Heather Lillico headshot

Dive into the benefits of taking a holistic approach to managing your anxiety and stress.

With advice from our guest: instructor and nutritionist, Heather Lillico.

Episode Transcript

This episode transcript has been AI generated for your convenience and accessibility.

William Wadsworth: Hello and welcome to the Exam Study Expert podcast. I do hope you enjoyed last week’s episode on overcoming burnout. That was the first in a three part series on calm in your academic journey. If you haven’t listened to that episode already, I do encourage going back and checking it out. I thought it was a really good one. So do have a look if you haven’t already. Today’s episode is all about managing stress for students. Heather Lillico, our guest today, talks, very relatably about her own experiences with stress in the academic journey. I’m sure many of you will resonate with what she’s saying in her own story. and she’s gone on to study, best ways of being able to cope with stress and anxiety in student life and beyond. So she’s got some great practical tips for us today. There’s a lot of kind of practical, actionable advice that you can put into action straight away, which is often what we love here on the show. Of course, I do hope you enjoy this episode. Here’s Heather Lillico.

Heather Lillico: Well, thanks so much for having me, William. First of all, I’m happy to be here with our audience and sharing some of these tips today. So my name is Heather Lilico, and I am a holistic nutritionist and a yoga and meditation teacher. And I started working in this area through my own experience with anxiety and with panic attacks and learning how to manage them in a natural and holistic way. So let me back up a little bit and I’ll give a bit of background. So, growing up, I was always kind of a nervous kid. I was worrying about things all the time. I was very sensitive. Any type of criticism and I would be in tears. And I was a perfectionist. I had to get top marks or I felt like a complete failure. And I was an overthinker as well. And I would overthink the what ifs. Like, oh, what if I fail this test? What if something goes wrong? What if I fall flat on my face? And I would overthink the should haves? Like, oh, I should have said this differently when I was talking with that friend and all of that, that worry, that self doubt, it followed me through to university, where the pressure just became too much and I started to have panic attacks and I remember the first panic attack I had. I was at a crowded party, and my heart started to beat fast. My palms got sweaty, my vision started to tunnel, and I felt this overwhelming sense of dread take over. And so I locked myself in the bathroom, and I just slid down the wall, and I was waiting for it to pass. And ever since then, I started living in fear of when was the next panic attack going to strike? Was it going to happen when I was in a test? An exam? Was it going to happen when I was trying to relax and let loose with friends?

And let me say, sort of sidebar, that while all of this was going on, while I was experiencing massive amounts of anxiety and depression as well, I was maintaining an over 90% average in school. So on the outside, nobody really knew what was going on. I appeared driven, put together, hardworking, but on the inside, it was getting to be too much. I was so overwhelmed. And so I went to my doctor and I said, I’m having a lot of anxiety, like, what can we do? And she pulled out her prescription pad, and she started writing me out a prescription for anti anxiety meds. I said, well, let’s just pause for a moment because I want to see as a first step, you know, is there something else that I can do first? And this is really what led me down this journey of healing, of healing the beliefs that I had about myself and putting habits into place that helped me be more regulated and balanced. And so I started by changing my diet. I went mostly whole foods, plant based, and I felt calmer. And then I still felt like my nervous system was amped up. So I started practising yoga, and I felt calmer still. And then I still had a million thoughts in my head. And so I practised meditation. And that was the last piece of the puzzle for me. And so this is what I share with others now, is a holistic and, natural way to manage anxiety through the power of meditation, nutrition and yoga.

William Wadsworth: Well, thank you so much for sharing that. I mean, it sounds like such a kind of difficult time to go through, you know, with that kind of internal turmoil, but then maintaining that facade and, you know, I guess that how perhaps many people saw you. And I think it’s just so interesting to sort of stop and think about that for a moment. Because if you are facing some kind of level of internal turmoil, one of the things that can contribute to that is looking at everyone else who seems like they’ve got it all sorted and very put together, I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that that’s not always the case.

Heather Lillico: Oh, this is so true.

William Wadsworth: Some of the people are pretending sometimes too.

Heather Lillico: Yeah, right. It’s this comparison. And I certainly had a lot of that feeling like I was behind feeling like, you know, I maybe wasn’t hitting certain milestones and. And feeling a lot of jealousy. I think that when I saw other people succeed, I was scared that that meant that I wasn’t going to succeed. Right. That there was this sort of finite amount of people who could, quote unquote, make it so if somebody else did really well, that felt like a threat to me and my self worth.

