This week, ahead of a busy month of fashion shows, the Be Well Collective – a non-profit organisation endorsed by the British Fashion Council – addressed members of the fashion industry in the interest of wellbeing. But the expert panel’s advice applied not solely to models. In fact, the takeaways will resonate with all of us who find that rest and sleep can go astray during times of stress.
Registered nutritionist, model and founder of the Be Well Collective, Sarah Ann Macklin, explains: “During stressful periods our stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol stay elevated, which can lead to burn-out. It is important during these times that we recognise our bodies need rest, and that we implement measures to helps support this.”
The trouble is, while we’re busy living our breakneck lifestyles, self-care takes a backseat when it’s needed most. Below, Macklin, and her fellow panellists, suggest ways in which you can maximise your mental wellbeing when your stress levels are soaring.
Swap sugar for stress-busting foods
“We can make poor nutritional choices when stressed, reaching for high-sugar foods for an injection of energy,” Maklin says. “Stress also increases the rate our nutrients are used, as it is in need of a higher demand.” So this is not the time to supplement with Haribo.
“Dark green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds are filled with nutrients that can support the body when stressed,” she says – which couldn’t be easier to incorporate into your daily diet. “During times of chronic stress, I reach for ashwagandha which can help regulate and support the nervous system.”
The ashwagandha plant, particularly its root powder, has been used for centuries in traditional Indian medicine. It’s classified as an ‘adaptogen’, in that it abates anxiety. “It can help with mental clarity,” Maklin confirms. “It’s been shown to help lower cortisol levels, known best for its anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties.”
De-excite your system
Jillian Lavender, Ayurveda expert and founder of the London Meditation Centre explains that stress puts your nervous system in a more excited state. “Neurotransmitters like cortisol and norepinephrine flood the system so that your body is prepped for running or fighting danger.” Nowadays we’re rarely faced with life-threatening danger, however we’re constantly dealing with the demands of a hectic, switched-on existence, she says.
“If you’re not able to recover from all the demands of a busy life and come back to a balanced state, your system is left in this hyper-vigilant state in a way that’s not good for you.” Lavender adds, “Stress weakens your immune system, ages you more rapidly and undermines your ability to make good decisions.”
The antidote to stress, she says, is to do the opposite of excitation. “That means de-excite. Get good rest. Have a counterbalance to all the doing and over-thinking.” Naturally, this is where good sleep habits, eating well and exercising can help. “And research shows that one of the most powerful ways to settle your nervous system is to meditate. Stress and tiredness are then dissolved very quickly, and you can come back to a state that is healthy, more grounded and balanced.”
Lavender practices and teaches Vedic meditation, which she says can provide deeper rest than sleep. Try these seven ways to meditate for anxiety relief.
Hack your sleep habits
Renowned sleep therapist and author of books including Tired But Wired, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan says that many of us have lost the natural, innate ability to sleep. “There’s so much noise in our world which creates so much noise inside of us, which affects the nervous system,” she says.
Stress often manifests as nerves and anxiety, as Dr Ramlakhan recalls: “it’s that feeling when you wake up feeling sick, you’re grinding your teeth and the mind is going at 100mph.” We’ve all been there. To tackle this, she has some non-negotiables when it comes to our sleep routines:
– “Eat breakfast within half an hour of getting up, especially if your nervous system is nervous!” she says. Even if as small as eight almonds and two dates before eating a bigger breakfast later on, “this will stabilise your blood sugar levels and tells your body you’re safe”.
– “Don’t have caffeine before you’ve eaten. It tells your body to go into survival mode. Hydrate the cells instead.” This means water, water, water.
– “Go to bed earlier (around 9:30-10pm), three-to-four nights a week. Rest is your best weapon against stress.” She says to read a book in bed – “something life affirming and uplifting,” instead of a tense drama on Netflix. She says the early phase of sleep so important – and sources of blue light can impact your circadian rhythm. (If you simply can’t resist screen time, download f.lux, free software that warms up your computer display.)
– According to Dr Ramlakhan you shouldn’t have electronics in the bedroom at all. “Try not to let the first and last thing you touch be your phone,” she advises. “Swap your phone for a traditional clock and turn the display around for night time. That way if you wake during the night you won’t check the time during and make a risk assessment.”
Swap HIIT for rest and recovery
Luke Worthington, Nike trainer and elite master trainer for the Third Space Group says, “how you move your body on a daily basis has a direct consequence on your physical, mental and emotional state”.
We all know there’s a correlation between mental health and physical activity, and we often hear that more exercise is beneficial – but Worthington explains that’s not always the case. “Many people relate to high-intensity exercise helping you ‘let off steam’, but it’s more important to understand what state you’re in and what state you’ll be putting yourself into. Adding more intensity into a high-intensity lifestyle doesn’t create balance. It can simply layer stress upon stress.”
He believes that you should avoid high-octane activities late in the day. “Controlled, movement-based practises that don’t increase your heart rate are much more beneficial,” he says. Naturally, he advises being active every day, but if you’re too busy to commit to a regime – don’t sweat it.
“Understand that if you have to take a break from exercise because you’re too busy that having a few weeks off will make no difference.” A busy schedule is the perfect opportunity to break from a training programme. “You can’t overemphasise the importance of rest and recovery,” he says. “You don’t get any benefit from training and training and training. You actually get fitter and stronger when you’re notexercising because the good stuff happens in between.”
From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK