Stressbusters - well-known Irish personalities on how to manage stress
To give you some positive focus for the new year, Liadan Hynes and Sarah Caden asked various well-known people with high-pressure jobs for their tips on how to manage stress and keep up physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Nutritionist and model
We all lead hectic lives, packed with work, family and domestic commitments, and I fully understand how difficult it can be to squeeze a bit of time into the day to exercise. Getting myself into the gym, or outside to exercise is as much of a struggle, sometimes, for me as it is for anyone else.
Believe me, there are some days when I feel really revved-up and ready to go, but others when I feel tired and unmotivated. And almost every day, there's something 'more important' to be done first. But one of the main sources of comfort, support, stability and feel-good factor - other than my husband, friends and family, of course - has been my exercise routine.
Being self-employed and working in an industry where plans can change at the last minute, fitness has been a constant, reliable friend to me, always guaranteed to energise my body and brighten my mood. I love keeping fit for the boost of confidence it gives me, as well as the mental clarity, mood lift and obvious health benefits. It also helps to improve my sleep.
To stay feeling fit, strong and flexible, I do a combination of weight training with Jessica Kavanagh; Pilates at Pilates Plus Dublin; and cardio on the cross-trainer or treadmill. I always aim to work out six days a week.
As one of the most important of your physiological functions, sleep is of the highest value to your health, fitness and emotional well-being. Adults need at least seven to eight hours of snooze time per night, but many of us fall short of that. Various chemicals and compounds found in foods and drinks can also have a powerful effect on your sleeping patterns.
You need sleep to help regulate your appetite hormones, with studies showing that not getting sufficient shut-eye may increase your daily calorie intake by up to 20pc, and this may cause weight gain in the long term. I definitely find that I crave sweet and stodgy foods when I don't get enough sleep, and I aim for at least seven hours a night. I also try to avoid tea and coffee from lunchtime on, and get my workouts done in the morning so that sleep time isn't affected.
Eat to support your body and mind
As I outline in my book, Eat Yourself Fit, I believe that good nutrition is crucial to health, fitness and mental well-being. I focus on eating fresh, whole, plant-based foods, and I plan my diet well so that I know I'm getting everything I need to support a busy and active lifestyle.
So many of us are chronically stressed-out that we have come to see it as normal. But long-term stress can be detrimental to your overall health, weight, fitness levels, emotional health and sleep patterns.
I find that taking time out each day to exercise and simply relax can really help to lower stress levels. But everybody is different, and what matters is finding the time to regularly relax and unwind. Spending time with friends and family, meditation, yoga, watching a movie, having a bath, going for a massage, cuddling your pet and reducing your caffeine intake can all help to lower those cortisol levels, to help you look and feel your best.
Alcohol in moderation
It's important to view alcohol as a treat to enjoy in moderation. I find it causes me to feel bloated, low in energy, motivation and mental clarity for a few days if I overdo it, so I definitely treat it with respect. Drinking water alongside alcoholic drinks really helps, too.
Positive mental attitude
Just like your physical fitness, a positive mental attitude takes ongoing work and attention to stay healthy. Working hard to remain full of positivity and optimism throughout your life is so important, and there is an ever-increasing body of scientific evidence that your regular thoughts, emotions and self-image very much contribute to your health and quality of life.
Of course, you can't control much of what life throws at you, and all of us will face our own challenges, but what you can control is how you respond to these challenges, and your ongoing attitude to them. I find that meditation, deep breathing and remembering to be grateful for all that makes you happy in life can really help to encourage a calm, positive mindset.
I have also discovered that setting positive goals is helpful for creating an optimistic attitude and building your self-confidence. Try to word your statement of intent to achieve these goals in positive language - and it can be very much applied to getting healthy and fit: 'I love to eat healthy fruit and vegetables and exercise every day' is a much more positive statement than telling yourself: 'I must not eat sugar, junk food or bread, and I am not allowed to skip the gym'.
Of course you're going to rebel against that. I know I would!
It's All About Balance:
Life is for living to the full, for enjoying fun times with friends and treating yourself every so often. Be kind to yourself, avoid crash diets, eat sensibly as much as possible, and never feel guilty for enjoying your life and treating yourself.
