stress may sound unconventional, but it’s actually a smart way to protect your mental health. Along with acceptance, it’s also important to have realistic expectations around those days without work routines. You can’t do everything, so focus on setting limits that put your top priorities first. For example, if you have a long list of personal and family responsibilities, consider whether some events are absolutely necessary or if certain ones can be skipped. If spending money on gifts during the holidays is a stressor, talk to family about having a more minimalist holiday so that your budget gets a break.
Setting these limits is actually one of the best ways to take control over a hectic weekend or holiday schedule. Of course, stress will still happen, even with the best strategies. However, when you confront it head-on, the stress becomes more manageable and the joys of the season will outweigh the anxiety.
Have you ever felt a magnetic pull to be out in the woods or simply stroll in a park nearby? Why is enjoying nature so important when you need vacation or just look for relaxation?
This the law of attraction to nature!
Let’s explore the major benefits of embedding yourself in nature, observing, being mindful of your surroundings… not just sitting while scrolling through inert bits and pieces! Research shows that connecting with nature can significantly boost your mental and physical health, even reduce your blood pressure up to 10%. It’s like a natural pill to boost your wellbeing!
Are your energy levels low? Well, it’s probably time for a nature break! According to a study, spending time in nature makes people feel invigorated, independently of the physical activity or social interactions.
How much time should you spend in nature to improve your energy levels? The magic number is 20 minutes, enough to significantly boost your energy levels. Improving your energy levels not only allows to you do the things you want to do, it also makes you less likely to get sick.
So, the next time you’re feeling sluggish, don’t instinctively grab a cup of coffee. Instead, go outdoors, just walk around, admire plants and trees or… sit on a bench and smell the roses!
Stress is a part of our everyday life, affecting our mental and physical health as well. It can make you engage in activities that increase your risk of heart disease such as smoking, eating too much or not engaging in regular physical activity.
Again, just 20 minutes a day connecting with nature can lower your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and lower physical signs of stress such as muscle tension, blood pressure and heart rate. Just sitting in natural environment, not even hiking or walking, will enable you to reap these benefits.
Why is connecting with nature helpful in reducing stress? According to the stress reduction theory, being in a natural environment helps us recover from stress. This is because peaceful natural settings led to favorable living conditions that improved the chances of survival. As a result, we innately respond seek contact with nature.
A recent study found that walking in urban parks can elevate your spirit to the same levels you might feel on Christmas eve. Research also shows that your risk for mood disorders, such as depression is lowered when you regularly spend time connecting with nature.
Why is that? If you are aware and present in a natural environment, you have less tendency to ruminate over the past or worry about the future, a common feature of depression and anxiety. Nature has a way of filling you with a sense of awe, feeling that you “are in the presence of something bigger than yourself.” This in turn makes your worries and cares pale in comparison.
What’s more, even seeing nature with your mind’s eye has these effects. Practicing mindful framing, which includes visualization of trees and natural landscapes, will have a positive effect on your mood and reduce your anxiety.
Improved cognitive performance
Do you find your attention waning after a couple of hours focused on a task? Well, that’s completely normal. In order to perform cognitive tasks including analyzing, planning and organizing information, we need to pay attention. When we are tired, or after significant and prolonged mental activity, our attention starts to wander and our cognitive performance decreases.
Being in nature allows our minds to rest and reset, thus restoring our attention. Just a couple seconds or minutes is enough. We don’t even have to be outdoors to have a more focused mind. Just looking outside a window, mindfully looking at tree branches, the color of its leaves, or listening and gazing at the birds will do the trick.
Improved sleep quality
After a poor night’s sleep, you may notice that you have trouble concentrating. You may also feel irritable. These may be temporary inconveniences at best. If you experience poor sleep on a regular basis; however, you are at increased risk of developing a number of medical conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and mood disorders. You are also more prone to die earlier. In fact, if you sleep 5 hours or less a night, your risk of dying from all causes increases by 15%.
