We all know that stress is bad for us. There are countless articles regarding the damaging effects of stress on physical and mental health. It is clear that stress affects our longevity and quality of life, but what can we do to combat this public enemy #1?
First, it is important to recognise that there are many sources of stress on the body – our environment (weather, noise, pollution, chemicals and toxins, etc.), our physical activity (exercise, strain & injury), our mental and health state (emotions, thoughts, nutrition and sleep).
Therefore it can be seen that stress enters the body through multiple sources – directly through our skin, our ears and our mouth, but also indirectly through what we see, hear and think about.
At first, it may seem overwhelming to deal with this constant invasion of stress, however there are little steps we can take every day to reduce the pressure we put on ourselves.
You don’t have to quit your job, sell your house and go live in a forest to offer yourself stress relief (and anyway the financial implications of such a move will probable cause more stress than anything else!). Instead, focus on creating little routines in your day to help relieve stress.
As sleep is crucial to our mental and physical health, I would recommend starting with a bedtime ritual to help you get a good night’s sleep. Once you are used to that, you can look into your daily schedule and finding time to fit in some more relaxing activities.
So, how can we use the five senses (and gateways to stress) to create a relaxing bedtime ritual? Here are my tips:
If you are like most people and work in an office, chances are that by the end of the day your eyes are tired from looking at a screen all day. So it is important to give them a break from screen glaring and squinting (due to inappropriate lighting contrasts). Make sure your bedside lamp emits and orange-yellow light as white light suppresses the production of melatonin – your body’s sleep-inducing hormone.
Of course, you should put away all screen devices and try reading something in print instead. If reading is not your thing why not try the new trending of colouring. It has been proven that colouring has similar relaxation effects to meditation by allowing us to replace negative thoughts with positive ones and focus on the moment. Dr. Stan Rodski, a neuropsychologist who also happens to be the author of his own line of adult colouring books, conducted a study which found that colouring affects our heart rate and brainwave activity.
If you’re really not a fan of reading or colouring, another option would be to listen rather than watch.
Now, although you may have heard about meditation a lot of times, if you’re like me, mediation seems like some mystical power which only the shamans from some Nepalese mountain can master. And although meditation can take years of practice, there is an easy way to get started. There are countless YouTube videos and other audio sources which can help ease your mind through guided meditation. An alternative are podcasts – from inspirational Ted talks to educational episodes on health & fitness, there is something for everyone. I find listening to a health podcast and doing a bit of colouring simultaneously to be of great help before going to bed.
Another thing I really like to do during my bedtime routine is sprinkle my pillow with lavender oil. There are so many benefits of lavender oil, but it is most well-known for its relaxing properties. This calming scent has been proven to relax the nervous system, reduce restlessness and to protect against neurological damage. On days I have headaches I use a lavender oil mix to massage my temples and forehead which helps to ease the pain (*never apply pure essential oils directly to your skin, always use a mixing/base oil to dilute these powerful oils).
Massaging your temples, whether with lavender oil mix or not is also a great relaxation technique. Both physical and mental stress often result in tight muscles (e.g. teeth clenching can hurt your neck & jaws). Therefore, massaging your face and even ears can be of great help to release tension. Did you know that the edges of the ears have have tiny reflex points that can relax specific areas of your body?
Of course, we are not able to give ourselves full massages, however we can relax any muscle in the body by first tensing that specific muscle and then releasing it. A good way to do this is to start from your toes, focusing your mind just on this body part, squeezing it for a few minutes before completely relaxing the muscle and letting it ‘sink into the bed’. You then move upwards to your shins & calves, all the way up to your face.
Finally the last sense through which a lot of stress comes in, but can also serve as a de-stressor is our mouth. The foods we eat can cause physical stress to the body – unhealthy foods often cause inflammation in the digestive system which is perceived by our bodies as stress. But it is not only the type of foods we eat, meal timings and portions are also important.
If you are the type of person who can’t fall asleep when hungry or wakes up in the middle of the night starving, and you do not have any digestive problems, then you should consider having a bedtime meal. There are certain foods (and drinks)which help your body relax if eaten 30-60 minutes before you go to sleep. These include yogurt, milk, oats, bananas, poultry, eggs, peanuts and tuna as they all contain good amounts of tryptophan.
“Tryptophan is used by the body to make niacin, a B vitamin that is important for digestion, skin and nerves, and serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that plays a large role in mood) and can help to create a feeling of well-being and relaxation.” – WebMD
Also if you enjoy tea, there are plenty of herbal infusions that can be very soothing. Chamomile, valerian, lavender and lemon balm teas are just a few you can choose from.
So here you are: 5 senses – 5 steps to your bedtime relaxation ritual. Dedicate at least 30 minutes before going to bed to have a snack, read, relax your muscles and take some deep breaths inhaling the lavender oil on your pillow. Trust me, your body will thank you!