William Wadsworth: Now you’re older and wiser, how do you kind of look back and frame that differently? If you, had the pleasure of coaching your younger self on that particular point, how would you frame that differently?

Heather Lillico: I think what I’ve realised is that like, we’re all just humans and we’re all trying to figure it out. And when I hear that other people were feeling the same way that I did, that other people were also having this constant comparison and feeling, you know, some people would maybe look at my life and feel jealous. And hearing that, that other people are also comparing themselves, that made me feel a little bit better. It made me feel less alone, at least that, you know, I wasn’t, I wasn’t the crazy one for doing this. That there was this, you know, there’s this sort of natural evolutionary reason, right, why we are comparing ourselves to others and trying to constantly understand, like how do I fit into this social network, this group? because we’re such social creatures. So just sort of reminding myself and bringing in some compassion to it that like, it’s okay, you’re not the only one that feels this way.

William Wadsworth: So your kind of initial reaction to going to see your doctor, you know, you took that step of going to seek some help, which we’d all kind of recommend, you know, when we get into difficulties going and finding someone to help, something to help you kind of mentioned, you know, they felt the pharmaceutical, the drug route wasn’t for you. And, you know, people feel differently on that. And for some people, you know, that could be the right thing. But I think, you know, even if you are going down that route and that is the right choice for you, all the other things, the holistic approach that can work very nicely to complement before we kind of get into kind of unpicking a couple of the details, I just wondered. So for those that are kind of going through life and don’t relate to kind of having experiences of full blown panic attacks, what would your thoughts be on the kind of relevance of the sorts of things you teach to, I guess, everyone?

Heather Lillico: Yeah, it’s a great question. And, well, let me first say, you know, on the piece about the, about medication is that, it’s not that I’m anti medication, you know, it’s. And it works for, for some people. For me, I felt like I really wanted to get more into the roots of like, why am I feeling this way? And I think medication can be helpful for, I mean, I have a lot of clients that take it and it’ll sort of bring them up to a baseline where they’re maybe more able to do the work, right. To put the habits into place. But when you’re in that state of like, such intense dysregulation, it can be really hard to even just clearly think, okay, what are my coping skills right now? Like, what tools do I have in my toolbox that I can lean on? So for some people, medication can kind of bring them up to that baseline where it’s just more receptive to be able to do these, these habits. And so if someone’s not struggling with full panic attacks or, you know, such a high level of anxiety, I think the practises that I teach, are really just self care practises, and they’re designed to help regulate the nervous system, which we all need. Whether you’re experiencing anxiety and labelling it as that, or, you know, you’re experiencing stress in your life, because we all have stress, right? This is just being a human being alive. We all have types of stress that we experience. And so if we can have habits into place that help us come back into regulation quicker, right back into this state of balance and homeostasis, then those tools are going to go really far for us. So while I focus specifically on anxiety, I think everyone could benefit from prioritising themselves and their self care and putting these practises into place.

William Wadsworth: I’ve rarely met anyone who doesn’t get at least a little bit anxious about the prospect of an upcoming test when there’s a lot on the line. I think that’s a very natural reaction. Pretty much everyone has to a major event like that. Fantastic. Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about some of your thoughts on those three things you mentioned then. So, the nutrition one’s quite interesting because it’s such an important topic, I think, as part of self care. But it occurs to me as we’re talking, that we have barely covered it at all on this podcast. So tell us a little bit about some of the changes you made and some of the, I guess, the most important changes you might consider advising people and you advise people to make in your work.

