I have missed being with you these past weeks. I’ll let you in on the reason for my absence and the reason for this later in this article.
How Stress Affects our Body and Mind
Sometimes stress piles up and can become overwhelming. Stress can stop us dead in our tracks. It can affect how we relate to others and how we feel about ourselves and how we think. If we are in a high-stress mode and not thinking clearly, how can we respond well in emergency situations? Stress management should be our first line of defense to both the large and small challenges of life.
Stress can reach us through various avenues: serious illness, work (or lack thereof), relationships, financial hardships, school, death, increasing violence, random shootings, accident, even listening to the news too often can create inner stress. You can probably think of many other stressors. We all pass through many these in our lifetime.
How we handle those times is usually what makes us stronger and more resilient but handled poorly they may break us. If increased levels of stress are not managed well, energy and our sense of well-being can plummet. There is a stress medical cascade that can plunge us into depression, confusion, heart attack, serious bowel problems or it can greatly lower our immunity and bring on a host of other serious illnesses.
For a more in-depth look at the serious health risk you take when the stress response keeps firing, day after day, check out this post over at Healthline
Recently a quick series of what I first perceived as unfortunate stressful situations came bounding into my life. I am sure you have experienced such a time and if you haven’t yet, you probably will at some point. Life’s like that! Here briefly is what happened.
In a matter of 18 days we experienced the following list of mishaps:
- A flooded basement, now over $25,000 in damages. Everything that was salvageable in our basement was stored in two PODS in our driveway or packed in boxes and stacked in the living room, waiting for water remediation and reconstruction.
- Two days later our refrigerator gave up and we lost everything in both fridge and freezer. We used ice coolers for 8 days.
- Three days after that my computer developed “the blue screen of death”. I purchased a refurbished desktop and……. four days later it was struck by lightning, I kid you not.
- That same day the toilet flow value ceased to work. With every flush, I learned to open the tank lid and slap that offending valve. At this point, the valve was not at the top of my repair or replace the to-do list.
- My husband’s health required some extra attention over the past few weeks.
- I had painful corneal abrasion and…….
- A fractured bone.
At this point, I was experiencing stress overload. There were not enough hours in the day to do what needed to be done and several times I was simply “discombobulated” not knowing where to start. I normally deal with “stuff” without much problem. I just “take care of business” and move on. But not this time. It seemed like I was playing Whack-a-Mole. I was stressed and needed to stop and figure out how to solve these challenges; figure out a plan of attack and set priorities.
Several times when the stress seemed overwhelming, I sat down, closed my eyes and started to deep breathe, then pray and ponder about what to do first. I walked barefoot in the quiet morning and evening hours, even if only for 15 minutes. Just that quiet time helped with refocusing from immediate problems to solutions. Here is the paradigm shift and thought which came to my mind.
“The incidents that happened were simply about ‘material’ things. No terminal illness, no death or serious accident had occurred”. The longer I thought in quietude the more I could see hidden positives in these “negative” circumstances.
- Several weeks before this flood we’d been talking about how in the world my husband and I were going to be able to clear out, sell or give away things we no longer needed, especially some heavier items. But after I contacted the water remediation company, three muscular men arrived and began doing the work that just a little while before we’d been concerned that we couldn’t accomplish alone.
It was obvious that a full renovation was going to take a long time. But it was being done by capable professionals and was mostly covered by insurance!
- A dear friend had a practically new, beautiful refrigerator in his garage that exactly fit our space! He would not take a dime!
- I now have a brand-new computer and was refunded the cost of the one that was hit by lightning…the computer repair shop was not obligated to give that refund.
- My dear husband is doing better.
- The corneal abrasion is healed with no scarring.
- The bone is healing nicely.
Ways to Deal with Stress
Stress can creep up slowly or it can arrive at lightning speed. There may be a deadline to meet, a large unexpected bill that must be paid, or a sudden accident. Physiologically, as stress mounts we hold our breath, our bodies tense and we can get light-headed. Breathe. If you can take just three minutes to close your eyes and take a series of very slow deep breathes this action will cause a physical change in the body and will lower blood pressure and heart rate. It will help to clear the mind. This is sometimes called the relaxation response. Usually, you can feel the relaxed change in your body! It is amazing what this simple exercise can do…and speaking of exercise, that too increases our ability to handle stress.
Walking, running, yoga, hiking and swimming are some preferred exercises used to decrease stress. I love to walk barefoot. For me, this has a “grounding” or “earthing” effect and calms my mind quickly as well as my body. It’s also a great time to include deep breathing and to soak up some vitamin D. If you’d like to learn more about the science of earthing see:
Scientists have found that regular exercise has been shown to lower overall levels of tension, elevate and soothe mood, improve sleep, and increase self-esteem. Just a few minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects so, turn on the radio and dance like crazy! We have a player piano and the ragtime music makes it impossible to be still. Dancing to that music is irresistible. Those ten minutes of moderate exercise always ends with a smile on my face and a better outlook on the day.
