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Dealing with Stress and Anxiety

True story. Call from our booking agent:

"I know you're set to leave for your month-long European tour with the band tomorrow, but we've just discovered there's a problem with your passport."

What?!?!?! Not exactly what I wanted to hear 24 hours before I was supposed to board a plane for New York and then another one to Dublin.

"Your passport expires ten days after you return, but the last country on your tour is Belgium, and they require your passport to be valid for at least three months after your date of departure."

Omg! How would I know that? I thought "expired" meant "expired", but apparently not. My mind was racing, and I'm sure my blood pressure and heart rate were off the charts. A new passport takes weeks to get, and I had 24 hours to get one...

"If you can get to Atlanta (which is 4 hours away!!) and they have any appointments available today or tomorrow, maybe you could get them to give you one over the counter. They don't do that very often, and the appointments are usually weeks out, but you could try...."

After several phone calls and sitting on hold forever, I discovered that Atlanta did indeed have one appointment available first thing in the morning, and I could take my chances on getting a new passport over the counter. So Mike and I booked a flight to Atlanta that evening, booked a hotel, went to the passport office first thing in the morning, and by the grace of God had a brand new passport in my hot little hands within three hours. Then we boarded a flight to New York from Atlanta and met up with my daughters, my son, and their security detail, and off we flew to Dublin together, right on schedule.

While managing my daughters' band for the last ten years, I discovered that the music industry is full of unpredictable anxiety-inducing moments (including equipment failures in the middle of live events, getting sent on a half-mile run through the Berlin airport as the plane was boarding to check instruments as baggage that we were previously assured could be gate-checked and carried on the plane, having my little boy break his foot the day before we were all going to leave on a one week mini-tour, nursing performers who are so sick they can barely walk let alone perform while in the middle of a month-long tour in several foreign countries, and so many more), and I have had to learn some stress survival skills after waking up too many times in the middle of the night with full blown panic attacks.

1. Exercise Regularly

Even though I was an athlete in my younger days, I have been kind of hit or miss about exercise in my adult years. One thing I have found is that the more stress I am under, the more consistent exercise helps me to deal with it. Exercise causes the body to produce endorphins, which are the brain's feel-good neurotransmitters. Something as simple as a walk around the block helps clear my mind, but the absolute best kind of stress-busting exercise for me is something that involves HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training. As a former competitive swimmer, I like to do this in the pool, but you can do it with any kind of exercise: running, weight training, biking, etc. Here's the basic idea: after you warm up, you do 30 seconds of all out effort, 90 seconds nice and easy, then repeat for a total of 8 sets. Doing this just wipes out all my stress and helps me to think more clearly (see Why Swimming is My Jam).

If you are really short on time, you can do a HIIT workout in as little as 8 minutes without even leaving your house; just do 30 seconds of all out effort, 30 seconds of rest, and repeat for a total of 8 sets. You can do push-ups, lunges, jumping jacks, sit-ups, dips, or whatever you like. You can do the same exercise for all 8 sets, or you can combine different ones. The point is to get your heart pumping and your blood flowing. It will trigger a release of endorphins and all the other feel good hormones, which will not only help your mood, but will also help clear your head, tone your muscles, and set you up for conquering your challenges more easily.

My husband and sons like to lift weights, my daughters like boxing and long walks outdoors, and a few of my kids really like to go on long runs. At a minimum, get up and walk around every hour for a few minutes. New research shows that sitting for too many hours of the day is not good for you, so move!

My son Mike running in Malibu

2. Get Enough Sleep

Most people need around 8 hours of sleep to function well. If you're only getting 5 hours of sleep, well, try harder to get to bed earlier, and be more consistent. Establish a regular bedtime, and try to stick to it as much as possible. Getting exercise every day and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening helps enormously, as does unplugging yourself from screens of all kinds at least an hour before you go to bed. Establish a nice, quiet nightly ritual for yourself so that when you hit the pillow, you're ready to sleep. Things like a hot bath, some quiet reading, and meditation can do wonders to quiet your mind and body so you're ready for some zzz's. If you're still having problems, you might try chamomile tea or supplements such as melatonin, theanine or valerian. I found a wonderful herbal sleep aid called Sleep Mate that works wonders for me without feeling groggy in the morning.

Lisa taking a nap on the long plane ride to Europe

3. Eat Right

I don't know about you, but I'm a classic stress eater. When I feel stress coming on, I reach for the sugar. Candy, cookies, ice cream, it doesn't matter. That's my comfort food. The only problem is that sugar is exactly the wrong thing to reach for. It turns out there is a hormonal reason for sugar cravings; stress causes our bodies to release the hormone cortisol (which happens to be the hormone that tells the body to store belly fat), and cortisol increases our desire for high-sugar and high-fat foods. Eating sugar causes the blood sugar to rise, which causes the body to release insulin in order to bring the sugar level back down (that's why you get a sugar crash shortly after eating too much sugar), and the blood sugar rollercoaster can then put you on edge, making you hungry, angry, depressed, upset and unable to think clearly, which makes your stress worse. Then you get cravings for more sugar, and the cycle repeats over and over. So clearly, sugar is not the best option.

The best way to eat to deal with stress and anxiety is to avoid sugar and processed foods, so you keep your blood sugar levels steady and not add to the problem. Stick to fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, and whole grains. If you find that grains or dairy cause you any kind of discomfort, then avoid those. Make your food from scratch as much as possible, and eat it as it grows naturally (like a piece of fruit, a green salad, or a handful of nuts). To read more about how I changed my diet to help me deal with stress better, check out Change Your Diet, Change Your Life. It really does make a huge difference in pushing your energy level higher and your stress lower.