Heather Lillico: Yes, let’s talk nutrition, because I think it’s such an underrated area when it comes to, I mean, our life in general, but also specifically for this podcast, when it comes to, you know, prepping and studying and taking exams, the food that you eat is going to become the cells in your body, right? So we need to make sure that we’re feeding the brain with nutrients that it needs, that we’re reducing inflammation in the body, that we’re supporting our gut health, which is going to make a lot of our neurotransmitters and help us think and focus. So the changes that I started with when it came to my diet were I had this, I’m going to say like a typical university diet, where I was fueled by caffeine and sugar and a lot of fried foods. And not only was I experiencing anxiety, but I was having a lot of stomach issues as well. I had irritable bowel syndrome at the time. And there is this big relationship between anxiety and IB’s or, you know, stomach issues, like bloating or heartburn. and so I really was tweaking my diet from both of those perspectives of like, how could I use this to help both of these things? And so I reduced my caffeine intake. At first I just went down to one cup a day, and the caffeine was affecting my gut, but it was also affecting anxiety. And I would notice if I had too much caffeine, my heart started to beat fast, and I would get those kind of palpitations that were feeling, you know, panic attacky. And I think for a lot of people, they can resonate with that. That if you have too much caffeine, it’s like that jittery, right? And if you’re already feeling anxious, it’s, it can sort of tip you over the edge. And I think you, know, there are lots of alternatives to coffee as well. I, every morning have dandy blend, which is like a dandelion root. It’s, totally caffeine free, but it is kind of stimulating. So it helps you feel, you know, a little more awake and alert. There’s mushroom coffee as well, with ingredients like cordyceps mushroom, very stimulating. Chaga mushroom, which is such an incredible antioxidant. So it’s going to help with inflammation, help protect the brain from damage. We see ingredients as well, like maca in some of these, which is great for balancing blood sugar, so good for focus. So reducing caffeine, that can be one area that people could consider reducing the processed sugar as well. So your, you know, your cookies and your cakes and your candies, these are sort of tempting to go towards because, well, they’re delicious, first of all. But also they do give us like this little hit right where we can focus maybe for a little bit, but then it’s short lived and we have that sort of blood sugar crash that comes afterwards. So relying on more natural sources of sugar, like fruit is all good, or things sweetened with maple syrup or honey, those could be good options. This is going to be a little bit better for the blood sugar, a little bit more even keel. So watching our caffeine and our sugar, and then we’ve got to think, okay, what can we add into the diet? Because I don’t want it to be restrictive and just the fun police here and say, like, take all these things out so we can add things in that are going to help our mood. I would say the category that is going to be the most potent when it comes to your mental health is going to be nuts and seeds. So nuts and seeds are rich in magnesium, which is like our calming mineral, so help reduce that stress and anxiety feeling. Magnesium is great for sleep as well and it helps produce GABA, your brain’s relaxing neurotransmitter. And nuts and seeds are also rich in zinc and have a good healthy dose of fats that are going to help keep your blood sugar stable. And seeds especially are like little nutrition powerhouses. So hemp seeds, chia flax, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, these are all incredible when it comes to mood and really easy to work in. Right. On a study break, you’re having a handful of them, maybe you’re doing a morning smoothie and putting some of these seeds in there. So that could be something to consider. We also have our leafy greens and like the deep and rich coloured ones. So like kale and swiss chard. And we could go even wild with it and do like radish greens, beet greens, mustard greens, all of these are edible and you can throw them into a smoothie, you can saute them, but, a lot of times we’ll sort of throw them out, right? We’ll rip the, the beet and separate it from the greens. But those greens have such incredible nutritional value in them. So focusing on some maybe unique ones, not just going for, you know, the iceberg or the romaine lettuce. Let’s get some deeper coloured ones in there, because they’re going to have higher antioxidants, which is going to support your brain.

William Wadsworth: So less caffeine, watch the processed sugar, and then start to think about bringing in some more nuts and seeds. Leafy greens. Sounds delicious.

Heather Lillico: Yeah, pretty, pretty doable, right? And we haven’t talked about fermented foods as well, but I should mention them because fermented foods are going to provide bacteria for your gut. And a healthy gut, I think, is the key to everything. I mean, we could do like a whole other session on that. But gut health is so related to mental health. I mean, the bacteria, in your body help make a lot of your neurotransmitters. They help balance your blood sugar as well. So they’re going to be really key for helping you focus, helping you stay healthy as well. They make a lot of your immune system, right. And if you’re feeling stressed out, then your immune system is going to go down. So we want to support the gut with fermented foods. And when I say fermented foods, I mean things like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, miso. These are all going to be supportive of that. Gut bacteria.

William Wadsworth: Does just normal yoghurt count?

