Whether you worked or were a ‘stay at home’ Mum before lockdown now that its in full swing we are all in the same boat. Entertaining our children big and small inside the house with one trip out a day for exercise means our stress levels might be slightly higher than usual.
Stress manifests itself in different ways and everyone’s situation is different but there are ways that nutrition and lifestyle changes can help to reduce the feeling of stress by supporting its affect on our mood and behaviour.
Here are some self-care tips to keep yourself sane in these uncertain times.
Create a bedtime routine to help you sleep.
Sleep is vitally important to support our mood and energy levels the next day. The ideal amount is 7-9 hours a night with the 90 minute period before midnight being the most important for restful sleep. Aim to get to sleep by 10.30 at the latest to make the most of good quality sleep.
Less screen time before bed
Reduce blue light screen time at least 90 minutes before you go to bed. The blue light from our electronic devices prevents the increase of the sleep inducing hormone melatonin, which will stop us feeling tired. If we engage with technology too close to bedtime it can over stimulate our brains making it harder for us to relax. Instead practice a yoga routine, read a book or take a bath.
Yogic breathing known as pranayama reduces stress by supporting the parasympathetic nervous system and activates what is commonly known as the "relaxation response”
Controlled breathing helps to condition the lungs and helps to oxygenate our blood. Try the 4-7-8 technique whenever you feel yourself getting anxious or just before bed to help you fall asleep.
Have a soak
Try an Epsom salt bath with essential oils such as lavender, rose or jasmine for ultimate relaxation. Epsom salts contain a combination of magnesium and sulphate, which helps to relieve tired aching muscles. Magnesium is known for it’s relaxing affects by boosting neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for sleep and reducing stress. If a bath isn’t possible you can try a foot soak in a bowl of water and still reap the benefits.
You might find yourself reaching for a sweet snack because you’re bored at home but too much sugar will send you on a rollercoaster ride that ends in over eating and tiredness. It will also alter the mood of your little ones making tantrums and mood swings more likely.
Regular intake of sugar will send your blood sugar levels up and down causing you to feel alert for a short while followed by a crash and fatigue. Sugar also feeds the bad bacteria in our guts, which studies have shown can increase feelings of depression or anxiety.
Try to stay away from the sweet stuff until after lunch and you will be less likely to crave it all day.
Eating protein with every meal or snack helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer as it provides a slower release of energy. This will prevent you from feeling ‘hangry’ and stabilise mental function and energy levels. Small amounts of protein are adequate for example a handful of nuts, nut butter on apple slices, hummus and crackers, homemade flapjack, yogurt with berries, protein powder in your smoothie. Keep it simple!
Eating the rainbow
Eating the rainbow is important because nutrients don’t work in isolation. They need each other to activate or absorb in our body for example iron is better absorbed when taken with vitamin C. Eating 2 fruit and 5 vegetables a day of varying colours ensures you are getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients needed to sustain energy, give mental clarity, provide immunity and many more important functions. You could ask your kids to help make a colour wheel or chart and check off the different colours you eat each day and see how many you can achieve!
Adaptogens help us adapt to stress without the crash we get from relying on other substances like caffeine and sugar. Used for thousands of years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine they help the body adapt to stress and give our bodies a boost of energy. Perfect when you feel like pulling your hair out because you can’t get a moments peace. Examples of adaptogens are Ginseng (Panax Ginseng), Ashwagandha, Licorice root and Astragalus. These can be drank as a tea, or the powder form added to smoothies and bliss balls.
The health of our gut microbiota is now known to contribute to depression and low mood by altering tryptophan (pre-cursor to serotonin) metabolism to the brain. Other bacterial strains have been shown to increase serotonin (feel good hormone!) production in the gut. The good bacteria stops the progression of bad bacteria. Due to a number of dietary, emotional and environmental factors our bodies sometime need some help by taking probiotics to increase our good bacteria and help support.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated while you’re at home. Our bodies are made of up to 60% water which is used for many functions in the body. . One of the first things we feel when we are not hydrated is tiredness. Cognitive function, memory and focus are all affected by dehydration. Aim to drink 1.5 litres a day of filtered water. For those who don’t like water try herbal teas, fresh lemon and ginger in warm water, fresh juices, smoothies or rosemary, cucumber and mint flavoured cold water.
It’s important to recognise that we shouldn’t be putting too much pressure on ourselves to be high achievers while in lockdown. Trying to write that important email whilst entertaining your two year old by creating a masterpiece out of Play Doh is only going to lead to feelings of stress and resentment. Be kind to yourself, enjoying the daytime with your family and plan in some ‘me time’ every evening when they are in bed as something to look forward to.
Author - Clare Young
Clare Young is a Registered Nutritional Therapist (BA, DipCNM, mBANT, rCNHC) and founder of Seed Nutrition. She is mum to her 2 year old daughter Lyla and supports other busy Mum’s and their families with nutrition and lifestyle programmes incorporating realistic and achievable changes that make a big difference. Her specialist interests are supporting mothers in the postnatal period and beyond and has further studied child and adolescent nutrition and postnatal nutrition.