Research shows that spending more time in nature can improve your sleep quality, particularly if you are over the age of 65. This effect is driven by resetting your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural clock, to a more natural sleep cycle. In today’s world, our circadian rhythm can be behind on average 2 hours, and this can wreak havoc on the quality of your sleep.
And you don’t have to necessarily spend time outside to reap the benefits of connecting with nature. Even just sleeping in a room with smells from essential oils, nature sounds, or a window showing a natural landscape can improve sleep quality.
Bringing all together
Try to find at least 2 hours per week to reap the mental and physical health benefits of nature. Ideally you should target an average of 20 minutes outdoors per day, truly being mindful or learning how to visualize nature while indoors.
If you live in a city, it will be tougher to carve out time to connect with nature. Do not give up, here some tips:
- Spend part of your lunch break taking a walk or just sitting by a tree
- Spend part of your weekend strolling in your neighbourhood park
- In summer, take a sandwich and go for a picnic
- When it’s time to go to bed, replace screen time with calming nature sounds or images
- Have some plants and pictures of nature at your home and office
- Be mindful of nature, connect using your 5 senses; sight, smell, sound, taste and touch
- Learn about forest bathing
Explore and connect with nature as a path to discover your true nature!
Why do you breathe a sigh of relief when a stressful situation is resolved? Why is deep breathing or stretching your neck so relaxing?
Be thankful to your vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body. It contains ‘vagabond’ nerve fibers driving the ‘rest and digest’ response to key organs and body systems. This is the key pathway for our brain to connect with the entire organism and deactivate the ‘fight and flight’ response leading to anxiety and stress.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve wanders throughout your body and in so doing connects your brain to a number of vital organs in your body, including your gut, lungs and heart.
It is the key component of the parasympathetic, ‘rest and digest,’ part of your autonomic nervous system. The other component of the system is the sympathetic, ‘fight or flight,’ response. An imbalance or lack of control of your autonomic response leads to anxiety and chronic stress. The sympathetic nerves are the gas pedal, revving you up, while the parasympathetic or vagus nerve puts the breaks in motion and slows you down.
The vagus nerve is key to feeling a sense of calm. When you stimulate the vagus nerve, feel-good hormones like prolactin and oxytocin are released. As a result, you feel less anxious and depressed, experience less tension headaches and form stronger social bonds.
It also controls many functions in your body that happen unconsciously. So, a well-functioning autonomic nervous system means better blood glucose and blood pressure control, better digestion and immunity, and less inflammation. You will also experience better heart health and less allergies.
On the other hand, if your vagus nerve is not functioning well, you may experience weight gain, digestive issues, depression, anxiety, and chronic inflammation. Even, the so-called invisible disease or dysautonomia, affecting millions of people globally.
What is the Gut-Brain Connection?
The vagus nerve extends into the digestive system. In fact, close to 20% of the vagus nerve cells form connections with the digestive system and send messages from the brain in order to control movement of food along the gut. In addition, the bacteria in the gut communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, which not only affects how much food is eaten, but inflammation and mood as well.
As a result, stimulating the vagus nerve can improve digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. On the other hand, damage to the vagus nerve can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea, bloating, nausea and slow down the emptying of the stomach.
Can the Vagus Nerve be Stimulated?
As a medical treatment, the vagus nerve can be stimulated to treat a number of diseases including medication-resistant epilepsy, treatment-resistant depression and anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
To stimulate the vagus nerve, an electrode is implanted along the right side of the vagus nerve, thus providing regular activation of the vagus nerve.
Unless you are a yoga master, you cannot directly stimulate the vagus nerve, but you can do so indirectly to relieve anxiety and depression. Do it yourself in 4 natural ways:
Breath Slowly and Deeply
Most of us don’t breathe well. We either breathe too fast; about 10 to 14 breaths per minute, or we breathe too superficially; from the chest instead of the diaphragm. Thus, we short-change ourselves from the life-giving force of the vagus nerve.
By breathing deeper and more slowly, we are able to stimulate the vagus nerve, and thus reduce anxiety. So, how exactly can you practice abdominal breathing? It’s actually quite simple: When you are breathing, think about slowly filling your abdomen up like a balloon. This will make you naturally inhale slowly. Then, slowly exhale.
