Written by Sondi Bruner from her west coast kitchen.
Even if you're not a student, doesn't it seem like September is the time when our busy lives kick into gear again? One moment you're languishing on a patio with a frosty beverage, and then you suddenly have four urgent deadlines and shop windows are begging you to buy brown cable knit sweaters.
Of course, if you are going back to school, or have a child or two who is, this time of year can be especially stressful, too. New classes, new teachers, new friends and all of that dang pressure we place on ourselves to excel can reduce us to an electric web of nerves.
Fortunately, no matter the source of your September stress, there are a ton of things you can do to lighten the load. Here are a few ways to reduce your worries, so you can focus on enjoying all the amazingness that autumn brings. Like brownies and pumpkin soup.
1. Stay nourished
Food is incredibly important to combat stress, anxiety and bad moods. Sometimes, stress can mean we have a nutrient deficiency, like a lack of protein or healthy fats, or it can be caused by the crap we're eating – like refined carbs and sugary snacks. These are a few of the healthy foods that are an excellent addition to a stress-free kitchen:
- Whole grains. Brown rice, millet, buckwheat, oats, quinoa and barley are packed with B vitamins, which are essential to healthy nerve and brain function. B vitamins are one of our most important stress fighters. Plus, whole grains have a host of other benefits – they support the digestive tract, help lower blood sugar and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Try to choose gluten-free grains, as gluten can gunk up the digestive tract – and not pooping for three days can definitely be stressful!
- Dark leafy greens. Spinach, kale, arugula, collards, Swiss chard, take your pick. Not only are these richly-coloured vegetables full of B vitamins, they also contain several other nutrients that are essential to keeping us calm like vitamin C, zinc and magnesium.
- Antioxidants. Load up on berries, bright veggies, nuts, seeds, beans and fish, as these foods are high in vitamin A, C, E and selenium, which are antioxidants that fight the free radicals stress can produce.
- Maca. As an adaptogen, maca helps the body handle stress. But that's not all – it also regulates hormones, increases energy, improves mood and enhances libido (wink, wink).
2. Get organized
It's tough to be stress-free when the house is a mess, the fridge is empty, your mail is unanswered and you always seem to be running 10 minutes behind schedule. Here are a few handy ways to structure your life so you have more time to do the things you enjoy:
- Prioritize your life. What are the most important things you need to accomplish today, tomorrow, this week? What is absolutely essential, and what is nice to accomplish, but not urgent? It's easy to get overwhelmed when you have a to-do list with 41 items – can you put some of those off, or can you enlist help from someone else to make them happen? Setting priorities allows you to truly examine your values, as opposed to doing something because you think you 'should'.
- Make a list, if it's helpful. Some people live and die by their to-do lists. If having a list – on paper, on a whiteboard, on your computer or phone – floats your boat, then by all means have one. Create a list that's manageable, with a select number of tasks on it. Try to avoid using the list as a measure of your success; if you can't complete something, you haven't failed. And really, unless you're a brain surgeon, if something doesn't get done, no one is going to die.
- Focus on one thing at a time. Women are especially skilled at multitasking compared to men, but perhaps, on occasion, it may be worth it to take a page from the male perspective. Attempt to finish one task before you move on to the next – you may even find you're more efficient this way. This may mean turning off your phone, closing Facebook and Twitter, or finding a quiet space where you won't be interrupted by family, friends or coworkers who want a piece of you.
- Complete as much prep work as you can. In the kitchen, this means peeling and slicing your veggies so they're ready to go during the week, spending your Sunday afternoon cooking a few big batches of stew, or making a grocery list so you've got everything you need at your fingertips (and hey, we happen to have a nifty course that helps you do that). Outside of the kitchen, you may want to do the laundry, cleaning, gardening or other chores in one fell swoop so you don't have to worry about them for the rest of the week.
- Ask for help. If you're feeling daunted by all you've got going on, ask for help from your friends, family, children or neighbours. Rely on your community, because they love you and want you to be happy!
3. Make time for stress-free activities
When you've got a lot happening, it can be hard to make time for relaxation. But there is tons of evidence like this and this and this that show participating in relaxing activities improve our health, and keep our brains happy. So carve out some time to relax – schedule it in your calendar if you need to. Just make it happen, please.
4. Choose relaxing herbs and supplements
- Chamomile. This herb quells nervousness, anxiety, stress and insomnia. Have it in a cup of tea, add a few drops of essential oil to your bath, put it in an aromatherapy diffuser or use it as massage oil.
- Vitamin C. Although this vitamin is found in leafy greens and antioxidant foods, it's worth thinking about taking some extra vitamin C because when we're stressed, we excrete more of it in our urine.
- Lavender. Lavender is an adaptogen, which means it can help the body adapt to stress or imbalances. It is a great aid for relaxing and winding down before bedtime, yet has balancing properties that can also boost stamina and energy. Put it on your pillow, or add a few drops to your bath and you'll be blissful in no time.
- Passionflower. This magical little flower helps ease tension and reduce stress. We don't know how, but it works. You can take it on its own, or break open the capsule and add it to your favourite smoothie.
Question of the Day: So, what say you? How do you stay stress-free?