For the best quality of life, I believe that it's important to eat and drink moderately, and to strike a sustainable balance between health, fitness and fun to help you feel your very best. Be good 80pc of the time, and enjoy yourself for the remaining 20pc.
It's not about being perfect all the time. It's about balance and progress.
I am always very reluctant to suggest tips on how to deal with stress, because people are all so different, and what works for me might not work for someone else. Obviously sleeping well, eating well and exercise are all very important in my life. But, by and large, feeling grateful in life for everything I have is my way of dealing with stress. I think that's why I rarely suffer from stress. I feel blessed and lucky.
I am convinced that largely stems from losing my precious sister, Anne, very young to cancer, in 1995; and then my Dad dropped dead eight weeks later - since that time, I just never sweat the small stuff in life. I wake up each morning incredibly grateful for my life, for my good health and the health of my children and my husband, Steve; grateful for Steve's love and all the love in my life, grateful for just everything. I find that living with that attitude to life, every single day, is a terrific stress-buster. I am just not a worrier. Unless it's a serious problem in life, like illness or tragedy, I never get stressed. Doing as much as you can to help others in life, who might be less fortunate, is also great for conquering stress, as you are thinking less about yourself and your own concerns.
In terms of work, as I constantly present live TV and radio shows, it can get fairly hairy and frenetic, but I always just enjoy the buzz, take a deep breath and count to 10 to calm myself if it gets particularly crazy; say 'all will be well' to myself and others around me, and remind myself it's not a matter of life and death, and that I am so very lucky to be alive and well.
Chef, restaurateur and author
For me, the best thing is some kind of exercise in the morning. It could be the gym, a cycle, a run or a walk outside, but whatever it is, if it gets the heart going and the endorphins up, then it's good,- and, for me, doing it first thing in the morning is best. I feel I can handle anything the day throws at me if I've had that bit of me-time early in the morning.
Life is very busy. The Park Hotel Kenmare, books, Dunnes Stores, filming At Your Service - my head can be spinning with all the things I have to do! If I have had a particularly busy few days away from Kenmare, as soon as I see the mountains rising to greet me on the road home to Kerry, I feel a weight lifting off my shoulders.
I am lucky where I live, and an appreciation of the wonders of nature is a great de-stresser. When everything is whizzing around me, I step back, make a pot of tea, and sit in silence and drink it. I love the ritual of making the tea and pouring it into a china cup. When the tea is finished, I am ready to tackle anything!
I think it's important to say that it's OK to feel stressed. It's normal to have those feelings. You are not alone. I manage my own stress by trying to live a balanced lifestyle. Not too much of one thing, or depriving myself of the other. For example, I like to exercise, but I don't exercise so much that it encroaches on my family time. If I want to blow off steam, I have a night out with my friends, but I don't go out every weekend any more. I work hard, but I prioritise the jobs I feel make me grow as a person, feel good about myself, and enjoy, over jobs I used to do for the sake of it, or just for money. Balance is key. You learn every day about yourself, so be kind to yourself and do something that makes you happy every day, even if it's very small. But like I said, always remember you're not alone or weird if you get stressed or anxious. Everyone does. It's part of life.
I'm far from perfect, but here are a few things I do to keep my mind happy and healthy and maintain a balanced lifestyle. My work schedule varies from day to day - I love my job, but sometimes it can be a little stressful, so I always try and make time for me, whether it's sitting in a cafe having a hot chocolate - with marshmallows - or working out.
Hot chocolate aside, I go to the gym at least twice a week, mainly to challenge myself and my body. I'm amazed at what I can do in the gym these days. When work is stressful, I find going to the gym really helps me feel better and keeps my mind focused on something else for the hour I'm there. I'm not going to lie, most days - all days! - I don't want to go to the gym, but every time I go, I feel amazing after, and proud of what I've achieved. I'm always happy because I go and have a smoothie afterwards, so that helps with the happiness.
I have also found that sleep has become a great friend of mine.
