5 Ways to Self Medicate Stress and Anxiety

If you go out into Epping Forest today, you’re sure to spot one of our Fit School members self-medicating their stress or anxiety.

Obviously there’ll be no actual pharmaceutical drugs involved, instead they’ll be conspicuous by running, cycling, walking, talking, thinking, listening or just being.

There will also be a lot of greenery, as well as mud (sometimes wet), richly oxygenated air (all those trees), perhaps sunshine and of course the occasional spot of rain, maybe even a deluge.

These lycra clad, trainer wearing, sports bra upholstered folk are not necessarily being active in order to run faster, get thinner or beat their mate on Strava. These very special individuals have just recognised the vital connection between activity and head space.

Some of them had known about the connection for a while but it took a few gentle encouraging words (much like these) for them to finally test out the theory and prove to themselves that it actually worked.They are also not some of life’s slackers. They’ll have families, bills, jobs and various community or volunteering roles to fulfill in addition to keeping themselves alive. Some have children with special needs or older relatives who require extra care, others have fertility or health challenges to manage, then there are those who just have an expensive shopping habit to financially support and yet they can still be found in the forest and local area looking a little like they haven’t a care in the world.

In fact they may occasionally look smug in a slightly sweaty smug way.

There is no panacea for overcoming life’s stresses and strains, especially if your brain likes to heap on an extra dose of mental health challenges.

Add to this a family – an amazing gift but which comes with it’s fair share of upheaval. The guilt. The feelings of failure. The conflict of duties between mum and dad. The fact that you are so often very alone with your thoughts and only a teeny tiny baby or perhaps slightly more grown up kids to share them with! It’s tough.

Life has its ups and downs. There are the sleep deprivation years and the deep into adulting territory days (not to mention occasionally being deep in poo too) and it’s important to notice when lows stay low. There are however some basic, proven tactics you too can use to help you cope in life’s choppier waters.I am no stranger to anxiety. Whilst I struggled a bit with the transition to being a mum when I had my eldest, Isaac (now 6), it was nothing to the transition of being a mum to two. It was something about the fact I had my two kids and was now trying to reassemble life, work and family. I suffered with anxiety and still do, although having lived with it a little longer now, it’s easier to recognise when it’s real, when it’s anxiety and also when the little anxiety intruder might start to come in. I’m more aware of triggers.

I would say though that becoming a mum, becoming aware that anxiety wasn’t just something which would go away and learning more daily about activity and stress relieving techniques completely changed my relationship with exercise.

You might suffer with stress but if you also manage it, it can reverse the damage that stress would otherwise have on your DNA. Your cell structure. The DNA which replicates and turns into you 20 years down the line.

So, like our Fit School members, my exercise is now scheduled. And I, like many of those class participants you spot in the forest (who I now call friends) know that little things like time out to exercise, eating, sleeping and being grateful for what you have can stop that little anxiety friend creeping in at the door to your brain. These aren’t ‘nice to haves’ these are life’s essentials.

If you aren’t always level headed then I’d thoroughly recommend the following mental health first aid tips. Ways you can help yourself or ask others to care for you:

1. Acknowledge, even say out loud, that you are important too. It’s not just about survival. You are allowed to be happy and enjoy your mothering journey. There will be poo-namis and days when baby is sick but finding an hour or two in your week to do something for you is okay and important.

2. Eat protein/fats at breakfast time. With every meal ideally but as soon as you can, get some sort of protein and fat in your body. Why? Because anxiety preys on low blood sugar and insulin imbalances. Get your diet right first thing to give you some insurance against days fueled by toast and biscuits!3. Use the HALT method. If you start to feel negative or stressed ask yourself the following questions: Am I hungry? Am I angry? Am I lonely? Am I tired? Quite often addressing these four basic needs will get you back on an even keel.

4. Count your blessings. I keep a gratitude journal. I do my best to write in it every morning before the rest of the family wakes. Which means setting an early alarm. Something I’ve trained myself to do. It’s not always easy to count my blessings but it’s like happiness insurance for me.

5. Enjoy the cuddles. My kids getting sick is one of my anxiety triggers. There’s no instant fix. But I’m learning to enjoy the extra snuggles instead of focusing on the stress. Recently Naomi told us she felt poorly, I still suspect she was putting it on although she was possibly over tired. So after her bath I let her snuggle on me on the sofa instead of heading straight to bed. She fell asleep and I thoroughly enjoyed the warm cuddles for a few hours before putting her to bed.

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