As a counsellor, over the years I have found that many of my clients come to see me simply to learn a few really handy tools that they can use in order to counteract the effects of stress, anxiety and low mood. So I have gradually put together some information about some of the tools that I and they have tried and tested – things that really work. I call this the Emotional Health Toolbox.
Sometimes just making small changes in our lives can help us to feel good fairly quickly and it’s up to each individual to work out which will work best for them. It’s very important that once we start to make use of these tools that we understand that it’s really a lifelong process – I find myself that if a few weeks go by when I don’t watch what I eat, or don’t exercise or do my meditation practice, then I do start to notice – mood and energy levels start to go down, life just feels that little bit more of a struggle. So these tools are really for life – not just for a short spell!
This is the first blog in a series of three – giving a total of 12 tools, handy to have in your emotional health toolbox:
1. Write / Scale your Mood
Research has shown that writing down in a journal how you are feeling and keeping track of your moods and energy levels on a day to day basis can be extremely useful. Can you see any patterns emerging? Scale your mood from 1 to 10 (anxiety/depression/energy/sleep for example) on a daily basis. How are the scores related to what is going on in your life? For example when you exercise, do you feel better? What situations tend to bring on your negative moods and lower your energy levels?
Research shows very clearly that exercise benefits your mind just as well as your body. When you are stressed, the hormone adrenalin is coursing around your body and exercise will swiftly burn this off. Find something that you enjoy and which fits into your life style – a walk, run, swim or dance session can give an immediate effect that can last for several hours
3. Avoid alcohol, sugar and caffeine and eat as well as you can
There are foods that help with anxiety and have a calming effect in the body, while other foods cause anxiety after eating. Here are some suggestions:
- Foods such as complex carbs boost the calming brain chemical serotonin. So select whole-grain breads and whole grain cereals instead of sugary snacks or beverages.
- Eat protein at breakfast, so you have energy and your blood glucose levels stay steady. Hunger and low blood sugar levels can make us feel a bit jittery which in turn can trigger anxiety.
- Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine, both of which can cause anxiety and affect your sleep.
- Drink plenty of water – dehydration can cause mood changes.
- Magnesium and Omega-3 fatty acids have both been shown to calm anxiety. You can take these as supplements or naturally (spinach, almonds, dark chocolate for example are high in magnesium and salmon, mackerel and walnuts are high on Omega 3)
4. Work out where the stress is coming from
This sounds obvious but when we are feeling very anxious or low, it can be difficult to “see the wood for the trees”. We can feel that all areas of our lives are causing us stress but if we sit down and calmly think about it (and I find that writing things down on a large sheet of blank paper can really help with this exercise) it’s often only one or two situations or people who are triggering stressful thoughts. For example, is it in relation to a difficult period you are having at work? A difficulty with one of your close friends / family / partner? By getting specific and pinpointing the stressors in your life, you’re one step closer to getting organised and taking action.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can start to recover from trauma and PTSD today, do please visit my website www.traumapathways.com. I offer online trauma recovery programmes and support both for people affected by trauma and professionals who work with them