You're probably thinking, this girl has lost the plot! Surely there is no connection between fake lashes and stress relief, but bear with me because I have a story to share.
As for most students, University is a (long) time where work-life balance goes out the window, stress and sleepless nights haunt us day by day, and we quickly let unhealthy routines take the place of a healthy lifestyle. When these actions are performed over an extended period of time they become habits that are hard to break.
During my time studying nutrition, I developed a habit of pulling at my eye lashes whenever I was stressed. This often occurred while I was studying for exams at the end of a long semester or working on an assignment. My right eye was my go-to and when I noticed the lashes were becoming fine and patchy, I switched to my left eye. It wasn't until I did a little research that I found that Trichotillomania, or hair pulling disorder, is a lot more serious for some than just eyelashes. I was lucky, eventually I graduated and the lashes grew back over time.
Fast forward a couple of years however and I am back at it again! 2018 has been particularly stressful for me and this has triggered another round of hair pulling (hence the fake lashes!).
In spending time and money on rectifying a bad habit, I have learnt that I don’t have good stress relief practices set in place for when I am overwhelmed or anxious. I have also realised just how important they are! Not just for the sake of my eyelashes, but also for both my physical and mental health.
While there are many ways to reduce stress in your life, below are four that I find most important and will be looking to implement in order to break some of the unhealthy habits that have developed.
Did you know: Stress activates the body’s sympathetic nervous system, also commonly known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. During this reaction, your heart rate is increased, breathing quickens and blood vessels constrict in order to provide optimum oxygen levels to all of your muscles. This is great for when you’re about to fight a bear but not so great when you are juggling a busy schedule!
Recognising triggers, creating space for ‘you time’ within a busy schedule and knowing what to do when stress does arise are all valuable tools to surviving the fast paced world we live in.
Exercise is brilliant for when we need to restore mental clarity and concentrate on an upcoming task. While exercising, our bodies release endorphins which are known to be our 'feel-good' chemicals. These can improve our mood while also acting as a natural painkiller. In particular, I love hitting the gym hard with a weights session to distract me, or going for a long walk outdoors which helps clear my mind and makes me feel grounded. Yoga and pilates are other calming activities, as well as both dancing, rock climbing and swimming. Find an activity that you enjoy!
2. Practice Mindfulness and Breathing Exercises
I will admit that these are two things I need to work on as I don't actively make time for them during the day. The act of mindfulness brings our attention back to experiences occurring in the present moment by being aware of thoughts, feelings and other senses. By being mindful of what is going on around us, we can reduce the impact of negative thoughts which arise while under stress. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, yoga and meditation are great ways to focus on yourself being in the present moment.
As I mentioned earlier, when stress hormones are released our body activates our sympathetic nervous system, resulting in an increased heart rate and breathing. This is where deep breathing techniques come in handy as they encourage a relaxation response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system is known as the 'rest & digest' system as it slows the heart rate and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, allowing digestion to begin. There are several types of deep breathing exercises, including diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing and paced respiration. These exercises help slow your heart rate and fill you with peace by focusing your awareness on your breath, making it slower and deeper. Here is a great video explaining how to practice diaphragmatic breathing.
3. Use your support system
Your family and friends make up your social network and are there to support you through stressful times. This social network gives us a sense of belonging and self-worth, knowing that others stand beside you is an empowering feeling. A study found that for women in particular, spending time with friends and children helps release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. This effect is called "tend and befriend," and is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response.
For me, while living away from my family it is even more important that I put aside time to call them and also make the most of the new connections I've formed. Another strategy is writing your thoughts down to clear your head, whether this is recording what you are stressed about or making a gratitude list to focus your thoughts on positive aspects. Either way, it is such a relieving feeling letting your negative thoughts go!
4. Learn to say no, but don’t procrastinate
This is a hard one for me because I love to feel like I am helping others. Often this results in me biting off more than I can chew, feeling overwhelmed and yet still procrastinating to work on my own life stressors. Procrastination often leaves you feeling one step behind and scrambling to catch up. Not only does this cause additional stress but also destroys any momentum you had in actively working towards a goal.
If you can relate then maybe it is time to realise that saying 'no' more often will prevent you from taking on more than you can handle, especially things that will unnecessarily add to your load! Try making a to-do list with realistic deadlines to work towards. In doing this, you take control over the stressful parts of your life that you can change and stay on top of your priorities.
I hope this post has been helpful in identifying ways we can all find relief from stress in our lives and ultimately put an end to bad habits which may have developed! For more information on Trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder) click here.
Comment below if you’ve ever made a change or sacrifice to break a bad habit!