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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.

One of my favorite lunches

I also find that taking a B vitamin supplement is very helpful. B vitamins are known to reduce the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression, as they help your neurotransmitters to work better.

There is new research linking depression to gut inflammation, and probiotics and a clean diet can help correct that. You can also get probiotics from yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and basically any fermented food. The Omega 3's in fish oil are also helpful. You can get fish oil from eating fatty fish like salmon or in supplement form.

4. Get Some Sunshine

Getting exposure to sunshine early in the morning helps set your melatonin levels for better sleep at night, which helps you deal with stress better. Getting some midday exposure helps your body produce Vitamin D, which helps your mood, your immune system, and your stress levels. There is a very helpful app for iPhones and iPads in the app store called "D Minder Pro", which tells you the best hours for sun exposure for Vitamin D for your exact location, and it changes according to the time of year. If you can't get outside, take a Vitamin D supplement to help you out.

Sunlight also causes the body to produce serotonin, which is another of the body's feel-good neurotransmitters. Lack of sunlight can cause extreme fatigue, restless sleep, loss of energy, and depression, as well as making whatever stress you are already feeling even worse, so get outside and get some sunlight every day!

My daughters soaking up some sunshine while singing their cover of "Rather Be" by Clean Bandit

5. Pray, meditate, and volunteer

Having a strong spiritual life helps keep your perspective on what's really important. When we are focused on the eternal, it makes today's problems seem a whole lot smaller. Turn on Christian radio when you're in the car (or listen to Cimorelli's Alive album!), read the Bible, get involved in your local church, or do some volunteer work (see The Unexpected Joys of Volunteering) .

Dani and Lauren mixing cement at Catholic Heart Work Camp, where they volunteered for a week.

To meditate, sit in a quiet room, take some slow deep breaths, relax all your muscles, and focus on your breathing. When your mind is quiet, focus on a Bible verse or favorite phrase or say the rosary or a quiet prayer. The main thing here is to find your quiet meditative space and stay there for at least a few minutes (longer if you can), and use the power of your mind, with your eyes closed, to picture the stress leaving your body and positivity and calmness flooding in. Give this a try, and you won't believe how calming it is. Suggestion: try taking a two minute meditative break every hour when you're having stressful days.

6. Get a Creative Outlet

Play the piano, write a song, join a theater group, paint a picture, make videos, take beautiful pictures, draw cartoons, create your own gourmet dinner creations, design a garden, or draw a plan for your dream house. It really doesn't matter what you do; just do something that lights your fire, and don't be afraid to try something new! Not only do creative endeavors relieve stress and anxiety, they give your conscious mind a chance to relax, while your subconscious mind goes to work solving your problems while you're thinking about something else. The mind is an amazing creation, and it often solve the most intricate problems while you are doing something completely unrelated or even sleeping!

Lisa painting a pumpkin for Halloween

7. Reframe

Pinpoint what is stressing you out, and then reframe it in your head. For example, if you have to do a speech (or any kind of public performance), instead of working yourself into a frenzy about how you're going to crash and burn and look like an idiot, get yourself as prepared as possible, and then say to yourself, "I am so excited!" 95% of anything you do is a mental game. Whether you win or lose is up to you, and you can win by reframing the challenges you face.

When my daughters are backstage at a concert, they could easily choose to be paralyzed by stage fright, but instead, they focus on how excited they are to sing their favorite songs in front of their favorite people, their awesome fans. All kinds of things go sideways in a live performance (monitors and instruments stop working, a microphone gives out, the electricity goes out, a band member isn't feeling well, etc), but they just roll right through any issues, and more often than not, the audience never even notices. Even if they do notice, it doesn't ruin the performance because the girls have learned to flip each problem on its head and roll right into the solution.

My daughters onstage at the Coca Cola festival in Madrid in 2015 in front of 15,000 people

When my sons have a swimming race, they don't focus on being nervous; they focus on the elements of the race. They envision the race in their heads from start to finish, exploding off the blocks going into a perfect dive, swimming as strong and fast as possible, kick hard, fast turns, and push it all the way into the finish. There's no room for nerves if you focus on what you need to do and get excited about it.

8. Check Your Friends

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, "You're the average of the five people you spend most of your time with." What are your Top 5 friends like? Are they positive people? Do they build you up? Do you feel energized and revitalized after hanging around with them? Or are they negative drama queens who wallow in trolling everyone? If they are part of the latter, then you need to think about trading them in for some new compadres. Negative people are only going to compound your stress, anxiety, and depression. Ideally you want to be part of a network of people who are supportive, positive, and challenge each other in such a way as to bring out the best in each other. That's not always the easiest thing to find, but it is truly a game-changer, so spend some serious time seeking out the best quality people to be your friends.

If you find that you are feeling stressed out, anxious, or depressed, try these different tools to help you get to a better place: exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, find a creative outlet, pray, meditate, do some volunteering, get some sunshine, flip your script to being excited about the challenges ahead, and surround yourself with positive people. This is your life, and every day you have new opportunities to find the extraordinary within the ordinary. Don't let stress and anxiety keep you from making the most of your life!

To read more about Extraordinary Living, scroll up to the top of the page and check out the posts under that tab. Have a great day!!

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