Winter drags on with February behind us and spring on the horizon, but it’s cold and most of us are over it. I know I am. We can become cranky and not as luscious as we usually are, right? We regret not taking that island holiday over the holidays, our toes in tropical sand; the warm breezes relaxing our tense shoulders. As though that would have helped. Maybe it would have, but the truth is pretty simple.
Stress is something we all live with. There’s not one life, not even the Dalai Lama who doesn’t experience stress. It’s how we manage it that makes all the difference.
The truth is that we need to find that ever-elusive balance if we are to weather the storms of life. And trust me when I tell you, I can be a guilty as anyone with letting balance fly out the window. I work hard, work out hard. I run my business with my sweet husband, teach classes, write, research, cook and clean…just like we all do. Some days I feel like that magician who runs around on stage balancing plates spinning on sticks, hoping against hope that they don’t all come tumbling down around me.
Some days, they do.
I have to say, though, I keep a pretty good perspective. Having almost lost my precious life not once, but twice, I mostly shrug off the daily adventures that derail many of us. My perspective shifted with both of my health crises. Now I don’t recommend anyone risk their life to change the way they manage stress (please!!!), but I am saying that sometimes, you need to step back, breathe, look at things and gauge where you need to stress…and where you don’t.
I am deeply passionate and committed to helping people make better choices and leading healthy lives. I worry about the water, food, access to fresh food. I worry about the junk being peddled to us disguised with health halos. I could lose sleep over how we are being hoodwinked by special interests whose only agenda is profit, not our health or the health of the planet.
Remember that stress occurs when you feel that demands placed on you from work, school, life or all of the above exceed your ability to cope with them. While some stress can be good for us, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to push us through a deadline, exercise class, race or event, an extreme amount of prolonged stress can have health consequences, affecting our immune, cardiovascular, neuro-endocrine and central nervous systems. That takes a severe emotional toll and can result in anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research also tell us that chronic, extreme stress can contribute to the development of heart disease, depression and obesity.
Over the years I have had to develop tools to help me manage the stresses of my work, my life and this world we inhabit. Most of my days are glorious. I love my work and I love sharing with all of you in our little community talking about what matters to you the most…not to mention some seriously delicious recipes flying around our little universe.
So this is a big share from me to you. Here are my top tips for managing life’s stresses. I hope they can help you shift your view, take a deep breath and realize that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff and often…it’s mostly small stuff. But when it’s not, these tools just might help you get through the mire.
1. Take a break!
It may seem impossible to get away from a work project, a crying baby, a growing credit card bill or a family challenge. I have found that if I give myself permission to step away from it all for just a short time and do something else, I can breathe and find a new perspective so I feel less overwhelmed. I’m not advocating avoiding your stress (you have to pay the bills and deal with your stuff sometime), but even just 15 minutes away is supremely beneficial.
The research just keeps growing. Exercise nourishes your mind as well as your body. While the long-term benefits of regular exercise are well known by now, even a 20-minute walk, run, swim or uninhibited dance session in the midst of a stressful time can provide a de-stressing benefit that can last for several hours.
3. Smile and the whole world smiles with you!
Did you know that our brains are connected to our facial expressions reflecting our emotions? When people are stressing out, you can see it in their face. The stress is held in their expressions. So laugh or smile (even if you don’t feel like it) and you’ll relieve some of that tension, which can help you gain perspective and deal with a situation differently. You will relax and when you relax, you can think. And when people see you relax, they relax and everything in a situation can diffuse a bit.
4. Support, support, support!
Call a friend or loved one. Send an email or a text. Raise a white flag. Send up a smoke signal. Whatever it takes to send a signal that you need help. Sharing your concerns or feelings with another person helps relieve stress. Pick someone you trust, who understands you and what you’re going through. They may provide more than a sympathetic ear. They may have a perspective you hadn’t considered that could help relieve your stress.
5. Om it
I can’t stress (get it?) this one enough. Meditation and mindful prayer help the mind and body to relax and focus. Mindfulness can help people see new perspectives, develop self-compassion and forgiveness. Mindfulness can help people release pent-up emotions that can cause physical as well as emotional stress. Much like exercise, research shows that meditating for a mere 10 minutes daily yields immediate and lasting benefits.
I used to think I didn’t have time to meditate (just as you likely are thinking as you read), but if you take just 10 minutes a day to sit quietly and breathe deeply, you will be stunned…and I mean stunned… at how quickly and easily you shift your view of life and how to manage the little adventures that make up the tapestry of our days.
One final tip. Skip right on over alcohol when you’re stressed. There’s no such thing as drowning your sorrows, just your health. Ditch the caffeine and tobacco too. They will just make you jittery and overwhelmed…a very bad combo in my view.
And breathe…this too shall pass (whatever “this” is).