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A meditation teacher’s 3 simple tips for dealing with stress

Posted by Nic Florido on 6th Jul 2021

Luke McLeod

Luke McLeod, founder of Soul Alive, Australian online meditation platform

It’s now been 18-months since the first recorded case of COVID-19 hit the shores of Australia and just when we thought we had it under control, another case pops up, forcing cities back into lockdown.

The lockdowns, cancelled holidays, weeks working from home and general disruption to our daily lives is no doubt having a deeper effect on our health and wellbeing, particularly our stress levels. The thing about stress is that because it’s such a common feeling, we often underestimate how much it can affect our mental and physical health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report highlighting ‘the need to urgently increase investment in services for mental health or risk a massive increase in mental health conditions’, and their predictions have been right. Aussie mental health support service Beyond Blue has received a huge 27% increase of calls from January 2021 compared to the same time last year.

And with stress leading the way when it comes to causes of chronic illness including cancer, coronary heart disease and respiratory disorders, we all need to take a step back and think about how we manage our stress levels. Whether you’re frustrated with a broken coffee machine or energetic kids stuck at home on a rainy day, it’s important to have simple tips and tricks for keeping calm and carrying on.

Here’s 3 simple tricks you can use every day to reduce stress:

1. Trust your gut

As a meditation teacher, a lot of people think my first suggestion to combat stress would have something to do with the mind. While meditation is a wonderful exercise to help with stress (which we’ll touch on a little later), your gut is the first place I recommend you start. Why? Well firstly, 90% of our serotonin (the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness) is produced in the gut, not the mind!

Turns out, your happiness literally depends on what you put into your gut! Having a well-balanced diet that’s high in fibre and low in artificial sugars is a great starting point. Swap your sugary brekkie cereal for overnight oats and your store-bought dessert with a homemade, sugar free kefir ice cream instead. After making healthy swaps a part of your everyday routine, introducing rich pre & probiotic foods and liquids is the next step.

Some great probiotic foods and drinks include:

  • Kombucha – swap your sugary soft drink for a natural, probiotic-rich healthy drink that tastes good and is good for your gut.
  • Kefir – adding vitamin-rich drinks to your everyday routine is a great way to make sure you’re getting the good stuff your body needs.
  • Yogurt – opt for sugar free, natural versions that are full of good gut bacteria.
  • Sauerkraut – add it to your morning tea toastie for a hit of good gut bacteria.

2. Move it!

Once we’ve taken care of what we’re putting into our bodies, it’s now time for the body to use it. It’s no secret that exercise is a great way to reduce stress. In a nutshell, physical activity fires up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Endorphins are basically chemicals in your body that help you cope with pain and stress.

But how much exercise is required to be beneficial for stress relief? The quick answer is, ANY! Yes, even less than five minutes of physical activity helps reduce stress in the body and mind. An ideal amount of time exercising is around 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week. My tip would be to start small with 20 minutes a day. Swap an episode of your fave Netflix show for a walk around the block and make it a habit every day. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel after just a week!

3. Finish with the mind

Here we finally are, the mind. The reason I wanted to leave the mind to the end is because a lot of people misunderstand it’s role. We often assume the mind automatically takes the position of the director/CEO of our bodies, telling us what we need/should do. But in fact, the mind is really just more of a computer sitting at the desk (a very complex and beautiful one at that). But like computers, it still needs someone to input information into it for it to run properly.

More importantly, the quality of that information really determines the quality of the output. Which is why we start with what’s happening in your gut and the rest of your body first. All of this informs the mind on how to act and respond!

However, even if we do all the above, stress can still creep through the cracks and affect us. This is where mental exercises like meditation can be helpful. With meditation, you’re still in the driver’s seat informing the mind what to do and how to act. And when it comes to managing stress, there are two methods of meditation that can help.

The first is to direct the mind to a place where everything is good and right… the present moment. This could be as simple as concentrating on your breath, a mantra or bodily sensation you feel. 

Connecting to the present moment
  1. Find a quiet place and close your eyes.
  2. Spend 5 minutes focusing on your breath, taking 5 seconds to inhale and 5 seconds to exhale.
  3. Let go of stressful thoughts and focus on your breathing, calming your mind and body.

Doing so simply gives the mind a break from the stressful thinking it is engaged with most of the time. It’s like putting the mind into neutral. The engine is still running, you’re just giving it some time to rest and recalibrate.

The other type of meditation is referred to as analytical meditation. This is where you are actually just observing the stress itself. By doing this you can begin to realise that it is just something that is present and here to warn, teach and/or inform you of something.

Analytical meditating
  1. Find a quiet place and close your eyes.
  2. Think of one thing that’s making you stressed. It could be something as small as a messy garage or a presentation at work.
  3. Take some time to really think about that thing that’s making you stressed. What is it about the messy garage that frustrates you? Is it because you can’t carry the groceries to the door without bumping into something? Or that you can’t find things in there that you need? Is a messy garage really worth stressing about at all?
  4. By concentrating on the thing that makes you stressed, you can begin to logically understand why these things stress you out and come up with real solutions to help you manage these stressors.

Remember! Stress isn’t who you are.

While stress is something we all feel sometimes, it shouldn’t control your life. Try out these tips and tricks when you’re feeling overwhelmed and learn to let those feelings go. Have you tried these tips? Let me know at Luke McLeod.