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Andrea McLean’s Top 5 Stress-Busters

5 MIN READ • 14th August 2022
Health and Wellbeing by Health and Wellbeing

Our columnist on the power of creating healthy habits, however big or small, to carve out quality time for yourself

We are creatures of habit for a reason. Scientifically, our brain likes routine – it feels safe and it helps to calm us down. Habits, those things that we do without thinking – like brushing our teeth – free our brains up so that it can think about something else. The brain likes anything that it can do on autopilot, because then it can focus on scanning around looking for things that might threaten us. And if it doesn’t find anything, it will then worry about something you said a year ago to someone you no longer see, and stress that you have upset them in some way. Our brains enjoy having something to focus on.

This is where the power of rituals come in. Rituals are also things we do, but they have been given an emotional significance. They can be anything at all – they don’t have to be special or grand, they just need to matter to us. Rituals help to calm us down and give a sense of order to things that may feel out of control. For example, think of the rituals we do after experiencing a loss or upsetting event to help us deal with our grief. Soothing rituals can help us with the sadness of someone’s passing, while the act of taking every photograph of an ex-partner who has hurt us and ceremoniously burning them can help get them out of our system – both acts are powerful in their own way.

Cyclical living

In a more day-to-day setting, rituals help us feel calm. Spiritually, anything that brings us back to our sense of self is grounding. I meditate daily, and my favourite meditation involves imagining all the tiny pieces of me that I have left behind, through everyone I’ve come into contact with, and the energy I’ve put into other people’s needs. When I meditate, I sit quietly and focus on drawing all those tiny invisible particles of myself back, to help build ‘me’ back up again. It makes me feel good, even though it is a simple thing, no one sees it and it only takes a few minutes. It is my morning, or sometimes evening, ritual, where I mentally gather myself up. All anyone else would see is me sitting still and quiet with my eyes closed, but I have given that moment a reason that serves me. It is my own ritual.

There are a few different ways to give ‘power’ to rituals. The first is to see that we don’t need to add anything new to our lives, but rather see the things we already have and do with fresh eyes.

This is something I have long felt an affinity for. Take simple everyday tasks like walking the dog, gardening, reading the Sunday papers, doing yoga, and meditating – these are things I do regularly to help me to calm my mind and de-stress. I attach an emotion to these things that take me away from my laptop (which I can feel an other-worldly pull towards when I step away!) and I look forward to them. I enjoy them. These rituals are time for me, even if I am in the rain weeding, or getting blown about while walking the dog, because I’ve made the conscious decision that it is something that I want to do, that gives me mental space and time, so I look at it differently.

A habit is something that we do without thinking. A ritual is something that we think about as we are doing it, even if it is something we repeatedly do. We follow a pattern of behaviour to bring us comfort. So, how can you make something you already do into a powerful ritual? First of all, remember that it only has to have power to you, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of it.

Five minutes for a cuppa

This can be your daily coffee or tea. Most of the time, especially if we grab one while on the move, we drink without really noticing or tasting it. Close your eyes for a moment while you drink. Take a moment to think about how it tastes. How the heat feels. Think about why you like it so much – and you must like it because you have it every day without thinking! Take a moment to enjoy it.

Breakfast or lunch with all the family

I started this ritual when my children were young. It began on Saturday mornings when my youngest was a toddler and it was a way of keeping her busy – we made pancakes. My children are now teenagers and young adults, but they still insist on Saturday pancakes. It’s what we do. We all sit around the kitchen table, pancakes stacked high, and chat about our week. It is our ritual and our way of bonding despite our busy lives.

Daily journaling

It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. It doesn’t even have to be full sentences. No one else will ever read it, it’s just for you. Jot down how you’re feeling, what you’re grateful for, what you’re looking forward. Not only will you be training your mind to look for something positive, which is a powerful tool as your brain is always on the hunt for negativity, but you will also be giving yourself personal time to reflect.

Meditate

A few times a week is good. Daily is good. Whatever works for you. Try to attach a ritual activity to it, so it feels special. I light a candle or some incense, close the door and hang my ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door handle. I take my cushion and place it on the floor. I settle in, get comfy and then shut my eyes. These small actions signal that I am about to do something I enjoy, and that makes me feel good. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes. Anything can be made into a ritual. That’s the beauty and the power of it.

This girl is on fire

It’s my life’s mission to help women feel better about themselves and that’s why I started thisgirlisonfire.com. I like to call it ‘a gym for the mind’. Since launching as a simple online blog in 2018, This Girl is on Fire has grown into an internationally loved personal growth brand with a simple but powerful premise: to help women think differently about themselves, their circumstances and their lives, giving them the mindset and tools to re-imagine their future. I know how it feels to be stuck, lost, afraid and broke. I know that making any kind of positive change to your life starts with the change you make to your mindset, and I want every woman to experience for themselves the emotional and financial freedom that I have found. That’s why I bring together the best mentors, life coaches and motivational speakers in the world to encourage my community to think differently. It’s why I promote the work of female entrepreneurs on my marketplace; to help them successfully build their brand and its awareness. It is my mission through the work we do at This Girl is on Fire and the ripple effect it has on our community, their families, friends and loved ones, to empower 100 million women and girls around the world…one girl on fire at a time. Andrea’s latest book You Just Need to Believe It: 10 Ways in 10 Days to Unlock Your Courage and Reclaim Your Power is out now.

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