Heather Lillico: Yes, it does. Yes. But let’s talk about that one, actually, because I love how you say yoghurt too. It’s so british. So, or maybe I say it canadian, but, but yes. So yoghurt is a fermented food, and that’s great. It’s going to provide bacteria. But I do want to mention that dairy, for a lot of people. So, like traditional yoghurt, dairy is one of the top food sensitivities that I see. And that’s a problem, because if we’re having something that is disrupting the gut, it’s going to become inflamed. We’re going to have, you know, food particles that end up seeping out of the gut. This is when we get leaky gut and it can lead to a whole host, host of issues. Maybe most relevant for this podcast is brain fog can be one of the symptoms, so we just can’t focus. It feels like you’re trying to pay attention and there’s this fog in front of you. And dairy is one of the top food sensitivities, because most of us lose the enzyme to process it as we age, and a lot of people have issues with the protein in it as well. Now, luckily, we have many alternatives to dairy based yoghurt. So we have, you know, soy based yoghurt or different nut based ones. These could be an option to still get that bacteria, but without potentially disrupting some of the gut microbiome.

William Wadsworth: That’s an interesting thought about if you’re having some of these symptoms of struggling to focus, you know, you might go through and think about, well, you know, am I getting enough sleep? You know, am I sort of using various distraction busting tools we talk about on the podcast, you know, Pomodoro technique, putting the distractions away. But, you know, if you’re still having challenges, thinking about, could there be a sort of a dietary course? Could be quite an interesting place to look as well. I think that’s a really good point.

Heather Lillico: Yeah. Yeah.

William Wadsworth: Fantastic. Okay, so nutrition, that’s really, really helpful. Thank you. Just out of interest, you talk quite fluently about ideas like neurotransmitters and what’s your kind of background in? Is it just sort of an amateur interest or, you know, did you read some science at university, or how did you come to this wealth of knowledge?

Heather Lillico: Oh, that’s a great question. So my degree in university is in kinesiology, so I do have that background of physiology, and understanding the body and its functions and how it moves, as well, for a little bit in university, I did work in a neuroscience lab, so I got to do some experiments with EEG machines and TMS machines and really understand better how the brain functions. And then in my nutrition training as well, being a holistic nutritionist, we do dive into physiology and that as well, to really understand, like, how is. What were eating, how is it turning into things in the body? Right. What is this process of what is being morphed into, and how does that help us function as humans? I mean, that’s a really big part of my training.

William Wadsworth: Brilliant. Mm. Okay, should we talk movement? I think that was the next one you talked about hitting in your own journey. So in your case, yoga was the thing that’s kind of been the focus for you.

Heather Lillico: Yeah. And so yoga for me was a big turning point in how I related to movement and exercise, because I grew up being a figure skater, doing boot camps, circuit training, like, really intense forms of exercise. And I was under the impression that if I wasn’t completely gassed and exhausted at the end of it, it wasn’t a successful workout. So yoga required a real mental shift in what it meant to move my body and to move it in a way that felt good and supportive and maybe more connected to myself. And it wasn’t an immediate love affair. When I started yoga, the first class I went to, I actually went to by mistake, I thought I was going to a boot camp class. I was in university and I showed up and I thought I was doing a bootcamp class. And the teacher, they started unrolling these different mats and then talking about sun salutations, and I was like, what is this?

Heather Lillico: And at first I really didn’t like it because I thought, it’s too slow. It makes me be alone with my thoughts, which at the time felt so overwhelming. But I did keep going back because I wanted to explore it a little bit more. I mean, I did appreciate the aspect of flexibility behind it, coming from a figure skating background. So when I kept up with it, I did start to notice some changes. I started to notice that when I left the class, probably the most important thing I noticed was that I wasn’t in a rush to cheque my phone. And it’s such a small thing, but typically I would be always on my phone, right? Always checking updates, texts, what’s going on, and I wasn’t in a rush to grab and look at what was going on. And so I knew that that was providing some benefit for me in terms of just having me slow down and regulate my nervous system. And the more I practised it, the more I started to find this connection to myself, this connection to my breath, so that I could use these practises off of the mat. Right. So it wasn’t just about being in a yoga class and learning how to breathe in an uncomfortable posture. It was okay. When I’m in my daily life and things start to get stressful, can I bring in that, that aspect of it? Right. Can I breathe through this type of discomfort as well? That’s really how it translated, for me.

William Wadsworth: It’s interesting you talk about your kind of background and I guess how you found yoga by accident. That’s a funny story. I’ve often felt that my wife does a lot of yoga and I’ve always quite resisted it because it feels like something I wouldn’t be very good at and I’d be quite uncomfortable doing. And I think for those reasons, it’s probably a really good idea to do it. I think there’s quite a strong argument that if you, you know, the things that you find uncomfortable are sometimes the things that are going to you grow the most.

