For various reasons, the last few weeks have been difficult and I haven’t felt at my best emotionally or physically. Having had a great few months of regular sessions of training at the gym which left me feeling really energized and elated, along with almost daily pilates or yoga sessions, I managed to injure my neck which resulted in about 10 days’ worth of pain and headaches. Several chiropractic and acupuncture appointments and bouts of icing and careful stretching later, the constant inflammation and headaches now seem to have subsided but I have been left feeling run down, a bit stressed and anxious and low in energy. I haven’t leaped straight back into going to the gym either as I’m scared to blow out my neck again but this has left me feeling a bit blue, listless and tired. I think we all have those days or weeks when we feel a bit lacking in energy and motivation, are in pain or feeling sad or anxious. Or if we are simply exhausted from long hours at work, or sleepless nights sitting with sick kiddos, or both. In times like these it can feel like such a huge effort to get back on track and, frankly, it’s easy to forget in the fog of exhaustion, exactly what action to take in order to do so. Over the years I have therefore put together an “emergency tool kit” of things that I know are likely to help me feel more centered, grounded and calm.
Sounds obvious but I have learnt through experience that when I am anxious, stressed or simply even tired, I just don’t breathe properly. My breath becomes shallow and quick and this adds to the sense of anxiety. If I don’t get this in check, it can eventually lead to a feeling of overwhelm and panic. When I feel like this I generally find somewhere to sit comfortably and do a breathing exercise that works for me. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts and breathe out for 8 counts. Repeat until you feel yourself relax. If to start with you feel like you couldn’t possibly exhale for 8 full counts, then you definitely need this exercise. Extra points for taking off your shoes and placing your feet on the ground so that you are connected to the earth. For me, this tool in my emergency toolkit is particularly relevant to flying and I have spent several years sitting on planes counting and breathing! It’s an absolute lifeline if you have rising panic but also very useful if you have low level anxiety. Even if you are just tired, the increased oxygen flowing into your lungs can give you an energy boost.
I have written before about the feeling of calm and grounded-ness that I gain from walking outside and the mind-body connection that it promotes. The rhythmic combination of breathing and strolling, along with fresh air and simply getting out amongst the natural world can really help to moderate a bad mood, calm and anxious mind and get some positive energy moving. If possible, this should be done mindfully and without distraction, so leave behind your phone and take a look at the world around, smell the air, hear the sounds around you and feel the gradual calm that settles.
3. Nourishing food
I think that when we feel exhausted or in pain, or sad, it’s easy to dive into sweet, starchy or salty foods to gain comfort, satisfy cravings or simply because we don’t have the energy to plan or cook a healthy meal. Over time I’ve realized that this is so counter-productive as this is the very time at which we need optimum nutrition to support our physical and mental health and to help us regain balance. That extra bit of effort to prepare a simple and nutrient dense home cooked meal can make all the difference. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Choosing to eat wholefoods, especially plenty of greens, vegetables and fruits, with some grains, healthy fats and protein will help to balance blood sugar levels, promote better digestion and improve energy levels. My personal go-to is a nourishing spiced soup made with cauliflower, sweet potato and lentils and spiced with curry powder and turmeric. It is warming, soothing and satisfying. I usually cook a big batch and freeze half of it so that the next time I need some “emergency soup”, it’s ready in minutes without the hassle of preparation.
In the past when I was feeling in need of comfort, one of the first things I might have done was reach for something sweet. Actually, I still do this, but I generally make slightly better choices. These days, rather than munching on some shop bought chocolate biscuits or cakes, I have a few healthier stand-bys for when I want something sweet and comforting but don’t want to immediately dive into the processed foods. My absolute favourites are Ella Mills’ aka Deliciously Ella’s recipe for medjool dates stuffed with almond butter and sprinkled with cacao powder. When these are chilled in the fridge they become the most scrumptious, chewy, caramel-ly bites. They certainly give a good natural sugar kick which usually satisfies the craving. Actually, they are so irresistible that I have just had to get up from my computer to make myself some to have with my cup of tea….
Speaking of tea, one of the first things I do if I’m feeling low, anxious, sad or under stress, is put the kettle on and make a cup of tea, in true English style. As they say, “tea can mend all woes” and the combination of the familiar ritual and warming elixir, makes it No. 1 in my emergency toolkit. There is also something very nurturing about making a friend a cup of tea when they themselves are struggling.
4. Be kind to yourself and listen to your body
Lastly, I think that it’s important to be kind to yourself both physically and mentally when you are feeling on less than top form. Rather than struggling through pretending that all is fine and dandy, I have learnt to listen to my body and act on its signals. If I feel like sleeping, then I find a way to get more sleep, either by going to bed early or taking a nap. The healing benefits of a good night’s sleep should not be underestimated. If I feel like being alone for some quiet time, I make arrangements so that I can do that. If I feel like drinking a glass of wine and telling my troubles to a friend, then I do that too. What we need at any given time is very individual, but the important thing is to learn to become more intuitive so that we can give ourselves the self-care that we need to regain a sense of grounded-ness, calm and nourishment.
What's in your emergency toolkit? I would love to hear from you.