I am no stranger to stress and overwhelm. Usually juggling a million things. Often frazzled and feeling pulled in a thousand different directions. And stress and overwhelm used to be one of my biggest eating triggers.
A trip to the pantry and escaping to the crunch of a bag of pretzels was always a great distraction. Especially when I had a looming deadline, children screaming at me, or another item was added to my ridiculously long to-do list. There was something about the act of crunching and chewing that flooded my body with sensations of calm and relief.
The last several weeks have been particularly stressful for a variety of reasons. But as I navigate what would have formerly sent me to the pantry for comfort, I can see that things have changed. I no longer need food in times of stress. It's no longer my go-to coping mechanism. And I have been able to take the last few weeks in stride and approach them with relative ease considering the chaos. And this, my friend, is HUGE!!
So what is different?
As I was reflecting on this, I identified 5 things that I do now, which have undoubtedly, helped me consistently manage stress and not be triggered to eat my face off.
My Top 5 Stress Management Techniques
1) I regularly meditate.
I discovered meditation about 3 years ago but was not very consistent. I would go through a few weeks where I would meditate daily but then life would happen and my practice would derail. I was essentially a yo-yo meditator.
For the last year, however, I have committed to prioritizing meditation. The benefits have been so profound that I am planning to dedicate an entire blog post on the topic in the future. But for now, just know that meditation has become a crucial component of managing my stress and anxiety.
It can be, however, a little overwhelming to get started. How's that for irony?! Especially if your mind is anything like mine and on constant overdrive. In fact, I used to think all of the following:
"My mind doesn't shut off. Meditation won't work for me."
"I can't sit still for one single minute. I'm too antsy and fidgety to meditate."
"I'm crazy busy. I don't have time to meditate."
But here's what I've learned along the way that will hopefully help you get started and kick any of these resistant thoughts in the tush.
It is important to understand that meditation is never about stopping your thoughts or the chatter in your mind. Both are always going to be there. Instead, it is about becoming an objective observer of what's going on between your ears. The power of meditation actually comes when you are able to notice that your mind has wandered and you make a conscious effort to pull it back to the present moment. It is simply about becoming more aware.
And you don't need to meditate for long periods of time to develop a practice and reap the benefits. You can experience the benefits in as little as 10 minutes a day. When we consider the time we spend engaged in social media, checking email, and/or surfing the internet, carving out 10 minutes for mediation becomes very do-able.
For anyone interested in getting started, I highly recommend trying the Headspace app. It provides a nice introductory series that guides you through the basics of meditation. Plus it helps hold you accountable by keeping track of your stats - it will track the number of minutes you meditate and display your overall run streak (the number of days you go in a row). There is something about seeing those numbers that really amps up your consistency.
2) I have a daily gratitude practice.
I have also begun prioritizing a very simple gratitude practice. I am learning from Pam Grout (author and overall joy amplifier) that anxiety, depression, stress, and overwhelm CANNOT EXIST at the same time as feelings of gratitude and appreciation.
Let me say that in a slightly different way so that it sinks in. Gratitude and stress cannot co-exist.
There are all kinds of ways to practice gratitude. Find what works for you. But the point is to consciously make note of daily blessings, daily wins, and daily evidence that things are conspiring for your greater good.
Grout has me making a bulleted list in a notebook. She suggests writing down a minimum of 3 blessings per day. It can be anything. The only criteria is that you don't repeat blessings.
I think we can all find 3 things that we are grateful for. Take a minute to write them down and truly appreciate them. Gratitude helps us keep things in perspective. It helps us switch our focus and realize that, amidst the chaos, there is always something to be thankful for.
And before moving on, I just want to point out that meditation and gratitude is a POWERFUL combo. I think it is safe to say that they have completely transformed my life. And they might just do the same for you. It is definitely worth a try.
3) I continuously reflect on this powerful series of questions.
I have three questions taped on my desk in a very prominent place so that I encourage myself to reflect on them frequently. They are as follows:
If you were the BEST IN THE WORLD at what you do, how would you react to this situation? How would you behave? And what would you do to set yourself up to be successful?
I learned this strategy from Marie Forleo, who I think is absolutely amazing. It is a pretty powerful series of questions on many levels because it gets us to think about how we respond to any given situation, how we manage our time, and what we choose to prioritize.
I wish as much as the next person that I could add a few extra hours to each day or clone myself so that I could get more accomplished. After all, that would reduce a good bit of my stress.
But here's the thing....
We all have 24 hours in any given day so we must begin to consciously think about the things that we invest our time in. Do they support our goals, our dreams, our mission, and our vision? Or are they time-suckers that prevent us from making true progress?
I have always believed that we are here on this planet to learn, to grow, and to evolve. I have said this before but it is one of my fundamental personal philosophies. I believe our purpose is essentially to become the very best version of ourselves. To consistently add value and to learn to leverage our unique talents and strengths to make this world a better place.
Reflecting on how we would react if we were at the very top of our game helps us do just that.
4) Every now and then I will strike a Power Pose.
Have you seen Amy Cuddy's TedTalk on powerful postures? If you haven't, it is definitely worth checking out. In this TedTalk, Cuddy talks about how shifting our body position and striking a power pose (think Wonder Woman) may actually change our body chemistry so that not only do we perceive ourselves as more confident but others perceive us as more confident too.
And the great thing about power posing is that it also reduces stress in the moment. I actually broke out this strategy just last week when I was feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed. And I felt better. Instantly.
Want to amplify the results? Strike a power pose with the song Exosuit by Epic North playing in your ear. As the song plays, imagine yourself filling up with confidence, ease, or whatever it is that you need in the moment.
I'm telling you, in 2 minutes and 24 seconds, you will be ready to - pardon my french - carpe the damn diem!!
5) I consistently exercise.
This one probably comes as no surprise since I am fitness instructor but it's worth mentioning because I used to put my own personal workouts at the bottom of the to-do list when my life got crazy. That was until I realized just how important exercise is to filling myself up.
Now my workouts definitely change shape in times of stress. Sometimes they are shorter. Sometimes they are gentler. But I always make space for them. I allow myself a non-negotiable 30-60 minutes per day to incorporate some sort of physical movement.
If exercise works for you, the key will be to create a fitness routine that sets you up for success and makes you feel empowered and strong. I wrote all about how to do that here.
Becoming More Resilient to Stress
It is incredibly important to find productive and supportive ways to manage stress and overwhelm. The key words here are productive and supportive. This ultimately is going to look different for everyone so I encourage you to really begin to identify what works for you.
Because when you regularly incorporate these strategies into your daily life, it will help you become more resilient in the long run. So that means the next time you get smacked with something that sends your cortisol levels through the roof, you don't fall back on non-supportive strategies to get you through (i.e. hitting up that pint of Ben and Jerry's in the freezer).
You can think of it as filling your toolbox with tools to equip you to handle life's stressful events with much more ease. What will you do this week to fill your toolbox?
Even More Strategies
As I mentioned earlier, eating is a sure-fire way to calm down in times of stress or overwhelm. And for that reason, it is one of the 10 craving sources that I identify in my Conquer Your Cravings eBook. In the eBook, I give you 3 more strategies to put yourself in a position to better manage your stress. Get your free copy here.