2020. Those four numbers will forever hold painful and difficult experiences for all of us. As we head into a new year, we caught up with Mollie, the creator of her ‘wheresmollie.com’ blog, to give us her top 10 ways to reduce stress during this period of both uncertainty and hope.
I feel pretty confident in saying on behalf of most of us, that 2020 has been a year filled with challenges. Right?
Normal life, or life as we knew it, has disappeared into the distance and we’ve been living in a crazy new reality that has had most of us leave office working, careers, relationships and more behind. It’s been a year of change, of growth and of, no doubt, uncertainty and stress. Saying that there have also been so many silver linings in 2020 (whether you can see them yet or not). There have been so many blessings that have carried us through and 2020 has had us shine the light of gratitude on them.
The main one and the constant that has had our back the entire time is… nature. Come rain or shine, it’s been those walks, runs, hikes and sunsets that have given us a moment to step away from the constant reel of news on our phones, screens and TVs. It’s given us a moment to tune back into ourselves.
In this post, I’d like to share 10 effective ways to reduce your stress. Whether an increase in stress is due to an increased workload, financial worries, relationship issues, family dynamics or any type of life transition, having a tool kit of ways to reduce your stress is going to be life-changing moving forwards.
Pun intended. Nature is where we belong. Nature accepts us for who we are, whether it’s letting out a scream in the forest, chucking on your Muck Boots and running through the puddles, running a loop of the forest or sitting to meditate / journal, nature has got your back! In Nature there’s no expectation of you, no judgement, the pressure is completely relieved and you can connect with the earth’s grounding and calm energy whenever you need it most.
When we are stressed with say, work, it’s all too easy to wake up and switch our emails straight on. If we don’t check in with ourselves and catch ourselves first thing, our mind will start reeling off thoughts that have us believe we don’t have time for anything else. Before we know it we are already neck-deep in stress after what was a peaceful night’s sleep. This is a dangerous cycle.
Take some time when you wake up to check in with how you’re feeling, go for a walk and feel the sun or the wind on your face. It could be 5 minutes one day, 30 minutes the next, 10 the day after and 1 hour the next. Whatever feels good, just make sure you do it. How you start your day sets the tone for the rest of it. Set an intention for the day and set some boundaries for your work hours and what you can realistically achieve before you get lost in it. Take control.
And on the days where you don’t want to take the time? These are the days where it’s even more important to.
When we are in a state of stress and we feed ourselves negative thoughts, we activate our fight or flight response and our sympathetic nervous system too (this is our body’s way to prepare us to attack, to move and to protect) and our breathing often becomes very shallow and in our chest.
We can actively turn this around and reduce the feelings of stress in our body by taking some deep belly breaths through the nose and out through the mouth (or nose).
The reason I say to breathe through your nose is that this activates your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which signals to your body that you are okay, that you are safe and that you can relax. Take a 5 second inhale, hold for 4 and then exhale for 6.
Growing up doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and let your inner child play anymore! Give yourself permission to do whatever makes you feel alive. That could be rolling down a hill with your friends until you go dizzy, singing your heart out to an old school CD, heading out on a last-minute road trip, picking up an activity you used to enjoy when you were younger or jumping in the puddles with your dog and seeing who can get the muddiest.
Stop caring so much about what other people think and allow yourself to let loose!
Call up one of your besties either to let off a bit of steam (maybe ask them if they are in a place to listen first) or call them for a change of pace and conversation. There are only so many Zoom calls you can do before you need a good old laugh with your favourite humans.
Something that often goes hand in hand with stress is interrupted/reduced sleep. This is again a really dangerous spiral to let go out of control. When you’ve got a lot going on physically, emotionally and mentally, it’s really important your body gets some solid time to replenish your energy supply and rest. The light we receive from screens signals daylight and increases stimulation, the opposite of what you want to communicate to your body before sleep.
Make a conscious effort to switch off all your screens at least an hour before bed and if you still struggle to switch off your mind, consider listening to a guided meditation, audio bedtime story or lock into some calm breathing techniques. This will take you out of your mind and back into your body so that you can drift into a peaceful sleep.
When our minds are filled with ideas, tasks, to-do lists, emails and deadlines it can often be overwhelming and that’s before you’ve tried meeting the needs of the relationships around you, family time, you time and your social life.
Journaling is a great way to offload the stress that’s in your head and allows you to see what you’re facing out on paper. Often just the download of information is enough to relieve the mental stress (a great idea too if you haven’t got anyone to call) but it also allows you to see what tasks you have still to complete. Very often when you write it down on paper, it seems a lot easier to manage, prioritise and complete. When it’s stuck in our head it can feel out of control.
If you find yourself getting overwhelmed and caught up in the downward spiral we all know too well, a gratitude list is a great way to save yourself and switch the attention of your mind. Like attracts like. If you start reeling off things that aren’t how you’d like them to be, or that you haven’t done yet or that are causing you grief, it will be very easy to stay on that path and your mind will happily accumulate things on that list for you.
When you switch your mind’s attention to gratitude, the same thing happens but in the opposite direction. When you channel gratitude you will feel the warmth running through you and the greatest thing? There is ALWAYS something to be grateful for…
And sometimes our stress is simply a result of taking on too much. Whether that’s because we have a tendency to people-please, over-commit or just don’t have ‘no’ in our vocabulary, it’s time to get in tune with your limits. It’s time to set realistic goals and boundaries that feel good for you. It could be stress from a friendship that isn’t healthy, a relationship that’s asking too much of you or a job that isn’t honouring your personal time. Whatever it is, you are within your right to say no when something doesn’t feel right.
Of course, saying no can have consequences and it’s really important to spend some time with your decision before making it to make sure it’s the best one for you. You have got to start listening to yourself and honouring your peace.
Saving the best till last! Get outside and plan some fun activities with your bestie, your partner, your mum, your dog or solo!
Changing up your perspective, your scenery and your daily routine is the most refreshing reward for all the hard work you do. You deserve a break. Make a list of 10 adventures you’d like to go on this year, near, far and everything in between and start planning the first one!
Don’t let winter deter you from an adventure either, get equipped with some outdoor wear, some Original Muck Boots and get a hot cup of something in your hands!
Mollie is a photographer, videographer and the creative behind the ‘Where’s Mollie?’ brand. She also founded the Global Travellers tour operator and community. She started her travel blog, ‘wheresmollie.com’, 2014 and branched out to host bespoke outdoor adventures in 2017 under Global Travellers. In 2020, she took to the roads in her dream van conversion.