Heather Lillico: That’s a good point. Yeah. Yeah. And I think for a lot of people, there’s that hesitancy to try it because, and I mean, at least I can speak for the group of people that I work with, the perfectionists, is that if we try something, we’re not immediately good at it. We don’t want to do it. And so there’s not a real want to try and pick up new hobbies. So I like to approach it with a little bit of curiosity instead, right. Of, you know, I’m expecting poses to look a certain way, to feel a certain way. A lot of people will say, well, I can’t do yoga. You know, I can’t touch my toes. And it’s not about that. It’s not being able to touch your toes. In yoga, we say that yoga isn’t about touching your toes. It’s what you learn on the way down. So it’s what, how you grow and how you experience your body and the sensations it has and how you can really let go of a lot of judgement around the body and what it’s doing for you. and I think that’s a big part of, we talked earlier about the comparison piece. Right. I noticed in a lot of public yoga classes, people are sort of looking around, what’s everybody else doing? Oh, this person’s, you know, gone further in the posture than I have. That’s a real lesson in itself, I think, to just sit with, okay, this is where I am now, and can I come to some level of acceptance around that?

William Wadsworth: You teach quite a lot of beginners, I think, in some parts of your work, is that right?

Heather Lillico: Yeah, I teach all levels. I teach a lot of vinyasa yoga, which is like a flowing style of yoga, and I love it because it’s movement linked with breath, and so it feels almost like dance, like. And I find that really helps shut my brain off from that thinking, overthinking mind is when I can sort of just get lost in, like, that rhythm of the movement. And it’s tied to a lot of strength as well. People think that yoga is just flexibility, but I have found that I become so much stronger by doing it. I mean, some of the postures are intense, they’re challenging. and so, yeah, it sort of builds strength in a different way. Way. But I think all levels are welcome in yoga.

William Wadsworth: So if you are a complete beginner and feeling a little bit daunted about going and finding your local class, any kind of advice for getting over that hump? Is there a particular kind of class? Would you kind of recommend looking for a class that’s specifically for beginners or just sort of launching yourself in and getting stuck in or doing a bit of practise at home via YouTube first to get a bit more comfortable. Or what would be the kind of the gentle slide in? If you are, a guest like me, a total novice, I think the.

Heather Lillico: Gentle slide into yoga would be YouTube. And starting with. I mean, you can even search on YouTube, like beginners yoga. I will say, Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is very popular and she really breaks down a lot of the postures and goes slow. And she has beginner series as well, so that could be something to try. And I want for people to feel like it’s very manageable to do. I mean, when I have yoga classes on the app that I run and I have classes that are five minutes, ten minutes, 20 minutes, so, you know, never to feel like you have to do a full hour of something for it to be beneficial for you. That I’m positive on YouTube, if you searched, like, ten minute beginner yoga video, there would be millions of hits on that. So it’s whatever you can prioritise the time for. But it’s that consistency that’s going to matter, right. If we just do a yoga YouTube video one time, you’re not going to really learn and start to get the benefits of the practise. If you start to link them together with more days, then that’s how you’ll start to actually see, a progression in your practise.

William Wadsworth: It’s interesting that one of the first things you said about the benefits of yoga was you found that the mental benefits, and you talked about coming out of that class and not needing to cheque your phone and that place of slightly more, I guess, being a bit more calm, a bit more centred. I guess that idea of training of the mind is quite an important part of the kind of idea of meditation, which is. I think it’s a third thing we were going to talk about, wasn’t it? This is something we have touched on a little bit on the podcast before, but for those that maybe are coming to the idea relatively new, just sort of tell us a little bit about what this is and why it might be something that would again, support the various aims we’re aiming for today.

