Are you carving out some time and space for yourself? What do you do to neutralize the harmful effects of stress? Dr. Mark Hyman says, “Stress is a thought. No more. No less. If that’s true, then we have complete control over stress, because it’s not something that happens to us but something that happens in us.” Stress produces a fight or flight response in our body (whether perceived or real) which produces adrenalin and cortisol. Adrenalin raises heart rate and blood pressure. Cortisol is directly toxic to nerve cells which mediate memory and emotion. Chronic overproduction of cortisol depletes our adrenal glands and can leave us fatigued, cranky, and nervous. Over time, stress can lead to heart disease, obesity, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression, memory impairment and worsening of skin conditions such as eczema.
The trick to reducing stress is creating balance by making the time-rather than finding the time-for self-care practices…because how many of us sit around and say, “WOW, I have all of this free time, what on earth can I do with it ALL?” Commit to taking time out for yourself each and everyday. Here are 8 simple tips for decreasing your stress levels:
1. Quiet your mind. You can do this through meditation or deep breathing techniques. A few weeks ago I attended a conference in which I learned a simple 4-7-8 breathing technique from Dr. Andrew Weil who is a leader in integrative medicine. Gently close your eyes. Take a deep breathe in for a count of 4. Hold it in for a total of 7 seconds. Then breathe out through your mouth with the tip of your tongue pressed slightly to the roof of your mouth touching the area where your gums meet your teeth for a count of 8. Repeat this for 4 cycles. Aim to do this exercise twice per day. You can do this in the morning and and night while in bed or while you are sitting quietly. It is especially good to use during a particularly stressful time where maybe you need to step away for a moment to re-focus. I have been doing this consistantly for the past few weeks and have noticed a marked decrease in my overall stress level.
2. Eat clean. Cook more at home. Eat more fresh fruits and veggies and crowd out the processed foods you take in. Consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or an organic co-op so that eating fresh and healthy is more convenient. Check out some local farmers markets (which are popping up everywhere!) and you will know where your food is coming from. It will also give you a little boost knowing you are supporting people in your community. Plant a garden! Planting and tending a garden alone are big stress reducers.
3. Move. This could be “exercise” or something simple like cleaning the house. Yoga is also a great way to combine movement with calming the mind. Got kids? Don’t be afraid to run around with them at the park. I love taking my daughter to the park and playing right along side her. This lightens me up and reminds me not to take life so seriously. Why am I usually the only mom out there hanging upside down from the monkey bars and doing handstands and cartwheels in the field? I’m not afraid to get out there and PLAY! Why do we grow up and forget to have fun?
4. Rest. Are you getting enough sleep? I know as a night nurse that this is a season of my life where many times I am NOT getting the sleep I need. I make it a priority to rest when I can-even if that doesn’t necessarily mean sleep. Maybe that just means snuggling up to a good book or a favorite TV show. Rest is important because it allows our body to recharge. How can we expect our body to perform optimally if we are chronically abusing it? Make time to put your feet up..and put the guilt aside. Feeling guilty for taking time to rest is counterproductive. Believe that you deserve it.
5. Connect. Friends are so vital to our mental and emotional well being. They are there to listen to us vent. Observe who you hang around. Do you know experts say you are the average of the five people you spend the most time around? Surround yourself with positive people! Practice improving your own listening skills, many people aren’t looking for advice, they just want an ear. By fighting the urge to fix things, you remove yourself from energy sucking situations. Make a priority of spending quality time with those you love, including your family!
6. Observe your thoughts. Many times we can be our own worst enemy. Make a conscious decision to change negative thinking habits. What story are you telling youself? Avoid using words like “always” and “never”. Practice being more gentle with yourself. I like to surround myself with positive quotes, inspirational sayings, and powerful words. My bathroom mirror has a magnet that says, “Yes, you look beautiful”. My computer background is plastered with “sticky notes” of motivational quotes and simple reminders to be grateful. My refrigerator is covered in magnets about happiness and peace. I find that having more positive things around, it’s much more difficult to fall into the trap of negative thinking.
7. Unwind. Take time to do things that make you FEEL good. Take a bath. Use those bath salts that I know all of you have. You know, the ones that usually just sit in the container looking pretty but are just collecting dust on your bathroom shelf or in your linen closet. Put those things to good use! Book a massage, facial, manicure or pedicure (or all of the above), or maybe you dont have the time or money. Instead, take a few minutes in the shower to use a great smelling body scrub (you can even make one of your own! You can find simple body scrub recipes on the internet), take time to steam your face, soak your hands and/or feet and put on a fresh coat of nail polish. Ever notice how good it feels to use a simple washcloth to scrub your skin? This brings blood flow to the surface improving circulation and is highly recommended!
8. Stop taking things so personally. There is only one person we are in charge of and that is ourselves. We cannot control what someone says or does. We can only control how we react (or don’t react) to a person or situation. I myself, am a recovering control freak. Recovering…not yet completely recovered. But I’ve learned to shift my focus of my control issues onto myself and I’ve coupled this alongside being more gentle with myself. This my friend takes practice, practice, practice. But when we begin to release this, we can see major shifts in our stress levels.
“The human body has been designed to resist an infinite number of changes and attacks brought about by its environment. The secret of good health lies in successful adjustment to changing stresses on the body”-Harry J. Johnson
Try incorporating some of these tips into your everyday and notice if it helps you achieve balance.
- Cortisol: vital to combat stress, but in small doses (deakinscicomm.wordpress.com)
- Reduce Your Stress – Your Health Depends On It (medicalnewstoday.com)