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Stress soothers for inner calm

Don't let stress get the better of you. Try these expert tips to promote calm

This month marks International Stress Awareness Week, which runs from 2 to 6 November. This annual campaign is dedicated to raising awareness about stress, its impact on mental and physical health, and the importance of stress management. If you are struggling with stress, try practising some self-care, with the following expert tips. Look up the hashtag #StressAwarenessWeek on social media for more helpful hints and tips.

Keep a journal

"Keeping a journal allows us to organise events in our minds and make sense of difficult or overwhelming situations," says Certified Health Coach Edwina Jenner (Instagram: @Edwinajennercoaching).

Journaling engages various regions of the brain that are responsible for emotional regulation and processing, namely the pre-frontal cortex. When we put our thoughts and emotions into words, the prefrontal cortex, the area associated with higher-order thinking and decision-making, becomes activated. This is the polar opposite of what happens when we are in a stressful situation or highly activated during the day. This is when our amygdala (the oldest part of our brain responsible for our safety) activates our fight/flight/freeze mode."

She adds: "Writing forces us to be present in the moment. Writing is slower than our thinking, meaning we can fully present and engage with our emotions in a calm environment and take time to process what we are actually feeling. When we engage with our thoughts, we can gain more insight into them and question their validity. Are they true or false? We gain a much clearer perspective over a situation with some distance. Finally, as journaling becomes a habit, we better understand our emotions, which means we don't experience them at the same intensity. We are less likely to be reactive and more likely to stay rational and calm."

Cut down on caffeine

"It's common to see someone reaching for extra cups of coffee or their favourite energy drinks to give them a caffeine 'boost' to make it through a stressful day," says Lucy Jones (ANutr), Registered Associate Nutritionist and founder of Lutrition ( "Caffeine is a stimulant which affects the brain and nervous system, helping to keep you alert. What many aren't aware of is that caffeine can stick around in the body for many hours after you've finished your drink. Some research suggests caffeine can linger in the bloodstream for anywhere between 2 and 12 hours. This can have knock-on effects, such as leading to a poor night's sleep, which in turn can lead to further stress. To avoid the carry-over effects of caffeine and help soothe stress, stop drinking coffee or any other caffeinated drink by 2pm to allow your body time to process and remove it before bed."

Try a breathing technique

"We're assaulted by stress-inducing moments all day every day in our modern lives," says Anna Parker-Naples founder of Influential Breathwork ( "Our bodies are not designed to function with the amounts of cortisol that are constantly being released. By learning to manage your breathing patterns and breath habits, you can transform your outlook, your health and your sense of wellbeing. The following exercise is brilliant for taking the focus off the stress in your life and changing your breathing and your heart rate to reduce stress. Slower breaths allow your parasympathetic nervous system to be activated, which calms your mind, changes the blood flow in your body, and reduces your heart rate."

Practise some yoga

"Gemma Sprack, a yoga teacher and founder of The Feel Good Collective ( explains how yoga can help with stress relief.

"Stress can cause muscular tension, tightness, discomfort, and even chronic pain. The physical stretching of a yoga practice can help to reduce this with studies showing that it can boost serotonin and reduce cortisol levels leading to a decrease in depression and anxiety. This loosening of muscular tension also encourages deeper breathing which triggers your nervous system to move out of the 'fight or flight' mode and into a more restful state.

So where to start? My top tip would be to ease into it with just 5 to 10 minutes a day. Ensure that you hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds to allow the body to relax into it and to ensure that whatever pose you're doing feels good! If it's difficult to breathe, or uncomfortable, it's going to be causing more stress so ease away from the 'edge' of your stretch and find something more comfortable.

Child's Pose is perfect for reducing external stimuli and turning your focus back inward. Not only do you get all of the benefits of a forward fold, but it also allows the head and neck to relax which signals to the nervous system that it's safe to rest. Begin on your hands and knees, then take the knees a little wider apart and push the hips back towards the heels. Slowly let the tummy and chest drop down to the floor, resting the forehead on the mat. Arms can come out in front, or all the way down to the side of your feet. Hold for between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. Play around with this pose to find something really restful – try using pillows to support you, taking the knees wider apart or maybe even stacking the hands under the forehead."

Supplement with magnesium

"Magnesium is a mineral with wide-reaching health benefits, involved in over 300 different enzymatic reactions within the body," says Suzy Shinner. "As well as being supportive of energy production, hormonal health, cardiovascular health and more, magnesium plays an important role in our response to stress. Research suggests that magnesium helps to regulate our hypothalamic-pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) axis, the system that regulates our stress response and ultimately produces the stress hormone cortisol. Magnesium may also have a calming effect on the central nervous system, as it influences neurotransmitters such as GABA that reduce brain excitatory activity. Magnesium is abundant in many plant foods, including green leafy vegetables, avocados, nuts and seeds, whole grains, legumes and even dark chocolate. Supplementing magnesium can also be a useful way to up your intake. There are many different forms of magnesium supplement available, but magnesium bisglycinate can be particularly helpful for stress and anxiety, as well as being gentle on the digestive system."

Support your system with Ashwagandha

"Ashwagandha has become increasingly popular in recent years, most notably for its anti-stress effects," explains registered nutritional therapy practitioner Suzy Shinner ( "This adaptogenic herb has, in fact, been used as a nerve tonic for thousands of years and is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine for its multiple health benefits, including stress relief. Modern-day research confirms many of Ashwagandha's historic health effects. Specifically, Ashwagandha has been shown to help reduce anxiety, depression and stress-related symptoms. One clinical study found that 300mg taken twice daily was able to significantly reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety, as well as reducing blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol, after just two months of daily use. It may also be useful for those struggling with sleep. A study looking at people with anxiety and insomnia found that use of Ashwagandha supplements improved sleep quality and quantity. When choosing a supplement, look out for KSM-66 Ashwagandha, a highly bioavailable form with the highest concentration of extract."

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