Heather Lillico: So, meditation, and the type that I specifically teach and practise is mindfulness meditation. And it’s really about training our brain to be more present, more aware and more in the here and the now. And I think this is really the antidote to anxiety and overthinking, because all of that lives typically in the future, maybe in the past. Right. And replaying things that happened. But anxiety is very future focused. It’s very, what if this happens? What if this worst case scenario comes true and that sort of pulls us out of the present moment, but in this current moment, there’s none of that happening, right? There’s. There’s no fear, there’s no anxiety. There’s nothing. It’s just, okay, right here, here and now. What can I see? What can I hear? What can I smell? What can I taste? What can I touch? Using those senses, that brings us back to the present moment. And I like to see it as a form of brain training, because I think we can grasp onto that a little bit easier than it just sounding like meditation. It sounds so nebulous, so hippy dippy. Right? And these days, we are starting to see so much evidence behind how it can actually change the brain. It, can change our nervous system response, but it really is about training ourselves. And just like, if you went to the gym and you grabbed a set of dumbbells and you started doing bicep curls, if you did one bicep curl, you’re not going to see an effect, right? But if you went to the gym over and over and you continue to do bicep curls and maybe you upped the weight, you would start to see changes in your muscle. And it’s the same thing that we’re doing with our brain. We’re training ourselves to be more present, more in the here and the now. And that means catching ourselves then when we’ve spiralled off, like we do when we’re stressed or anxious, and then reminding ourselves, okay, I’ve gone somewhere else, let’s just come back to the present moment. And we can use different anchors to come back to the present moment. So, as I mentioned, the senses are great anchors, right? They. You can’t, like, smell something in the future. You can only smell it right now. Currently, we can use our breath as well as an anchor, because you’re not breathing in the future of the past. You’re just breathing right now.

William Wadsworth: I’m feeling the urge to, sit more straight and fill my lungs a little bit more deeply as you prompting.

Heather Lillico: Me, your nervous system will thank you.

William Wadsworth: There’s one other thing I want to ask you about in a moment. But while we’re talking about meditation, I know you’ve created your own meditation app, I believe. Tell me a little bit about what kind of led you to go out and make your own. I mean, there’s various ones out there. Why is yours different?

Heather Lillico: I think the angle that I come at meditation from, it’s a little bit different, maybe, than other people do, because I see it as a tool to help us get more curious about what’s coming up and maybe lean into it. So we’re coming from the perspective of not wanting to squash anxiety, not wanting to annihilate it, but more understanding what’s coming up right now. Why am I feeling anxious? Right? Am I feeling, like this test that I’m going to write that if I fail, oh, my gosh, that means I’m not good enough. That means my parents are going to be disappointed in me, my friends are going to hear about it, I’m going to be judged. Everybody’s going to leave me. That’s the kind of spiral that can happen. And I think meditation is an incredible tool to be able to understand. like, why am I feeling this way right now? What’s going on? Where do I feel this in the body, right? Where is this belief coming from? What is this activating for me? Because then when we understand that, then we can consciously think, okay, well, how do I want to feel? That’s different, right. How do I want to feel that’s maybe more in alignment with who I actually want to be? So that’s sort of the angle that I come at meditation from. And the. The app that I run is. Has meditation, but it also has yoga and nutrition as, ah, part of it. And I think that’s maybe what sets it apart is this holistic approach, because just like, if you had a puzzle and it was missing one piece, the puzzle wouldn’t be complete. Right? And so I think it’s these three pieces, these three pillars that come together for self care practises, that really help us regulate and be more balanced.

William Wadsworth: Your one stop shop.

Heather Lillico: Exactly. Right. All in one. Yeah. Because you’re right, there are loads of meditation apps out there, right? And I could never compete with the head spaces of the world and the comms. And that’s incredible. They have such a breadth of meditations on there. But I think maybe what is missing from some of those are a sense of community, and I think that’s what cultivating calm, that app, community that I run. I think maybe that’s what’s missing is because a lot of this stuff feels very isolating, right. It feels very lonely to be struggling with anxiety and overthinking and, you know, just being stuck in our own head and being exhausted, I think that that feels really lonely. And so to connect with people, to understand, like, oh, I’m not the only one that feels this way. And to be working together towards a common goal of living a more balanced, and peaceful life, I think there’s such power in coming together with that.

William Wadsworth: So to bring our journey full circle, is it possible to ever completely heal anxiety if that’s something we’re struggling with, or is that just something we always live with but manage as we go?