I used to keep myself busy every night of the week; now I'm usually in bed before 10. I can't explain how much that has helped me. I have more energy, and my mind is more rested. It's much easier to deal with hectic days when I'm well rested.
Also, every night or morning, I write down a few things I'm grateful for. When I'm having a bad day, it really puts things into perspective and keeps me balanced.
Farts aren't the only noxious fumes better out than in - I'm all for letting rip with a few expletives to acknowledge and express your stress and frustration. Try to avoid an audience - especially children, where possible. I had a rude awakening the other day when my four-year-old repeated something unmentionable in front of a friend.
My first tip would be: diet! It's so important for a person's overall health.If I eat unhealthily, I notice myself getting into bad moods, my energy levels go down, and I feel an overall low. I never go on a diet - the trick is to just keep meals wholesome, and rich in fruit, nuts, and veggies.
Two: exercise. Whether it's going for a brisk hike, getting on my bike, or jogging, getting out and being active is so important for me. I didn't go to the gym for three weeks in a row while I was travelling, and I noticed how I just didn't have the willpower to do anything in that time. I automatically wanted to eat unhealthily, stay in; basically become a couch potato. I gained some weight, which only added to feeling low. And once you stop exercising, it's so bloody hard to get back into it. So when I started again, I vowed to myself I would keep at it non-stop, at least three times a week, no matter what.
And last but not least, I live by this motto: live, laugh, love. Simple.
Dr Eva Orsmond
Broadcaster and Weight-Loss guru
I have been a doctor for more than 20 years, so I am well aware that it is totally normal to feel blue at times, and certain variations in humour from good to bad are also totally normal. In recent years, there has been a huge increase in medically diagnosed clinical depression, and, in fact, a huge amount of antidepressants are prescribed to treat this condition. Ireland ranks in the top of the list of EU countries. I have often wondered, are these diagnoses real, or have our expectations of life and how we should feel become distorted?
In our modern social-media-obsessed culture, it seems that all our friends are having a great time and looking great. I, like everyone, else have had great times and challenging times, but it really is my own decision how I rate these events.
When I feel down, or what you might even call depressed, the first thing I ask myself is if I am tired. I try to say to myself: 'You are tired, you had a hectic few days, and this is not the right time to start analysing things.'
When I get over-stressed, I often feel that I actually need to follow the advice I give to clients. Its always easier to tell others what to do than to do it yourself! One of the techniques I use is reading. I have a few special books that I regularly read. I only read a page or two, but it's usually enough to break the thought pattern or stressed feeling. These are: Opening Doors Within: 365 Daily Meditations from Findhorn by Eileen Caddy; and Maureen Gaffney's Flourishing.
I keep buying new books all the time. I think it's the best investment, and much cheaper than going to talk to a psychologist.
I think we are very lucky in Ireland, and many people don't fully appreciate how good things are here. I have made myself a gratitude list that I go back to at times and review. Being content with life and in yourself is a lot about philosophical attitude, and learning to understand that you cannot have everything. I believe, in the end, we are all pretty much the same! Keep working on yourself, and read a lot.
I don't believe our physical health or any other area of our life can excel unless we put the work into it, but when it comes to mental health we need rest and balance - and sometimes the hardest work can be not working at all.
Dr Eva has a special interest in the treatment of overweight and obesity and Type 2 diabetes reversal
Daithi O Se
Your mental health is really your wealth, but it's only in the last few years that I'm copping on to this. My remedy for good mental health is simple. It's the simple things that make me happy. Walking is great for us, but, for me, it's enjoying what's around you - look at the trees and the fields. You might now think I've been drinking; I haven't! Life can't be all about how fast or how long the walk was - it should be about the walk itself.
When you are self-employed, you worry about the future a lot, and sometimes you worry so much about what might happen, that you don't realise that your life is passing you by. I worry about things that will probably never happen. What a waste of energy! I've started compartmentalising everything lately, and it frees my mind up. I find I sleep a lot better.
Spend time with people who matter to you. Some people are great for dragging you down, but if you slowly offload those people, you'll find life will be a better place. Everyone has the ability to light up a room, but some do it when they leave it!
