Flick the switch on stress
You may not have even heard of the vagus nerve, but it acts as the body’s ‘mission control’, turning on its calming parasympathetic nervous system, “which switches us from that stressed state of high alert to rest,” explains Denise Leicester, a wellness professional who runs global retreats. “There are some simple techniques that can trigger this to bring a relaxed state, where the body can digest food properly, rest and repair.” Rather than just breathing in and out, add a gentle pause between both, so your breath becomes four counts, not two – inhale, pause, exhale, pause. “Do this for five minutes at night to really help you relax,” says Leicester. Using heat packs can also help instil a sense of calm after a stressful day, “as the parasympathetic nervous system reacts best to hot and cold. Try using a hot-water bottle on the stomach for a few minutes, then swap to a cold pack and repeat – do this pre-bed, as it really helps you sleep,” says Leicester.
Warm up your drinking water
First it was a liter, then two, and now some health experts recommend drinking up to three liters of water a day (really, who has the time?). However, according to traditional Chinese-medicine expert Katie Brindle, “It’s the biggest misconception that we need to drink so much cold water every day to be healthy.” According to Chinese medicine, it can over-work the kidneys – and be the cause of puffiness and water retention – so we should be drinking less water, but warmer in temperature. “Take ice out of the picture, or reduce it to as little as possible,” advises Brindle. Ideally, drinking about six cups of room-temperature or, even better, warm water a day keeps us hydrated without over-stressing the kidneys. She also recommends drinking watermelon or cucumber juice to cool you down on a hot day.
Change how you think (or overthink)
“It’s difficult to think your way out of a worry, but you can move your way out of it,” says Poppy Jamie, author and founder of wellness app Happy Not Perfect. “There’s a great saying: ‘The same consciousness that created the problem can’t fix it.’ So, rather than sitting there with your worry, get up and go for a walk, or get out of bed and do something – this will move you out of the emotional amygdala part of the brain and switch on the prefrontal cortex, or rational side of the brain.” Journaling can really help, too. Or, when you are feeling overwhelmed, write a mini to-do list. “Taking action rather than just sitting and thinking about it helps trigger that mental shift from the emotional mind to the practical brain,” says Jamie. If something is playing on your mind and keeping you awake at night, then Jamie advises scheduling a ‘time to worry’. “Literally block out, say, 5pm today as your ‘worry time’. Invariably, when you actually get to 5pm, the worry will no longer be there.”
Keep the energy circulating
Whether feeling mentally or physically tired – or both – getting the body moving can be the quickest way to boost energy levels. But there’s no need to go for a run, because just a few minutes of shaking or tapping the body works on stimulating the circulation and getting the blood and energy flowing. “It takes two minutes and you can do it whenever, even after the shower or while waiting for the kettle to boil for your morning coffee,” says Brindle. “Either gently shake the body, shrugging your shoulders to loosely shake the arms and moving lightly from foot to foot as you shake out each leg. Or, if you prefer, tap your body: hold your hands in loose fists and use them to first tap over your chest, then the back of the neck and up over your head, then tap down the sides of the waist, up the inside of the arms and down the outside, and finally down the inside of legs and up the outside. It has the wonderful effect of making you feel relaxed yet energized.”
Take a bath with added benefits
Research shows that being in warm water lowers blood sugar levels, calms the nervous system and boosts your mood. “And it’s been shown that being submerged for at least half an hour lowers both blood pressure and cortisol levels,” explains Chinese-medicine practitioner Annee de Mamiel.
We can boost the effects even more with what we add to the bath. A milk bath is traditionally used to treat sunburn and rashes, thanks to its calming and anti-inflammatory effects, but it’s also a gentle skin-sloughing solution. “The high content of lactic acid found in milk acts like a mild alpha-hydroxy acid, which helps to smooth skin,” says Susanne Kaufmann, founder of her eponymous botanic-based skincare line. “For irritated skin, a bath with a whey [milk] product is often more nourishing than one with essential oils.”
Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) is the gold standard for soothing muscle stiffness and soreness. However, if you have dry skin, opt for magnesium flakes (magnesium chloride) instead. “They’re not as dehydrating,” says Karen Davis, chief pharmacist at mineral salt brand Westlab UK. Plus, “They’re ideal for a good night’s sleep, being more easily absorbed by your body than Epsom salts.” For an internal cleanse, use Himalayan salt. “It’s a very pure form of salt that’s ideal for detoxing and treating oily complexions,” adds Davis.