Heather Lillico: it’s such a good question. And to be honest, I sort of go back and forth on it, because when I think that I have healed, anxiety will come up and knock me on my butt once more and say, hey, I’m still here. So I think maybe totally annihilating it isn’t the goal. Totally eradicating it, because anxiety is there for a reason, right? The emotion of anxiety is there to alert us to danger, and so we don’t want that part of ourselves to go away, because that’s what helps us survive. But I think we can get to a place where we’re not just managing it, because managing it implies, like, it’s another thing on the to do list, right. It’s constantly on our brain. I think instead, we could get to the place where we come out of that regulated state, right. There’s some sort of stressor in our life. There’s something that activates us, that triggers us, and we notice it and then say, okay, here are my tools that can bring me back into a regulated state. So I know, okay, when I start to have that feeling of anxiety, I’m not identifying so closely with it, right. We can say, I have a feeling of anxiety instead of I’m anxious. I’m an anxious person. We can sort of change that identity, and then we can say, okay, what are my tools to come back? I know I can listen to a two minute guided meditation and come back. I know I can move my body in a certain way, and that’ll bring me back. Maybe. I know I can bring some self compassion to myself and really get curious about what’s coming up, what’s going on right now. And then what do I want to believe instead? Or what do I want to tell myself instead, to move past it. I think we can get to that point, but in my experience, it’s not something that would be fully healed, nor should that be the goal.

William Wadsworth: Well, Heather, thank you so much. You’ve been incredibly generous with your wisdom and your expertise today. I know I’ve learned a lot from our conversation today, so thank you. I always end by asking if you have the opportunity to go back in time and bump into your younger self, either at kind of high school or in your university days. What would some of the kind of most pressing advice be for her back then?

Heather Lillico: Well, first, I would give my younger self a big hug, I think, because she went through a lot. But I would tell myself your worth is not based on your achievements. That your worth is inherent to who you are, that just by being alive, that you are good enough. And so I would say take some of the pressure off, because this upcoming test or exam or activity, it’s not make or break. So take the significance out of it and offer yourself some compassion. You’re doing the best you can in this moment, and that’s enough.

William Wadsworth: Perfect advice. Heather, thank you so much once again, for those wanting to continue their journey and excited to learn more about the three areas you’ve been talking about today. Where would you signpost them to?

Heather Lillico: Well, first of all, thank you so much, William, for having me on such a great conversation, and I’m so happy to bring this to, our listeners. So, again, for those listening, my name is Heather Liliko, and you can come hang out with me in my community. Cultivating calm. So if you’re someone who is tired of trying so hard and never feeling good enough, you feel like you’re wasting time playing out scenarios in your head that won’t actually come true, or you feel like you can’t relax without feeling guilty, then you can download the cultivating calm app. Cultivating calm helps you get to the root of anxiety and put habits into place so that you can become more confident, more calm and free. And on the app, there’s meditations, there’s yoga classes, there’s delicious mood boosting recipes, and there’s some courses as well that pull all of that information together and have you seeing results in just a few minutes a day, because I don’t think a lot of us have hours and hours for self care. So if anyone wants to cheque it out, you can head to the app store or Google Play, type in cultivating calm, and there’s a free 14 day trial waiting for you there.

William Wadsworth: Outstanding. Well, I shall be sure to go and cheque it out. I’ll definitely go and do that now.

Heather Lillico: You’re welcome. You’re welcome on the platform.

William Wadsworth: Thank you very much, Heather. Thank you so much once again and wishing you all the best.

Heather Lillico: Thanks for having me.

William Wadsworth: Well, thanks again, Heather. I do hope you enjoyed that episode and wishing you a calm week ahead. Do join us again next week when we’ll be tackling imposter syndrome and academic anxiety for the third and, final part in our little series on managing calm through your academic journey. I hope you’ll be able to join us again then. For now, wishing you every success, as always in your studies.

In the second part of this mini-series on finding calm in your academic journey, we’re exploring anxiety and managing stress for students.

Our guest today, Heather Lillico, is a holistic nutritionist and a yoga and meditation instructor. Heather talks about her own very relatable struggles with anxiety during her academic career, as well as offering a wealth of practical, actionable advice on how to reduce your stress and anxiety with a holistic approach.

Heather guides us through her three-pillar system for tackling stress: firstly, the simple changes we can make to our nutrition to improve our brain health, followed by the many benefits to our mental health that come from introducing yoga and meditation into our routines. 

* * * *

Discover more about Heather here:

Visit her website: >> https://www.heatherlillico.com

Or join her community on the Cultivating Calm app: >> https://www.heatherlillico.com/getcalm

Hosted by William Wadsworth, memory psychologist, independent researcher and study skills coach / trainer. I help ambitious students to study smarter, not harder, so they can ace their exams with less work and less stress.

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