Month: April 2021

Let’s talk about stress

April marks National Stress Awareness Month so it only seemed right to add an extra blog post in to support this important initiative.

Stress Awareness Month has been recognised every April since 1992, which is news to me. In fact, before this year (2021) I didn’t realise it was acknowledged by its own month, but it’s really great news. Stress is something we throw about all the time by saying “we’re so stressed” or “it’s so stressful” but what do we actually mean?

Learning to cope with stress and finding healthy ways to deal with our own stress is important in being able to lead a balanced and positive life. It seems particularly poignant after the year we’ve had (and continue to live through) with the COVID pandemic and all the restrictions and changes to life as we know it.

StressSomeone Trying to Repair Every Situation Solo. – Dave Willis


Let’s talk about stress: it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, stress is primarily a physical response by our body to stimulus (whether internal or external). Without the ability to feel stress, humankind would not have survived. The classic example is of the caveman who used the onset of stress to become aware of potential dangers and threats – and the same can be said today (only we are not running away from lions and tigers but work, business, relationships, invisible illnesses…), stress is our body’s reaction when under attack to switch to “fight or flight mode”. This switch is a complex mix of hormones and chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol, to prepare the body for action.

The result is that some parts of the body will work overtime (like blood flowing to our muscles) while others slow down (like digestion). For example, think about when you’re stressed, you often don’t feel hungry, or you never feel satiated. Or you get stomach cramps… your body isn’t directing its energy to your digestion at this time. Instead, our heart pounds, we have a boost of energy and we are “in the zone”.

All of which is great to deal with the stress in front of us, but less energy goes towards our brains and our focus is minimised. We can no longer think straight, get easily confused and don’t focus on other tasks. We’re in this “fight or flight” mode where we either have to “fight back” which is often displayed as aggression or anger toward others or we “take flight” and remove ourself from the situation. The second can only worsen the original stress which continues, even though we are burying our head in the sand (guilty as charged).

According to the Stress Org website, there is a third response to stress, that I didn’t know about. That is “freeze”. This is a state where our body becomes dysregulated: the energy that has been initiated from the threat is locked in our bodies and we freeze – for example we hold our breath or our breathing is shallow and irregular.

As much as I love the science behind stress – I highly recommend you researching some more (the Stress Management Society website is great for bite-sized information).


Stressors are the perceived threat: the things that makes us feel stressed.

That state of stress is reached when the “demand exceeds the personal and social resources that individual is able to mobilise”.

The stressor that leads to this state of “collapse” and of “exceeded demands” can be any number of things. Like emotions, stress is very personal so what one person finds particularly stressful and challenging, another person doesn’t even consider as a stressor. Perhaps it is something at work, a colleague, a relationship, diet culture, the pressure from social media, a change of situation or livelihood… ultimately it is when we feel the demand on us is more than we can manage.


Even though the body’s response to stress is natural as we have seen above, long-term stress can have serious effects on our overall wellbeing and health. As with stressors, ways of coping with stress are similarly very personal so find out what works for you.

Before that though, have you identified what is making you feel stressed?

Take some time to really sit and think about what is going on in our life, what are you going through, what are your relationships like? Write them down, talk to a friend or family member about them. Acknowledge your stressors and don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about what is putting too much demand on you. We all have our own personal limits.

  • Acknowledge your stressors and tell yourself “I acknowledge my stress and I am letting it go. I am relaxed and calm. I feel my tensions melting away.” Or choose your own affirmations.
  • Make your health a priority! This has so many facets to it but put yourself first.
  • Sleep. The power of a good night’s sleep is immense and a lot of us overlook it’s importance. If you don’t sleep well, research some good sleep hygiene habits to develop to help your body rest.
  • Water. Like the grass and the trees, we need water in order to flourish. Stay hydrated to make sure you’re feeling alert and can thrive.
  • Food. Look at what food you are eating and how it makes you feel? Maybe there are some things you can play around with to feel better? Add in some more fruits and vegetables, make sure you eat the rainbow and make sure food is there to be enjoyed!
  • Movement. I am not the world’s sportiest person, but, I make time to move my body every day; a short online HIT class; a walk in nature and, yoga (obviously!)  It’s time to switch off and forget about your stress, yes, it’s still there afterwards, but you can attack the situation with clarity.
  • Social media and emails. We often feel like slaves to technology, we spend way too long on social media and without realising, the apps we choose to spend a lot of time on can negatively impact our health and mental wellbeing. Have some time off can really help and break a negative cycle.
  • Mindfulness. Where to begin with this, but there are so many things you can do more mindfully that make a huge impact on our everyday lives. Acting mindfully or “with intention” brings us back to the present moment and means we can act with intent. Rather than running at a million miles an hour, it encourages us to slow down and see the situation for what it is.
  • Breathing. Have you ever stopped to take a few really deep big breaths? The feeling can be immense. Most yoga practises start with and focus on the breath, and for good reason. Making sure your body is well oxygenated enables the body to work as it should and in fact, it holds a treasure trove of benefits.