Some amount of stress can be a positive incentive which helps us to do our best and meet life’s challenges. But being over-stressed can make us fearful, anxious, and less able to respond appropriately to life’s challenges. Restful sleep allows the body to better deal with these disruptive emotions. Eventually, that sleep deprivation can lead to chronic illness and to more traffic accidents and death. We all know the importance of rest but this is an area that is often ignored.
The CDC has this to say about sleep habits in the U.S.
“More than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to a new study in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report”. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults aged 18–60 years sleep at least 7 hours each night to promote optimal health and well-being. Sleeping less than seven hours per night is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress”. “Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; and removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need.”
It can be difficult to break the habit of using electronic devices before bedtime, but once done the result is an amazing return of energy that we may have forgotten we had. To learn more about the sleep habits and how they relate to stress check out this post at WebMD.
4. Reduce Information Overload
If at all possible, cut way back on social media and digital information intake. This alone can reduce stress and provide more time to accomplish those things we’ve been meaning to do, or it could allow us to get more sleep. We could actually talk to a family member or friend. Connecting face to face is good medicine and can be a stress-buster as we nurture and refresh relationships.
5. Stop the Negative Talk and Laugh Instead
How often do you mumble a complaint or have a negative thought about yourself or someone else? These thoughts can tear us down and rob us of joy faster than just about anything else. There is a physical effect in our bodies that is induced by negativity. Instead, take the time to think of something that makes you smile. Laugh. Think of something you’re thankful for. Count your blessings. Smile.
I know this sounds a bit Pollyanna-ish but try it on for size just once. You can take that same mumbling minute to say something uplifting to someone else. Perhaps a store clerk, a friend or a family member. Think about how your positive comment will make them feel.
Write a thank-you note or send a “thinking of you” card. When we give of ourselves, we will feel uplifted and the stress will not dominate the day. This includes ditching negative self-talk. It limits peace and increases stress. Check out this study about laughing and stress in adolescents.
6. Essential Oils that Bring Calmness to Mind and Body
- Citrus oils
- Clary Sage
- Ylang Ylang
- Hawaiian Sandalwood
- Quick-The constituents’ in these oils can provide instant calming with just one whiff.
- Safe-There are no adverse side-effects as with some “calming” drugs. Non-habit-forming. Absolutely no fear of addiction. No need to ingest.
- Versatile-Can be used via diffuser into the air while you sleep or work. They can be added to bath water, used in aromatherapy and massages or applied with a carrier oil to the body.
- Convenient – No trip to the doctor needed.
7. Healthy Foods
- Keep it simple and clean
- Eat less
- Stop eating before you feel full.
- Do a 24 hour fast now and again, if possible, to give your body a rest.
- Eat as much of your food in its whole form as possible i.e.: an apple instead of an apple pop tart.
- Eat more fruits and veggies
- If you are diabetic or have another dietary challenge always talk to your health professional.
- Eat good fats. Since your brain is about 60% fat you need fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, salmon….
- Avoid GMO and eat organic as much as possible. I know it’s more costly but do what you can. Aldi’s and Trader Joe’s are good places to get reasonably prices organics.
- Cook from scratch when possible.
We sometimes create our own stressors, but we can change.
There was a wall stencil in one of my kid’s bedrooms. “Attitude Determines Altitude”. The joy and happiness we can feel have little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. If our focus is always on ourselves or on negative things, we can get pretty bummed because that attitude is so narrow and limiting and keeps us from enjoying real successes. A continual negative attitude keeps us from identifying and enjoying the positives that are everywhere, even in the midst of negatives.
Think about the increasing division in our world today. Discussion of differences? Nope. “You must believe as I do or you are the enemy” and there’s no room for discussion or common ground, let alone respect. As that self-centered, in-your-face attitude increases we will be pretty stressed people if they respond with that same hostile attitude. We don’t need to be a low altitude person when a good attitude can lift us up and provide a better, less stressful way of life.
I love what C.S. Lewis said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending”. We all know people who have an “Eeyore” personality, always seeing the dark side of life.
It seems so absolutely essential to me that we come to the surface for a breath of good clean air and a smile, even while the world sometimes seems to be hurtling into the abyss.
9. Practice Random Acts of Kindness
“Be the change you want to see in the world”.
The world is often unkind, harsh and uncaring. Kindness is nourishing. It’s uplifting. It makes people smile and lightens the load of the kindness giver and of the receiver. It promotes empathy and compassion and in turn, leads to a sense of interconnectedness with others. When we feel connected with others, we increase the sense that we are more similar than dissimilar in our experiences. Feeling connected brings us together rather than divides us. Kindness is potent medicine and a wonderful stress-buster.
Here at BDS we focus on survival.
We prepare for the worst possible scenarios while hoping for the best. Having tools to decrease daily stress can make all the difference in our health and therefore in our ability to deal more clearly with the very serious survival issues that we are facing now and the ones that we will face ahead.
What Are Your Experiences?
In sharing individual insights, we help each other. As the world grows more challenging what do you do to maintain your own mental, emotional and physical balance?