HOW I LEARNT TO STOP STRESS FAST
In my thirties I looked ten years older than my age and was close to a breakdown from stress, overwork and unresolved emotional issues. Most of the time I didn’t know what was wrong with my life. I didn’t know why it wasn’t running smoothly and had no idea how to fix all the things that were going on and going wrong.
One minute I was happy, the next minute I was sad and my ability to make decisions was clouded with doubt. The stress that I felt on a daily basis was impacting on the quality of my relationship, my business, my health and state of mind.
Instead of dealing with the cause of my stress, I built my life around managing the stress and unhappiness I felt, and doing what was required to keep everything moving.
I felt disillusioned and ashamed for letting these emotions get the better of me and angry for not being able to manage my own expectations. To cope with the stress of a difficult day I would ‘self-medicate’ with lifestyle elements; a few more coffees to get through the day; too many sweet or greasy snacks to cheer me up; and one too many glasses of wine to relax – none of which would have been a problem if I had only indulged occasionally; but stress had a way of turning my indulgent treats into an everyday occurrence.
I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. The days were long and the nights were even longer, and when I did fall asleep I would wake up short of breath with my heart pounding.
I got to the point where I dreaded going to bed and would spend my days feeling weary with my mind in a fog. I looked broken and started to gain weight; so misery was now sitting on my face and my bones. Fatigue and heart palpitations became my new ‘normal’, but I ignored the symptoms and told myself it would all be worth it.
My feelings of personal success and self-worth were based on my business success and so I pushed myself harder and internalised my worrying.
I wanted to be the best I could be, but I had been fighting years of stress and toxic lifestyle behaviours. I experienced low motivation and low moods, but I kept pretending that nothing was wrong and whenever it felt like I was at breaking point I told myself to ‘get over it’.
That worked for a while, until one night at two in the morning the stress that I thought I was keeping under control, took control over me. My heart was beating wildly and my breathing became shorter and shorter. With long pauses between breaths I began to panic and wondered if each breath would be my last.
No matter what I did, I couldn’t modulate my breathing and was just desperately gasping for air. My wife rushed me to the hospital where I found myself in emergency hooked up to an oxygen tank for hours, while they performed all sorts of tests.
The doctor told me it was an anxiety attack, but regardless of what they called it, I knew that the stress I had refused to deal with had finally caught up with me.
Never before had I given much thought to the act of breathing, after all we do it all day without having to think about it; but after this incident I found myself feeling extremely grateful for each new breath I took.
Even after this episode, my stress and anxiety levels were still high, as my business used every last bit of energy I had in me. Everything in my world seemed to be challenging me to find another way to live and so faced with collapse from exhaustion, I finally had to decide whether wealth or my health was to be my priority. It didn’t feel like an easy decision as I had worked so hard to get to where I was, but in reality I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to live a long and happy life; so I made the commitment to de-stress my life.
I was searching for a deeper understanding of who I was and the life I had created and this took me to India.
I stayed in India for three months, spending whole weeks at a time practising meditation and conscious breathing for thirteen hours a day. The program would start at 4.30am in the morning and finish at 10.00pm in the evening, with short breaks for water, fruit and watery porridge flavoured with garlic!
As we meditated we were told to breathe deeply and consciously, while sitting completely still in one position for the entire day – no talking, no eye contact and no hand gestures. There was certainly nothing ‘airy fairy’ about this course. It felt like a mental, physical and emotional boot camp.
So when I wasn’t fighting an itch that I wasn’t allowed to scratch, my body ached, my muscles cramped and my joints locked. By the end of the night, as I walked back to my sleeping quarters, my legs shook uncontrollably from the pain.
Everything changes when you have no distractions; you remember things and feel things that you have long forgotten about or put aside. In the silence all of the suppressed unhappiness, stress and emotional baggage that I had been running from in my life crashed into me.
There was so much unresolved pain in my life and sitting with my own thoughts I could feel how I had repressed my feelings, pushing them deep into my body so that all I generally felt on a daily basis was a sense of numbness. For the first time I understood why a feeling of inner peace eluded me and why I felt depressed, anxious and unhappy. It is a bizarre feeling sitting in silence waiting for nothing other than your next deep breath. I started to feel how stress had burdened my mind and body and made me look worn out, defeated and tired. Listening to the subtle changes in my breath helped me understand how my body responded to my thoughts and how this set off stress reactions in my body.
When I would think about something stressful, my breath would shorten and I would feel anxiety take over my whole body. But in this environment there was no option to suppress my thoughts and feelings and keep moving. I had nowhere to run, no business meetings to distract me and no lifestyle self-medicating opportunities; it was just me sitting alone in one position with my thoughts and feelings for hours every day.
As awful as this sounds, (and it was), it was the turning point that allowed me to listen to where the stress was coming from and start to heal the parts of me that were pained.