How often you practice slow abdominal breathing depends on you. You can make a daily routine of it by fitting it into a daily meditation or yoga practice. On the other hand, you can also just practice it whenever you feel on edge. Just 3 cycles of slow abdominal breathing can work wonders for activating your vagus nerve!
Because your gut and your brain are intimately connected via the gut-brain axis, whatever affects your gut also affects your brain and its connections such as the vagus nerve.
So, by taking good care of your gut, you’re also taking care of your vagus nerve. One way you can take care of your gut is by practicing intermittent fasting. Much like you need to give your body a rest in order to recharge, intermittent fasting gives your gut a break from digestion, so it can recharge. In fact, research shows that intermittent fasting increases your heart rate variability, which is a measure of the activity of your vagus nerve.
An easy way to begin intermittent fasting is to stop eating, snacking or drinking alcohol after 7 p.m., and not resume eating or snacking until 7 a.m. the next day.
Stretch and Exercise daily
Participating in daily physical activity has tons of benefits, one of which is stimulating your vagus nerve. Activating your parasympathetic nervous system decreases your stress and anxiety levels, your anger, and even inflammation.
However, there is one caveat when it comes to physical activity; it should be done regularly and include moderate cardio and strength routines, which provide a sufficient increase of the vagal tone without overexerting yourself. This is because when you exercise too intensely, your vagus nerve activity actually diminishes.
Yoga is an ideal type of practice since stretching in certain yoga poses has a proven beneficial effect on heart rate and blood pressure, especially stretching the neck in the cobra pose.
Be Aware and Empathetic
In today’s technology driven world, we can feel isolated despite social media. Research has demonstrated that when you feel socially isolated, your vagus nerve function decreases.
But the good news is that there is a remedy for this; face-to-face interactions. The same study found that when those who felt socially isolated were engaged in fact-to-face interactions with others such as family and friends, the vagus tone increased.
Not able to have face-to-face interactions right now? Not to worry! By practicing mindful framing, a mindfulness practice that transforms your anxiety into vital energy through visualization, you will increase self-awareness and become more empathetic towards people in your family, at work and other acquaintances.
Or you can practice loving-kindness mindfulness, projecting warm feelings of love, empathy, and forgiveness toward others in four stages; first with friends and loved ones, then strangers who are suffering around the world, then your enemies and those you hold grudges against, and finally, yourself.
By naturally stimulating your vagus nerve, you will have at your disposal a powerful tool to relax and rebound from anxious thoughts and life’s stresses. Discover how your mind can control your body by sending the right signals to your heart, your lungs and your gut, while creating an aura of peace and relaxation around you.
Did you know that adrenaline, an essential booster of mental and body energy, can also trigger the ‘fight and flight’ response, causing stress and potentially getting you in trouble?
When you’re about to give a presentation, your throat is suddenly parched, and your heart begins to pound … that’s adrenaline kicking in.
When you have a deadline fast approaching and your feel sweaty palms, your feel a knot in your throat and can’t think clearly … that’s adrenaline rushing through your vessels.
What is adrenaline?
Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced in your adrenal glands; those found on top of your kidneys. It is produced when you face a situation that requires an immediate increase of energy: a tiger threatening your life. Epinephrine is also a medication that emergency doctors inject to patients with a sudden life-threatening allergic reaction, also called anaphylaxis, or a when the heart stops beating. It immediately opens up airways in the lung and narrows blood vessels, normalizing breathing and heart rhythm.
Adrenaline and the stress response
When you face emotional, physical, or mental stress, adrenaline is released. In a healthy person, adrenaline expands your oxygen intake to your muscles. This happens because blood is squeezed from the skin and internal organs and rerouted to major muscles, preparing the body to flee a danger or fight it. Adrenaline increases the production of glucose in the liver while reducing insulin release by the pancreas, leading to improved muscle function, you feel stronger.