There are so many more ways we can help ourselves when we are feeling stressed (or even if we are not aware of feeling stressed) and it’s a good idea to practise a few (or all of the above) every day for our overall mental and physical health. The feeling of balance, in alignment and at peace with our life will make you feel on top of the world. Indeed, the ability to deal with whatever comes our way, or seeking help when the demands on us feel too great, are essential tools we can have in our back pockets that we will return to time and time again. Life is full of stressors, so why not equip ourselves with the best toolkit out there?

This is an ideal time to reflect on our core values

Value is a word that has been echoing in my mind in the past year, in many different conversations I have had, in many of the headlines I have read and in many of the stories I have heard.

We are all in this half-half transition period during the pandemic– where the ‘old’ way of doing things is no longer possible or in some respects wanted, yet the ‘new’ has not yet been formed. That is why it feels so hard. We don’t know where we are going. Even though it is uncomfortable not knowing, it is an opportunity to reset.

Our values are what we consider important in life, the standards we set, the worth we give things and the priority we give them.

On an individual level, our core values are foundational beliefs that feed into every single thing in our daily lives – how we live our lives: how we behave, how we treat ourselves, how we treat others and what we bring to the world. And each of our individual set of core values add up to the global core values we see reflected in the kind of world we are living in.

Values should not be trends that come and go according to what other people think or say. They are signposts that help us move in a direction in our lives that is authentic to us.

If you are feeling a bit lost in this “half-half” period of time, my advice is stop and consider the following questions.

WHAT ARE YOUR CORE VALUES? Your core values are yours to make. But you might feel adrift unless you devote the time and space to understand yourself and what they are. Think about words such as trust, honesty, kindness, authenticity, integrity, respect, fairness, courage, justice and perseverance. Writing a list of your core values and coming back to it over and over again will help you regain your bearings and make decisions for your present. Integrity is a value in itself, and one to apply to our whole set of values no matter what we see others doing.

WHAT DO YOU VALUE? This answer will be different for everyone. But life, nature and connection with our loved ones, I am sure, are all answers we have in common. With so many lives lost, Covid has made us all acutely aware of how precious life is; how each moment counts; how we don’t know what the future brings; how we need to try to appreciate all those we love, as well as respecting and looking after those we don’t know. Nature’s inherent value has also been something that we have been reminded of, without asking anything in return, except that we respect it.

HOW DO YOU VALUE YOURSELF? Have you been giving yourself time, space, self care, support and kindness? Do you value what you do for others and who you are? Our perception of our value is often historically associated incorrectly with our income, our job status, if we own a home, if we have a partner or a family. But our value is inherent – we don’t need to do anything to be of value. Value yourself more.

HOW DO YOU ALLOW OTHERS TO VALUE OR DEVALUE YOU? Have your boundaries around work and life been blurred? Are you asking for what you need from others? How we value ourselves often has ripples of effect in how others value us. The good news is, we can change this by taking small steps to reset how we treat ourselves and the kind of treatment we are prepared to accept from others.

HOW DO YOU VALUE OTHERS? Are we all still respecting others by showing them kindness through our actions?  Values are not fads that come and go – we must hold on to our values even when it seems others have forgotten. How can we be an ally for other people who are discriminated against, treated unjustly, or in countries far away and who may not have the access to the protections they need?

I do think the pandemic has provided us all with an opportunity to reflect, relearn, remember and reset our values as individuals, but also as a world. It is now time to act on what we have learned, not just talk about it.