In our society today, stress has become chronic and it is primarily psychological, such as deadlines at work, having too many things to do (which are often self-imposed), working long hours without taking even 30 min for lunch, poor diet, and lack of exercise. While our ancestors had to fight real dangers from wild animals and tribes, and thus, developed the “fight or flight response” as a survival mechanism. This mechanism has become over-used and causes physical illnesses since our body is on constant alert to manage primarily psychological threats from the environment.
Research shows that nearly 80-90% of illnesses are stress related. Stress is an individual experience in the sense that what makes us feel anxious and upset is not the actual event, but our story, what we tell ourselves about what had just occurred. For example, let’s take a case of a driver who is often experiencing road rage. When somebody cuts him/her off, the driver would say to himself/herself: “How he dares to cut me off?” or something similar along those lines. The result is anger, anxiety, stress. On the contrary, a driver who can manage the stress associated with driving can say to himself/herself something more benign, such as, “This person must be really in a hurry.” I often use this example to educate clients that they DO have a control over their thoughts, and thus, their emotions.
Instead of so called “the stress response” which shows up physically as an increase in blood pressure, metabolic rate, and increase in blood flow to the muscles, we need to consciously nurture “the relaxation response” (as per Herbert Benson) which helps us to slow down, and thus decreases blood flow and muscles.
Key points for managing stress include:
- Start your day on a positive note; for example, think about things you are grateful for and include positive affirmations (“All is well in my world”). I recommend Louise Hay when working with my clients and it really makes a difference.
- Eat a healthy, nutritious breakfast such as oatmeal with berries and a cup of green tea. Even better if you have time to start your day with juicing. This will help to keep your immune system healthy. Don’t forget to drink water.
- Take regular breaks away and make sure you take at least 30 min for lunch. Taking time to rest actually does enhance performance. Learn how to prioritize and utilize effective time management skills.
- Include exercise in your daily schedule. Make it a priority. If you don’t have time to go to the gym you can be creative and either walk for 30 min and also stretch at home or buy exercise DVDs.
- Adopt some type of meditation practice. There are several to choose from. In my professional practice, I find it most beneficial to teach people about self-hypnosis and guided meditation. When you find yourself struggling with negative emotions, just taking a few moments to breathe and visit your special place (beach, garden, mountains) can make a difference.
While this may seem like common things to do, I find that many of my clients don’t do what they know will help them to be happier and less anxious. Often, and this is especially true of women, there are deeply ingrained beliefs that they are being selfish if they put themselves first; that they don’t think they can take time away from their responsibilities, and that they don’t deserve to be happy, that they somehow have to earn it.
So, do something for yourself today – you will feel empowered and happier!