Happy New Year to you! I hope you enjoyed the festive season and that 2012 is unfolding nicely for you… stress-free!
Unfortunately a lot of people are feeling stressed, and stress is a major contributor to ill health. The body’s stress response is amazing in acute stressful situations to protect us. It is called the “fight-or-flight” response and it goes like this:
- The body and mind perceives a threat.
- The adrenal glands on the kidneys are prompted to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
- Our heart beat and blood pressure rises to allow the body to protect itself from the threat eg run away.
- Energy is taken away from bodily systems that are deemed less important during an emergency such as digestion and immune response.
This is necessary and absolutely fine during an emergency that is usually short-lived. However, the body’s stress response is not meant to continue for prolonged periods and unfortunately this is what happens in our busy modern-day lives. This puts us at increased risk of health problems such as:
- Sleep disorders
- Digestive disorders
- Heart disease
The World Health Organisiation defines health as “…complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. We consider ourselves ‘healthy’ if we don’t have any diseases but how often is our mental/emotional health checked? Isn’t it often the LAST thing that is considered?
- Do I sleep soundly every night?
- Do I wake feeling refreshed?
- Do I frequently feel moody, irritable, overwhelmed?
- Is my appetite or digestion affected by stress?
- Do I use alcohol or food to manage my stress?
- Can I sit quietly and peacefully, perhaps meditate or sit in nature, without feeling anxious or irritable?
What can we do?
- Re-evaluate: write down what you value most in life. Often we drift away from our core values and find ourselves stuck in a life that isn’t serving us. Start with small things and discover ways of incorporating what you value most into your daily life.
- Quiet time: take 10-30 minutes daily to quieten the mind. If the mind is always busy with stressful thoughts, the body is constantly receiving messages that there is a threat. Sometimes there is a real stressful situation that requires our attention but we still benefit from time out. Often our thoughts are about what MAY occur in the future and we need to ask ourselves if there is a problem RIGHT NOW. Try meditation, breathing techniques, communing with nature, a creative project… whatever works for you. I enjoy meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
- Time-out: take breaks at work and do some stretching or breathing exercises. Poor posture and shallow breathing can increase the feelings of stress. When we sigh, we are trying to rectify that – what is required is full, deep breaths.
- Diet: reduce or eliminate stimulants such as coffee, sugar and alcohol, and eat a variety of whole foods that provide a balance of nutrients for the body to restore itself.
- Exercise: this is a great stress reliever that helps us to feel good about ourselves and release pent-up energy. In terms of Chinese medicine, it moves the Liver Qi which becomes ‘stuck’ during times of stress.
- Gratitude: remind yourself what you are grateful for in life… shift your focus. I don’t mean false “affirmations” – I mean finding those aspects of our lives that we are truly grateful for, that we may overlook. It is too easy to get stuck on what isn’t working in our lives.
Okay, so this is a lot to do TODAY! So start with one thing for the first week and build up each week until old habits are broken and a new lifestyle is created. It takes a long time to get into a chronic stressful state and it will take quite a while to restore inner calm and health. I speak from personal experience. Be patient with yourself. Of course, I am very happy to assist you with a personalised stress management plan that may incorporate massage, acupuncture, herbs and reiki.