Learn to relax
When we are emotionally calm most of us can relax quite easily, however it is when we are not emotionally
calm that we need relaxation the most. So, the secret is to practise these techniques when you are not feeling
stressed or out of control. Then they come more easily when you need to use them.
Alter your breathing
When you breathe in you oxygenate the body and provide energy, similarly, when you breathe out you stimulate
the relaxation-response which calms the body down. So, if you alter your breathing pattern such that your
out-breath is longer than your in-breath, you cannot fail to relax. This is a physiological certainty. It is
how we are designed to function.
Learn to distract yourself
Another physiological certainty is that the right hemisphere of the brain is predominantly the part of the brain
involved in emotional arousal. If you deliberately start using the other hemisphere you will redirect the
blood supply and cause the right hemisphere to calm down. Any mental exercise such as listing things
alphabetically, learning poetry, mental arithmetic, spelling backwards, reading backwards, translating into
another language will do the trick.
Alternatively, you can go off and do something else rather than sit ruminating. Play music, write stories,
paint, cook, embroider, garden etc.
When exercising, the body releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. This generally occurs after 20-30
minutes of exercise that increases the heart rate. If you cannot get outside the home, be creative in thinking up
something that can be done inside. e.g.: running up and down stairs, exercise video, small trampoline, bike etc:
If you suffer from some physical health constraints, take advice and do what you can.
Ti-chi or Yoga offer an element of both physical and emotional exercise and should be considered. They also
encourage you to get out and join in with others in a relatively non-threatening way.
Re-learn how to eat healthily. This is a VITAL skill for anyone with emotional distress.
I preface all of my comments here by saying that I am not an expert in nutrition and if you have specific
needs you should consult a more appropriate person. You may wish to look at
In our daily lives, many of us eat to survive and spend relatively little time enjoying the experience, being
either too busy or we simply eat in a routine way without paying attention to what we are doing. Yet, eating
is one of the most fundamental human needs. If itís not really optional, why not take a little care over it and
There many survival stories told about how people stranded in hostile environments survive on grubs, tree bark
even leather shoes!! How can this be?
Simple, we are so over-engineered as a species that we are capable of synthesizing so many of our very specific
needs internally in our own body, we can eat almost anything and survive.
However, this may be necessary for the stranded survivor, or even junk food may be fine for a fully healthy
individual, but not for someone in emotional distress of any kind. When we are emotionally ill, our brains are
suffering just as we are and need us to care for them in order that they can help us to help ourselves.
A distressed brain is much more active that normal often consuming many more calories and requiring more regular
Also, our brain is the key resource which specialises in synthesizing our needs from whatever we eat and if
it is not functioning properly we will not be able to extract sufficient nutrition to satisfy our ongoing needs.
For a day or two we can usually cope with these problems, but if our distress goes on for longer than that
we progressively become more and more physically under nourished and this in turn makes us feel worse which
compounds our emotional distress and now we definitely know we are ill, because we feel it!
Some simple rules for healthy eating
Donít skip any meals, specifically breakfast. When we are distressed our brains are particularly active at
night and need early replenishment in the morning.
Eat broadly, so now is not the best time for that new specific diet. The broader the range of food you eat,
the easier it will be for your brain to synthesize your needs.
Change your thought process from necessary-evil or can-not-be-bothered to something to think about and
enjoy. Experience the full range of eating activity. Start with thinking ahead and planning what you would
like to eat, then consider cooking as much of it as you can. Look up those recipe books that have lain unused
for years and dust them off. Make time to shop properly, not just buying convenience foods but looking around
for the best affordable foods. Cook and consider how to make the food look appetising. Once you have taken the time
to cook it, present it thoughtfully. When you are eating, slow down, take your time and enjoy the fruits of
your labour. Chew more slowly and more thoroughly than normal (this will also help digestion which in turn speeds
nutritional absorption into the blood stream). Taste your food and enjoy it.
Eat fish (preferably oily), a rich source of Omega Three which will help your brain function better. If you
do not like fish, you may wish to consider an Omega Three supplement.
Take care of your basic sleep hygiene
Often when we are suffering emotional distress we do not sleep as well as normal, yet because our distress
creeps up on us we simply do not notice that our sleeping habits have deteriorated. We convince ourselves that
we will not get to sleep, so we watch TV till 3.00 am, or read a book in bed for several hours, usually an
So our brain learns that not only are we NOT expecting to sleep, but that we can often enjoy ourselves more
if we do not Ė so, guess what it will begin to do? Thatís right, the sleep pattern begins to change to allow for
this extra activity, especially if it is enjoyable.
Some simple rules for healthy sleep
Whatever your mother used to tell you, she was probably right!
Half an hour before bed, have a hot milky drink with a digestive biscuit. This provides Tryptophan and
Carbohydrate to the gut, which produces Melatonin and Seratonin neurotransmitters which calm you down and
Try to keep to a reasonably predictable routine and go to bed at a similar time each night.
Make sure there is no clock visible to you from your bed. An alarm clock is fine, but make sure you canít
read the time.
The room should be peaceful (decoration, tidiness and as much as possible from external noise).
Over-the-counter sleeping aids are fine if you find one that works for you.
If you waken in the middle of the night, it is important that your brain does NOT enjoy the experience,
so do not make yourself a cup of tea and read more of that enjoyable book. The message must be consistent.
Wakening up early is a bad thing and should not be rewarded. In fact just the opposite can help. Generate some
appropriate punishment. People I have worked with over the years have come up with some very creative ways
of punishing their brain for wakening them at the wrong time. Have a book by the bed that is your most hated
book (Shakespeare does it for me, apologies to Shakespeare lovers), have a list of chores which need to be
done (wash the kitchen floor, clean the toilets),you get the idea. Whatever you do, do NOT reward your brain
for wakening you up.
Persist with all of the above. Giving attention to these things alone is unlikely to eliminate your emotional
distress, but they will help you sleep a little better and we all feel better after a decent nights sleep.