I’ve been focussing heavily on my mood and parasympathetic balance recently, after a few weeks of stress/heightened anxiety and also in preparation for the change of the seasons (which can often lead to low mood). Yesterday, my Oura ring showed optimal balance and HRV, and my overnight heart rate has finally dropped to normal, after a few weeks of poor sleep and hypervigilance. I thought I’d write a little about what I’ve been doing to support my body through a stressful time and to optimise relaxation.
- Optimise sleep/naps
This has been the hardest for me, due to having a young baby, and also due to heightened anxiety making it harder to stay asleep when I can. However I’ve been very strict in going to bed at regular times, avoiding blue light 2-3 hours before bedtime, and meditating before bed. I have been using the “sleep stack” of 144mg Magnesium threonate, 100mg Apigenin, 600mg montmorency cherry, and 4 dropperfuls of Reishi extract.
- Spend at least 1-2 hours outside every day, including in the morning and at sunset
I prioritised this after hearing Andrew Huberman talk about it on his brilliant podcast. Firstly, spending 2-10 minutes outside in the morning when you wake up, as well as when the evening sun starts to be red-light predominant is vital for optimised circadian rhythm, which itself affects every system in the body, including hormones and mood. Secondly, I saw this study which showed that more time spent outdoors results in lower lifetime risk of depression, as well as improved mood and sleep.
I’ve been listeneing to guided meditations every day, especially ones that are about staying present. This can counteract an anxious brain that rumimates on the past or the future. Self hypnosis can be useful for this too; I recently tried the Reveri app, but haven’t done it enough to know if it works
As well as insuring adequate intake of magnesium, B complex vitamins, and vitamin D (all of which are important for mood), I’ve also regularly been taking L-theanine, reishi mushroom, ashwaghanda and passionflower. These are great for stress relief, and ashwaghanda is a wonderful adaptogenic herb to take to balance cortisol. I occasionally use valerian and CBD for sleep also (as well as the sleep stack mentioned above).
Another extremely important habit for mood and wellbeing, especially when done outdoors/in nature (which also helps get you to the minumum 1-2 hours of outdoor time). Walking is exercise, and has been my main movement, by taking my baby out for walks, but I do weights and higher intensity training when I have the energy.
- 4-7-8 breathing
There are many slow breathing techniques for releaxion; the most important thing is ensuring the exhale is longer than the inhale, as inhaling speeds up the heart rate, and exhaling slows it down. My favourite breathing technique however is 4-7-8, where you inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds.
This one seems the most woo-woo as it involves tapping on meridian points to ease anxiety/negative feelings, but it actually has some clinical evidence behind it, as well as tonnes of anecdotal evidence. I like Nick Ortner’s video on youtube for a step-by-step process, which you can do by yourself once you’ve learned the basic steps. I’ve found that tapping helps if I’m still not feeling totally calm after the 4-7-8 breathing.
- Optimise gut health
There is ample evidence that the gut microbiotia can afect depression and anxiety symptoms. To support my microbiome, I try to eat fermented foods every day (sauerkraut and organic greek yoghurt are my favourite), prebiotics in the form of fruit and vegetables, and I avoid refined grains and sugar. To support my gut lining, I regularly take colostrom and L-glutamine. This is because they prevent a “leaky-gut”, which can be exacerbated by anxiety, and can even contribute to anxiety/depression.
These tips can not only help you re-balance after a stressful time (which, let’s be honest, we could all do with), but also are important for maintaining every-day health, especially the habits for circadian rhythm. Once you make a habit of them, they become effortless and the rewards are plentiful.