Welcome back as we follow Kevin Schoeninger’s weekly messages on Spiritual Growth Monthly. Continuing with the concept of “accumulated stress,” Kevin takes a look at some steps we can take to begin peeling back the layers of old stress in our bodies, before they do serious damage to our health and state of mind.
Kevin began this week by sharing personal thoughts from the recent loss of his mother to cancer. Many of us may have experienced such losses, whether of a parent or older family member, and found ourselves facing profound questions about life as we watch it end for someone we love.
Did our loved one make choices we should follow, we might ask? Are we making choices right now that will impact the quality or even the duration of our remaining years? Will we be able to be at peace, someday, when we face this final transition? If not, are we frightened by the unknown, or more frightened by the thought of giving up control?
It is a gift to share the final moments of a loved one’s life…a beautiful and terrible gift, to be sure. Sometimes it can feel like a flashback movie of all the wonderful moments they gave us, and all the lessons they taught us, even though we may not have recognized them until right now.
It may also remind us of the various challenges they faced in their lives, and how they dealt with the stress they carried with them. In some cases, we may wish they had lived differently, not succumbed to addictions or unhealthy emotional habits that cut their lives short. Or we may witness the enormous courage of a life well lived, weathered by all life threw at them, but unbroken and calm as these storms ebb away.
This reminder of the finality of life can be an opportunity for us to wake up to the importance of every moment. To be alert, aware, and really alive…and to let go of accumulated stress that may be harming our health and hindering our ability to experience joy.
That may sound odd to link health and joy together, but think about it. When your body feels good, it is easier to feel happy and embrace the moments of your life. And when you feel happy, you are more apt to be active and immune to new stressors in your life.
If we ever witness loved ones coping with a terminal illness, without complaint, we may understand how a lifetime of accumulated joy might stay with us as well, even after health may have gone.
Our habits accumulate stress or joy.
Last week Kevin discussed the need for us to recognize our personal patterns of behavior, and whether they add more layers of stress on to our bodies, or help those layers fall away. He continues this week by offering six areas where we might make changes in our behavior if we need to, and release a little stress every day.
He emphasizes that this does not mean adding six more things to our To Do Lists. Instead, he encourages us to look deeper into our personal patterns of how we react to stress, and whether or not we take healthy steps to alleviate it, or turn to habits that actually make us feel worse in the long run.
Three of Kevin’s tips are things we already do every day, but how we do them will either add to our stress levels or help us relieve stress and lower the inflammation it causes. Every day we all need to sleep, eat, and move.
When our lives are full of stress, we may also not sleep, eat too much or foods that make us miserable, or we spend our days not moving…except from the car to the desk to the car to the couch, with a remote control.
Good, restful sleep, Kevin reminds us, is the number one way our bodies repair. It is how we recuperate from the stress of the day, and how we ensure we can make it through the next one. If your sleep is disrupted, or you have pushed it down on your priority list, you may need to give it more respect, and give yourself permission to relax.
Food is often something we turn to for comfort, far more than to alleviate an actual hungry feeling in our tummies. Kevin recommends a food and mood journal, so we can plainly see how certain foods truly impact our moods. When you begin to see patterns, he says, “You may discover that some of your ‘go to’ foods actually don’t make you feel very good afterwards.”
The third part of this habitual triumvirate is about how much we move. You don’t have to join a gym or invest in a lot of equipment. Just walk around a little more. Put on rock music and dance.
These three behaviors all reinforce each other, whether for the good or the bad. We can either come home from work, and say “I need a drink, or a cookie…or a bag of cookies,” slump on the couch, and watch TV until 1 a.m., or we could come home, take a walk or run around the yard with our kids or the dog, eat a healthy family dinner, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Option one adds more stress and inflammation on to our bodies, option two not only stops new stress, but can help us cool down inflammation that already exists.
Unfettered inflammation wears us down and increases our susceptibility to all sorts of diseases. It shortens our lives, and can turn each day into a misery, instead of a gift to treasure and share.
Kevin lists far more detail on these three parts of our lives, and adds three more to really enhance our daily ability to withstand stress. I encourage you to check out his entire inspiring message.
None of us know how long our own lives will be. The best we can do is to make each moment a moment well spent. There is no better way to honor those we have lost, than living the full lives they would want us to live. Finding more joy and peace now will make each remaining day as precious as those we remember.
For Kevin’s entire article, visit www.spiritualgrowthmonthly.com.
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