Your nervous system is able to decrease pain, increasing your ability to keep fighting despite injuries. Simultaneously, an adrenaline rush heightens your sensory perception, letting you enjoy every second of sky diving or watching a horror movie.
Impact of increased adrenaline
Craving for an adrenaline rush may lead to misusing prescription medications, drugs or seeking ‘hyperventilating’ activities. Your mind and body may ‘enjoy’ stressful situations, even confrontation or dangerous activities.
When you have high levels of adrenaline, you’ll feel agitated and irritable. Over time, high levels of adrenaline can lead to insomnia, anxiety, weight gain, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Thus, it’s crucial to ensure that your adrenaline levels are under control.
At some point the mind may be use stress and anxiety to keep adrenaline rushing into your bloodstream. on the other hand, a mind full of worry and thoughts will have a hard time falling asleep, this would drive an increase of adrenaline leading to insomnia.
You can control your adrenaline levels by focusing on stress management. Here are 4 simple ways to naturally control your adrenaline levels.
Know thy self
Sometimes, we’re stressed out because we don’t know our limits, we lack long-term self-confidence and look for a quick fix, an adrenaline rush. For instance, being a yes-person, unable to say no to others. When you have a stressful job, and you’re taking care of an ailing parent at home, but someone comes along and asks if you can coach your daughter’s soccer team. Instead of saying no, you go ahead and say yes. This may help you feel good momentarily but adds unnecessary stress to your already full plate.
To learn about your limits, practice self-reflection and you progressively will feel being more self-assertive. Also, engage in role-playing, practice being a naysayer, which will give you the confidence and experience to be able to say no assertively, yet gracefully.
Be truly social
Having social support helps lower your stress levels. When you have a solid social network system, you don’t feel alone, and you have people with whom you can unburden your stressors.
In today’s world, we are lonelier than ever despite being more connected digitally. It just may be that we need more face-to-face interactions.
There are a number of ways to develop good social support. For instance, get out and volunteer. By volunteering, you not only help others, you also get to meet other people with similar values as yourself. Another way you can develop good social engagements is by getting involved with your community association. joining a gym or religious organization. By being less isolated, you’ll not only feel less stressed, but happier as well.
Go for a walk
To reduce your risk of adrenaline addiction, it’s important to balance stimulating with relaxing activities. After a stressful situation, move towards an unchallenging, systematic, routine task to allow adrenaline blood levels to drop. Going for a walk around the block and focusing on the environment is a well-established recipe to decompress.
When you’re facing a looming deadline at work, or a challenging relationship with your loved ones, the last thing you want to do is to move, exercise, challenge your body. Yet, it’s extremely beneficial.
When you make time to exercise, you give your mind a break from the stressor. As a result, you come back rejuvenated and ready to tackle the stressor head on, or even have a completely different perspective on the stressor. Also, when you exercise, you release endorphins, the feel-good hormones.
Get enough sleep
Have you noticed how much smoother your day goes by when you get enough sleep? When you get enough sleep, you’re more relaxed and are better able to handle stress.
Getting enough sleep will let your mind and body normalize adrenaline and several other hormones and neurotransmitters. One way you can ensure you’re getting enough sleep is by practicing good sleep hygiene habits. For instance, make your bedroom a technology-free zone. Instead of scrolling through social media at night, read a good book.
Another good practice to ensure you’re getting enough sleep is to let go of the day’s worries. You can do so by focusing on your senses to distract your mind while in bed, practicing sensorial mindfulness or mindful framing.
Life has its fair share of challenges and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by them. By practising stress management techniques, you can not only lower your reliance on short-term adrenaline rushes, but lower your tendency to be overwhelmed by life’s challenges as well.
I will take you through an amazing visualization journey into your mind while teaching you the practice of Mindful Framing. You will learn a revolutionary approach to manage anxiety and stress through the creation of solid frames of mind leading to mental, emotional and physical wellbeing
SAND, Science And Non-Duality, is a yearly event bringing together some of the brightest minds in science, along with teachers from various traditions and artists, in a quest to expand and deepen our understanding and experience around the theme of empathy, relationships and mindfulness.