Do you have a monkey mind that has run amok? Is there lots of chatter ricocheting around your cranium? Is there so much clamor and internal conversation that it’s standing room only in your head? Like the deli counter, do you need to take a number to discern which inner voice has taken over the microphone?
It’s hard being a mental being — all those woulda, coulda, shoulda’s, all that plotting and planning, dissecting agendas and scouting out hidden agendas and subtexts. We live in the past, fretting over symbolic spilt milk. We live in the future, doubled over with anxiety at the possibility of the worst case scenario or the great cosmic shoe dropping onto our head. We can often be our very own, idiosyncratic version of Chicken Little crying, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” We are so busy looking backwards and forwards, we don’t see the hole in front of us, and we get twisted up, knotted and very stressed.
Stress and stress-related illnesses are at an all-time high. Dr. C. Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D., founder of the American Holistic Medical Association and author of 90 Days to Self-Health, defines stress as “the total physical, chemical, and emotional pressure you experience.” In other words, everything counts as a potential stress factor, be it the food you eat, the air you breathe, the exercise you do or don’t get and your perception of reality.
As a psychologist, I am particularly drawn to that perception-of-reality bit, because this is where the light can get tricky.
Someone wise once said that reality is what we perceive. I believe that to be true. There are days when we are like ducks in the rain, all the water rolls off our backs. No worries, no fears, all those rain drops just join the pond water; and, as the duck, I merely shake off my tail feathers, and I am good to go.
Then, there are other days when I am anything like a duck happily skimming the surface of the water. On those other days, I can step into a huge puddle and my shoes and clothes get saturated, or my car battery acts fussy, or my umbrella has gone MIA, and I arrive at the big meeting drenched and dripping.
In psychology, there is a certain inventory measurement that asks patients to rank life events, such as a move, job change, loss of a spouse, financial worries and the like, over a two year period. The rankings are numerically weighted. The end result of this inventory is to provide a stress assessment. Stress is cumulative and, for some, their two year inventory of stress makes the Book of Job look like a musical comedy.
Most of us don’t need a stress assessment to tell us we are stressed. However, we might need someone to remind us that we are very stressed. We go and go and go. We don’t eat well; we are sleep deprived, and the job or the family or life-in-general seems to demand more and more of our time and energy. Faster and faster become the norm. We even forget to breathe and blink.
Stress is a given in today’s fast-paced, over-achieving, information-overloaded and increasingly technical world. We all have it; we all know it. So, what are we to do?
Relax, right? Relaxation is the antidote to stress. Relaxation allows us to recalibrate, take a deep breath or two and refind our feet.
We often forget to get grounded in our bodies when we are stressed. We are so busy running the tape in our heads that we dismiss the rest of our being. We are operating from the shoulders up; it’s as if we have become truncated at the neck.
Some people cannot eat when they are stressed; others eat compulsively and quickly to stuff the burgeoning feelings. Some cannot sit still; others cannot sleep. Some get so overwhelmed they make napping an Olympic event.
Whether we are in constant movement or unable to take a step, when we leave our bodies, we choose on some level of consciousness or unconsciousness not to feel the deeper, truer feelings that exist beneath the surface of stress.
For your consideration, here are a few coping mechanisms to help you defuse your stress and refind your balance:
• Laugh or cry
Admittedly, this may sound very basic and simplistic, but please realize that both laughter and crying are two of the foremost stress relievers. They are like steam vents that allow the bottled up energy and emotions to release. Maybe it’s time to rent a good movie that will allow you to howl with delight or have a good cry?
Make yourself a priority. Stop the merry-go-round and consider what it is you actually need right now. Can you give yourself the 20 minutes or 2 hours or few days you need to decompress and recalibrate?
As we all well know, exercise is a well-known and well-documented stress reliever. In moving the body and raising the heart rate, we increase the feel-good neurotransmitters.
• Upgrade your lifestyle choices
When we are stressed, our whole being needs more support. Often, we short-change ourselves and our good habits get waylaid with the urgency of a stressful situation. When we are emotionally vulnerable, we are also physically vulnerable. And, when we are physically vulnerable, we are also emotionally vulnerable. It is beneficial to create a daily rhythm and lifestyle plan that supports you during your seasons of stress.
• Fuel the body
When stressed, the simple carbs taste great and can soothe the soul, but think about some decent protein and veggies. If you have goodies, eat them after the meal, your blood sugar (read: energy levels and moods) will be better regulated than eating simple sugars as your primary food group.
• Consider supplement support
Both vitamin C and a vitamin B complex are known to help combat the effects of stress. Fish oils help the brain and the nervous system. Perhaps you might want to add a few supplements to your breakfast or lunchtime routine?
• Go to bed before midnight
This helps the rhythms of your adrenal (aka “fight or flight” response) glands and the interconnected interplay of your endocrine system.
• Express yourself
Journal, share with your friend; talk to your dog. Do whatever it takes to make you comfortable and allow your suppressed feelings to surface. There is great benefit in airing out your worries, fears and concerns.
• Practice relaxation
The aforementioned Dr. Norm Shealy, along with Harvard mind-body researcher Dr. Herbert Benson, author of The Relaxation Response, believes heartily in the benefits of relaxation. Relaxation in this context is considered to be a conscious allowing of the mind and body to still, be it through meditation, prayer, communing with nature, listening to beautiful music, observing art and the like.
Shealy reports that two 20-minute segments of relaxation a day will decrease your body’s stress response by 50 percent. Start with 5-10 minutes, twice a day and notice what happens; it really does make a difference.
M-m-meditate? Yes, it is really doable; the hardest part is showing up and giving yourself the quiet attention. There are a myriad of styles and forms — something for everyone — from mindfulness, lovingkindness, Transcendental Meditation (TM), insight, guided, walking, etc. Start with 5 or 10 minutes a day. It will help quiet your mind and body.
• Unkink your body and rebalance your energy
Try massage, body work, acupuncture, energy work, yoga and the like to help rebalance your body’s energy flow. You will feel like a million bucks when you have finished the session.
“I think God’s going to come down and pull civilization over for speeding.”
“Rest and laughter are the most spiritual and subversive acts of all.”