It's very important to know that there is no one-fix solution when it come to mental health and well-being. One person's floor is another person's ceiling. Find both your floor and your ceiling - easier said than done, says you!
There's an expression I love - it's that self-care is never selfish; we cannot serve from an empty vessel. I think it's so true. The moment we become the martyr and attempt to do it all is the moment we become very little use to anybody, least of all ourselves.
It was not until my late 20s that I realised the importance of downtime. My husband John [Burke] has always been very good at understanding the importance of downtime and taking time out to do what makes you happy, and I think I've learnt a lot from him. For John, it's time in the outdoors, climbing and trekking. For me, it's time spent with my family, my friends and my dogs!
When I spend too much time working or by myself, I get all in my head. I think it's really important to surround yourself with the people you know are going to lift you. My mom and dad used to always say to me that a problem shared is a problem halved, and it's so true. The minute I share how I'm feeling with them, or with John or my sisters, I feel instantly better.
Now, more than ever, I appreciate the value of self-care, whether that's making sure the fridge is stocked with nutritious food that I know will improve my diet, and, in turn, how I'm feeling; taking time to unplug from the phone and social media for a few hours; getting some fresh air or an activity into my daily routine; spending time in the outdoors, the woods or by the sea - or even making plans, so I have something to look forward to.
When I actively make those small adjustments for my health and well-being, my mood always seems to improve. Lastly, I think it's important to be honest with yourself. If something is making you anxious or is a major cause of stress to you, you need to change it. It's not defeat. It's just taking some control back for the sake of your happiness.
Broadcaster and style guru
I have a few strategies for keeping mentally well. Whether it's a walk, hike, cycle, whatever - just getting outdoors with my two dogs gives me a mental boost, and makes me feel ready to face the day. I usually walk on the seafront. They say the sea contains lithium - natural endorphins that are an antidepressant. It certainly works for me!
Eat well, and reduce portion sizes. Most people in the developed world eat too much. It only takes three days to train your tummy to want less food, and to get full on less food. A tip on how to 'train your tum' is take a break in the middle of your meal. So whether it's a sandwich or dinner, eat half, push your food to one side and wait for even 10 minutes. If you are still hungry after that, eat a little more. And don't sweat the small stuff! Most of it really doesn't matter. In times of stress or strife, where the problem can be fixed or isn't life-threatening, I always say, 'nobody died'. It puts everything in perspective.
Life throws you plenty of lemons, but what to do with those lemons and how to make the lemonade is the important thing. For me, I feel that talking to family and friends is an outlet that helps me when I'm struggling to grasp or understand traumatic situations, or things that have happened that are beyond my control. I have an incredible network of family and close immediate friends in whom I confide, and we work out the problem.
Broadcaster and Yoga Teacher
Pause, breathe and be thankful. Bringing to mind all the good in your life, even when times are tough, can really help shift your perspective from the negative. Even on a crap day, there is always something to feel grateful for.
I'm also a big fan of affirmations, and really feel that words have huge power. Just as we eat well to feel good, we need to nourish our minds, too.
When I feel the anxiety creeping in, I pay extra attention to my food and fitness. I know these things are closely linked with mental health. Of course when stress kicks in, all I naturally want to do is hide away, but I have to give myself an extra push. From weight training in the gym, to boxing and kickboxing, I make sure to fight away all those dark shadows that can creep up. And I always, always feel better after a workout and good food, no matter how much I dread it.
You have to learn to deal with stress. There is no magic answer. Some people are better than others at dealing with it. But I consciously learnt how to get better at dealing with stress.
Rule 1: The worst thing for stress is procrastinating. If you have a problem and you put it off until tomorrow, then it will be twice as big. So rule one is do something immediately. Tackle it head-on.
Rule 2: Share. The thing is, you may not be able to tackle it head-on. So the second thing is, a problem shared is a problem halved. If you don't share it, it's very difficult to cope with it on your own. You have got to find somebody to share it with.
Rule 3: Deal with stress only if you can do something about it. If the stress is caused because you're worrying about North Korea dropping an atomic bomb, there is nothing you can do about that situation. So teach yourself: I cannot do anything about this. So there is no point in stressing about it.
