I have the best job in the world.
Each day I have the pleasure of working with amazing people, just like you, who’s self-inquiry has led them on a journey to try and better manage their stress. They often tell me they live in an over-scheduled life and see no way out and yet there is a little voice inside them compelling them to search for answers.
My journey to befriend stress began more than 7 years ago (you can read about it here).
Today I want to share 3 easy tools that profoundly helped me on my journey.
But first, let’s define this creature we call stress;
What is Stress?
Because stress is defined as anything that gets in the way of our desires, we’re always going to have stress.
The trick is finding ways to manage how we react to it.
This enables us to minimize the negative impact it has on our bodies but also on our state of mind and how we show up in the world (our level of re-activity).
Being realistic, a little bit of stress is good, it helps to challenge us.
But, when it gets out of control it can lead to unbalance, dis-ease, and a host of other physical and emotional issues. In fact, did you know that 75-95% of all doctor visits are in some way stress related! Shocking and a little scary…
How Does Stress Manifest in Our Bodies?
Over time, chronic stress can cause the body to continually release hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can impair brain, digestive and immune function and raise your risk for depression and anxiety. In fact, unchecked stress levels (chronic, low grade, everyday stress levels) can have an impact on virtually all aspects of our health.
What can we do to begin managing the process?
First of all I’m a big believer in taking baby steps; trying to change everything overnight or all at once sets us up for failure. My most significant life changes were all a process or a journey that started with just leaning in the direction of my desires.
Today I hope to plant some seeds, offer some tips that have worked for me and my clients in hopes that they may help you or people you love to find greater health and happiness and less re-activity.
Step 1: Find Your Breath, Nourish Yourself With an Inhale
With each inhale, we fill our bodies with oxygen and life energy for each of our trillions of cells. You may not know but we breathe between 4 and 24 times every minute (really! time yourself and see) and that each inhale nourishes our blood with oxygen, fuels our brain and organs, and sparks the metabolism of food, chemicals, information and thoughts.
How often do you hold your breath during stressful times?
How often does it speed up when you encounter stress?
This conditioned and habitual response to stress deprives us of our breaths ability to ground and settle us.
When stress begins to overwhelm you – BREATHE.
This can be as simple as 3 or 4 long, slow, deep breaths through your nose and then long, slow exhales. Take your time and focus on how the air feels coming into your body and then leaving again.
Take away: Your personal power to reduce stress lies in your awareness of your breath. Each day try 5 minutes of full belly breaths and you’ll be amazed how much better equipped you are to handle stressful situations with more calm and grace.
Step 2: Explore Stillness
Stress evokes a primal response in the body called the fight/flight response. It’s actually more like fight, flight or freeze.
When this happens there is a chain of physiological responses, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, slowed digestion and increase in the secretion of stress hormones (all helpful if we are being chased by a tiger but a little overkill for your average “office” stress).
Alternatively meditation evokes the opposite, the restful awareness response, which counter-balances the effects of stress and helps us cultivate an ability to be in the moment.
So often we are reliving stories of the past (that we can’t change and suffering the feelings of stress all over again) or worrying about the future (which we can’t really predict – if you can please ask it what the winning lottery numbers are ! ).
When we are fully present and in the moment we are SO MUCH better equipped to make good conscious decisions that are in our best and healthiest interests; decisions that serve us and those we love in a much better way.
TIP: I recommend having a coach if you really want to integrate meditation into your life successfully. For me, this has really helped and was the inspiration for me to become a certified instructor.
Take away: Taking time to go inward can open the door to happiness and health. Sit in stillness for 5 minutes a day and simply follow your breath. Many thoughts (monkey mind!!) are part of the process. Just observe them and let them go.
Step 4: Enjoy Meals That Heal
I’m not a nutritionist.
But, after raising 3 kids, caring for elderly parents, working with competitive athletes and helping people who suffer from overwhelming stress I’ve collected some practical observations and cultivated some philosophies.
The single biggest realization for me is the connection between eating (physical body) and emotions (mind/intellect/ego).
So here are my top 3 suggestions for de-stressing in the food department:
- Inflammation is proven to be the leading cause of disease. Reduce inflammation in the body by eating local and focus on more fruits and veggies and less meat. Just take some baby steps and observe how it makes you feel both physically and emotionally (level of contentness/happiness). Why not start with “Meatless Mondays” and make homemade veggie pizza’s with salad, for example?
- Commit to “no rush” meal times; at least sit down (no standing at the kitchen island). Sit, talk, enjoy…physically and emotionally. Chew to liquefy….seriously…this is a biggy! We must eat mindfully to aid digestion.
- Don’t eat when you feel upset or frazzled – we ask too much of our digestive system if we expect it to process food efficiently when we are under stress. Try a few “long, slow, deep” breaths before you eat so your system can settle into a more relaxed state.
These tips will help you to digest your food more completely leaving you satisfied and without stomach upset and they will allow your body to better absorb all the nutrients.
TIP: If you are going to indulge in that fudge sundae…DO IT! ENJOY! FEEL SATISFACTION. Think positive thoughts; support the mind/body connection. (and then back to the whole foods please )
Take way: More plant-based foods, less meat, try not to rush and never eat when you’re upset. Help your body to absorb all the goodness.
A quick recap of our 3 Tips for happiness & health:
- Find Your Breathe
- Take Time for Stillness
- Eat Meals that Heal
Life gets busy, chaotic, over-whelming but it’s short.
Don’t let your peace of mind get hijacked; always come from a place of love.
If some or all of these steps resonate with you and you’d like to learn more, reach out or join our next workshop! It would be my sincere pleasure to work with you.
With Grace and Gratitude,