Health issues from stress are very common in today’s busy lifestyle. Despite the modern tendency to compartmentalize everything, high levels of stress affect us on physical, mental and spiritual levels, with consequences that encompass every aspect of our life. Often we neglect important needs when our life gets out of balance; that very imbalance poses a threat to our health and well-being. In order to protect our quality of life, it is helpful to remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and to clear your mind and relieve stress:
The ability to pause and reflect, to clear the mind and reduce the compulsion to run on an adrenaline-fueled life can prove essential to our vitality, longevity and quality of life. Our favorite wellness gurus have some good advice on how to break out of becoming an adrenaline junkie. Because trying, striving and struggle all simply lead to yet more stress and tension, choose to build on those practices where we are comfortable, and that are both enjoyable and effortless. While we need some stress in our life, for challenge, and to build and maintain muscular-skeletal strength, the modern tendency is to have chronic high levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which become toxic when sustained at high levels.
Here are ten tactical tools for reducing stress; unlike so many things that feel or taste good, all of these can be used as often as necessary.
Get a relaxation massage. The most common massage session is one hour; from time to time, get a 90-minute massage. Precede and/or follow the massage with moist heat if possible – a hot shower, steam room, hot tub, or sauna is great. Using an Epsom salt soak after the massage, perhaps with a dozen drops of lavender, juniper or eucalyptus essential oil will greatly enhance the benefit.
Take a walk in nature, or in a garden. Even if you live amidst a very urban environment, visit a park, or what is a truly wonderful experience, visit the local botanical gardens. In many cities, even in winter, there are greenhouses full of beautiful blooming plants.
Just for a moment or two, take the time to really feel your body and get grounded. Feel your body sensations and pay close attention to what is going on around you, sit or walk and be aware of the movement of your body, the feel of the breeze on your skin, the scents and sounds around you, the pressure of your feet on the Earth. My Shiatsu teacher taught us to walk barefoot on the dew-covered grass of the early morning. Grounding through the feet and bringing the awareness back to our physical body is one of the essential doors to being in the present.
Listen to healing or meditation music. I have listed a number of my favorite resources below. Sounds True has a great selection and can be accessed at www.soundstrue.com
Practice “Pause for a Moment”. Begin with small steps: introduce the practice of “pause for a moment” several times throughout the day. Take a few deep breaths. When we have that “Stop the World I Want to Get Off” feeling, counting the breaths for a series of ten or even a hundred will help reduce chronic stress or an overactive stress response. Dr. Anthony Weil recommends a three-step breathing exercise as a strategy to manage stress. Begin in small ways at first, gradually building your stress-management skills just like building endurance or muscle strength. It can be a challenge to when stress levels are high and feelings are agitated like troubled waters, and you will get better with practice.
Reduce stress by engaging in creative activities that you already love. Take a break to play music, create artwork, play with children, sit and do nothing while gazing at clouds, or into a pond or stream, or a beautiful or inspiring picture. Creative artists and athletes all speak of finding the “zone” or connecting with their muse. The very act of creating something activates the Alpha waves of the brain which enable healing and creativity, bringing us out of the rational Beta wave activity which dominates modern life.
Create a place for meditation. Plants, flowers, even a small fountain with the sound of running water, are examples of setting the stage in a way that will help relax an overloaded emotional and mental state. Sitting outside in nature, in the yard, a park, or by a stream or pond, is very healing. Begin by watching birds and squirrels as they go about their business; they always seem to be in the cathedral of Creation. A good strategy used by many is to have an outside meditation area close to home to enjoy in good weather. For bad weather, or when busy schedules mean that time is short, create a little place in the home. Keep it simple, as there may be little space to spare, but have in the space a few things such as a comfortable pillow, a place for a plant, an inspiring picture, and perhaps a candle. These also act as a “trigger”, and many feel that a dedicated space will create a relaxing energy of its own.
Take a needed break and go on a retreat. Take your vacations; the United States is the only industrial nation with such stingy vacations. One or two weeks a year is not sufficient to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Stress is toxic, and pollution only adds additional stress to the body. Heavy toxin loads only compound health issues due to high levels of stress. Medical research is telling us that the common practice of taking only a week or two (or often less) per year off from work for a vacation is not sufficient to maintain health. Taking time out to detoxify the body is a time-proven strategy for vitality and longevity.
Create your own spa weekend. When a full week at a high-end spa is not an option, a day spa combined with a weekend getaway is also rejuvenating. Vipassana meditation retreats are found world-wide, and are offered at no cost (optional donations are accepted after the retreat is completed).