Acknowledging and listening to my feelings went a long way to releasing the built up stress in my body; but what astounded me was that at the end of this meditation program I could see that it had literally taken years off my face within days. I felt like I had discovered the fountain of youth! The stress had left my face and I looked like a younger, fresher version of myself; but beyond that I felt more calm and peaceful than I could ever remember.
The old saying that life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it, was ringing true. I believed I was no longer a victim to my thoughts and emotions and no longer needed to follow them down the well-worn path to the pit of depression.
The transformation I experienced felt like it had reignited my life force. While there was no single ‘silver bullet’ solution to lowering my stress levels, the realisation that I could take back control of my life from the stress I had lived with for so long was like a light going on in my head. The deep breathing and meditation were transformational. I now had some tools that I could use to help me feel better and cope with situations in a calmer way. My quality of life was changing internally and that was showing up in the way I felt and my overall health.
Prior to going to India I was suffering from built up internal stress as well as the additional physical stress caused by over-indulgence with the wrong foods; too much sugar and way too much alcohol. So I knew that when I returned to my real life and its every day stresses that if I wanted a different result, I needed to change the way I managed the internal stress and my use of lifestyle indulgences for short term relief.
I also had to find a way to stop stress fast and not let it build up, if I was going to find a way to live a better life.
My quality of life and my health depended on my making real and lasting changes, so my aim was to create a lifestyle that would allow me to maintain a high level of energy, feel peaceful in myself and look as healthy and vital as I could.
I needed a daily approach that ensured my stress levels remained low and I could enjoy my life, instead of just struggling to get through it.
While I had started to make many changes, one of the most important issues I needed to conquer was my diet, and address the way I either chose to nurture or ‘torture’ my body as a means of managing daily stress!
I had worked as a chef years before while I waited for my career in fashion to take off, so cooking good food was never an issue – it was what I chose to snack on, binge on and overindulge in that had become a problem. Real change is rarely without challenge and I would have loved someone to provide me with a formula or a roadmap on how to move forward, but I kept going until over time I discovered and adapted my own de-stress techniques to support my health and lower my stress levels. This formula consists of three elements:
- DEEP BREATHING
- STRESS-REDUCING VITAMIN FOODS
- RELAXATION PRACTICE
For me this has become a life-long practice that I continue to use daily to raise my energy, look after my body and manage the stress that comes with day-to-day living. It is the source of energy that allows me to do the things I want to do, to maintain calm in the face of stressful situations and to live peacefully with myself and others.
For over twenty years I have shared my expertise with organisations and people across the global community; supporting them to de-stress and age less; and to look and feel their best.
It has inspired me to share and write books on how to maintain younger looking skin naturally and to create the television program, FACE LIFTING FOOD and the FACE LIFTING FOOD APP; which shows people how to keep skin healthy and younger looking with vitamin rich power foods, while lowering their stress levels naturally. The TV show is now shown in more than 20 countries worldwide and also used in Universities throughout the USA and Canada as the go-to educative resource on how to sustain healthy, vital looking skin without invasive practises or chemicals.
On reflection, what worked for me was a willingness to change a few small behaviours and repeat them regularly, until one day I literally woke up and realised that I wasn’t as stressed or as pained, and that into the bargain I looked healthier, younger and felt like I was operating day-to-day with more energy and mental clarity. I have come to believe that we can’t hide from stress, but regardless of the situation that is causing us to experience ongoing stress, there are ways that we can deal with it. I freed myself from years of suffering from chronic stress, so I know from lived experience that it is possible to learn to live more joyfully and fully.
The exciting part is that we all have access to some of the most effective tools to deal with and reduce stress naturally, and in the process age less.
Many of these techniques are designed to stop stress fast and can be practised where ever you are, so you reduce the immediate onset of stressful thoughts and feelings. Others require a daily approach to set you up for the long term benefits of living your best life free from chronic stress.
To de-stress and age less we have to work with the mind and the body and the best way to do this is to practise daily de-stress techniques.
Please keep in mind that this book is not a replacement for getting help in the form of counselling or seeing a psychologist or medical professional if you are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety or depression. Nor is it a total life solution to managing stress. It is a compilation of techniques that helped me to reduce my own stress levels, feel calmer on a daily basis and look healthier.
So if at any time you feel as though you need support or just want to talk to someone, make sure you reach out and get the help you need. There are services in most countries that operate 24/7 with amazing, compassionate people at the end of the phone ready to listen. (Please note: if you are being treated for any symptoms of extreme stress please consult with your physician before undertaking the GL De-Stress & Age Less method.) I wish you only the best on your journey to live peacefully and with joy in the midst of life’s challenges!
With that in mind the best advice I can offer is to breathe deeply, eat well and live happily!