You can learn this.
Rule 4: The killer with stress is that it means you can't sleep. If you can't sleep, it's very hard to cope. You must find a way to sleep. When stress hits in the middle of the night, what can you do? If stress is keeping me awake, I have trained myself to think about something else. I push the stress to the back of my head and I fall asleep. At three in the morning, I play golf in my head. I force that into the front of my head; an imaginary game of golf. I'm hitting a drive at Milltown, walking up the fairway. I've yet to get to the ninth hole - I'm always asleep by that stage.
Broadcaster and author
Anxiety is a constant in my life - sometimes mild and unnoticeable, sometimes unbearably acute. For the most part, I manage it very well, but I never consider myself anxiety-free or 'cured'. I've come through an awful lot - all of which I've detailed in my first book, Owning It - and two things have been central to that. First, I can't speak highly enough of cognitive behavioural therapy as a practical way to tackle the thoughts, feelings and behaviours involved in anxiety.
Second, I don't think it's possible to manage everyday stress, let alone anxiety, without understanding what's happening in our bodies. What exactly is stress? Why do we feel it? What hormones are involved? Why are you feeling it now? Wrapping your head around all of this is half, if not more, of the battle. It was and still is a major tool for me. If you can understand and make sense of what's happening, you can proactively address it.
On a day-to-day basis, I'm mindful of my limits. I know if I take on too much I will struggle, but I also know that if I have to take on a lot for a short period of time, I will feel the effects of stress, and that is also OK. Once it's not long-term and once I'm aware. I don't try to avoid stress, because that in itself will create more stress. I'm freelance, so I haven't got the same structure that full-time employment would give, but if I have a crazy day or a crazy week, I'll plan for a recuperation day afterwards.
I'm more about work-life blending than work-life balance. I balance my life as it unfolds, and I'm flexible in my thinking. I have enormous respect for my body, and I don't push it too far without expecting it to react. During stressful times, I'm mindful of what's happening, I understand it, and that makes it easier to restore equilibrium once the occasion has passed. On a very practical level, if I'm very stressed-out, I will avoid caffeine, be mindful of alcohol intake, and watch the sugar, too. You don't need any additional stimulants when your mind is already over-stimulated. Sometimes, however, stress does get the better of me, and anxiety can wash over me like a wave - I'm human. The key is not to berate yourself when this happens, understand it and pick yourself up again. Nobody - not even a bestselling author on stress or anxiety - has it figured out 100pc of the time.
Try small breaks, often where you incorporate breathing - so breathe in for the count of six and out for the count of six. When we are stressed, we need to tone our central nervous system down, and breathing helps to do this, but it must be done consistently. Learn to say no to certain things. Very often we spread ourselves too thin, which increases stress, and leads to burnout.
Have a nightly ritual for a good sleep. No phones or electronics an hour before bed, and practise gratitude, choosing the one thing you are most grateful for that happened that day. Use lavender essential oil on your pillow. Get air and daylight, especially if you work in an office or shop in winter, as often you come to work in the dark and leave in the dark. Reduce caffeine and sugar; they make stress worse. Dance!!! Have solo discos at home; they are a great stress reliever. Finally, journal your feelings and plan for the week ahead. Managing stress - a little stress is good - needs a multi-pronged approach. Good food, sleep, movement and mindset are key.
I live by a motto, 'Get up, get dressed, show up'. And the 'show up' doesn't mean anything fancy, like an event or anything, it's just about showing up for your life. As soon as I get up, I make my bed - that's part of the showing up.
It's being at the school gate. It's being dressed before Eliza (one) wakes up. It's getting to the gym three mornings a week at 7.30am, even if I've been tempted to cancel the night before. In dark times, when my life has been less than picture-perfect and it was tempting to not get up and face the day, this mantra has helped me. It was my late mam's mantra, too - just six little words that really work.
Model and Beauty Ambassador
Obviously the robbery had a huge effect on me, as did losing my very special brother, Paul,
who I loved and adored. I was prescribed medication, but surrounding yourself with positivity is key. I adore my family and nieces and nephews, and I am in the gym, FLYEfit,
all of the time, as that makes me so happy, so no stress now, thank god.
Cook and author
Stress is a funny thing - it can either make you excel or crush you. On a recent trip to LA, I was chatting about stress with a very successful businessman, and he said that stress is important, as it pushes everyone to make the wheels turn on a project. I think, like everything in life, it's how you look at it. I wasn't good at managing stress in the past, but I have got better in recent years. Cardio exercise and meditation are what work for me - as well as cooking, obviously! I try to exercise and meditate on a regular basis, and this requires discipline, which I think is the most freeing lesson you can teach yourself. I also take most weekends off, and switch off completely. I know some people struggle with switching off; my advice on this would be to plan ahead what you are going to do on your day off. Make it full of fun things that will occupy your mind, and if you can start the day with a high-cardio workout, it helps make you more present and gets rid of anxiety.
When I was asked about this topic - it's one which I feel is so vital for people to focus on these days - I initially couldn't wait to give my input. But then when it came to sitting down and writing anything about it, my anxiety went through the roof. And I realised that, based on the fact that I had been asked to write about mental health, I thought, 'would people think, does LIFE magazine think, or do I think, that I am the one who has it all figured out and that I know all the answers?' Thus putting an unnecessary amount of pressure on myself to live up to this crazy idea.
Crazy, right? Not one person on this Earth has their own, or anyone else's, mental health or coping skills for daily stress completely figured out. We all have our own mental struggles that we can let take over, and if I knew anyone that honestly had a balanced life the whole time, I would doubt that they were even human.
So with this in mind, I hope when you read these tips, you do find them helpful. But the main point I'd like to make is that to find peace and contentment in life, it has to come from you, not anyone else. It's not easy to really count on yourself for this, but, when you do, it is hugely rewarding in life.
When you feel anxious or stressed...
Take one to three minutes to pause and exhale all the air out of your lungs until you can't exhale any more air. Your body will automatically inhale more oxygen to the brain, and that instantly starts to calm the physical factors of feeling anxious or stressed.
As you're focused on your breathing, start to scan the body. Begin at your feet. While working up, notice any body part that is tense or tight, and consciously breathe into that part of the body to help it relax.
Automatically, your thoughts are going to try and get your attention, but instead of trying to shut off the thoughts that are going through your head, think of it as turning the volume on them down, while turning the volume on something else up. I do this by consciously listening to the sounds around me. Start to count them, or name them out in your head. This will give you the small break you need to then come back to yourself and your thoughts in a more level-headed way.
To help with negative thinking
There are a few things that I need to remind myself. So much so that they are at the top of my notes in my phone to read.
No one is as critical of you as you are of yourself. If you heard someone speak to you like you do [to yourself] in that manner, how long would you tolerate it for? Cut it out - it's not doing you any favours.
All emotions are valid; all thoughts are not. You feel things for a reason, and they shouldn't be ignored, but how you think about those feelings will hugely affect them.
Focus on one task or issue at a time. As our minds race from one thing to another, so do our actions. By focusing on one thing at a time, you become more positively productive in executing tasks and solving issues.
Put your phone away, put your phone away, put your bloody phone away! It is the worst thing for disconnecting you from yourself. I can't stress enough how much phones and social media have had a negative impact on our mental health. Take a break from social media for a while, and you will feel so much better for it!
For overall well-being in yourself and feeling true to yourself, something I would tell anyone to do is find something you enjoy doing. As in really and truly enjoy doing - not something you're doing just because someone told you it's enjoyable, or have said will make you happy.
Try new things - you'll know pretty quickly if you like them or not. But when you do, you really start to feel as though you have a purpose in life and have found what makes you who you are.
If you follow me on Instagram, you'll notice that I'm slightly obsessed with nature. And that's because I can honestly say it has the most healing qualities. There's nothing better than nature to remind you that there are wonderful things in life that are so far removed from what's going on in your head. Even if you live in the city, nature is everywhere; you just have to look for it.
I could go on and on but I would take up the entire page, if I haven't already. I'll leave you with this amazing quote from the wonderful Charlie Chaplin - 'Nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles'.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine