HOW STRESS IS POISONING YOUR BODY AND WHY YOU NEED TO LET IT GO!
It is now widely recognised that mental stress (which includes fear, anger, chronic anxiety and depression) is one of the leading causes of illness in the world!! The New England Journal of Medicine published a major article detailing the multi system damage that chronic stress can inflict on the human body. This article reports that mental stress causes a complex system of hormones and other chemicals to be released.
When stress persists and the body continues to produce these chemicals, many organs in our body are exposed to harmful consequences. Stress causes changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels and it increases the secretion of cortisol, a powerful natural steroid hormone.
Perhaps worst of all, stress has been shown to depress the natural functioning of our immune system, impairing our ability to fight infections and chronic illnesses such as cancer. This article concludes that chronic stress creates damaging physiological changes, and that among these problems can be; insulin resistance, heart disease, memory loss, immune-system dysfunction and osteoporosis, to name a few!
One of the medical researchers quoted in the article states, “Physicians and other health care providers can help patients reduce the risk of such stress-related problems by helping them to relax and find ways of alleviating the stress”.
So How do we alleviate the stress?
The most important factor in combatting stress is RELAXATION! Learning to relax, unwind and let go are the key to reducing the harmful effects that stress has on the body, mind and soul. We do not function well when we are stressed or tired. Finding ways to help you relax is essential for physical and emotional wellbeing.
But I don't have enough time
Before I make some suggestions of how to do this I wanted to cover the most common barrier that I hear to this and that is ‘I just don't have enough time’. This used to be my favourite excuse too and I got very offended if any one dared to call it an ‘excuse’ because I genuinely felt so overwhelmed by life that I believed I really didn't have time.
On further examination this was because I believed that if I couldn’t do a full hour of something then I couldn't do it at all. If I couldn’t do it ‘properly’ then what was the point. The reality is I didn't need a full hour to do yoga or meditation. Even 5 minutes would be more helpful than none at all. This was just another form of self sabotage, a way for me to not do the things I knew would make me feel better. In reality if you are very stressed then even 30 seconds of deep breathing would help.
Coming out of the ‘stressed’ state allows us to see and feel everything more clearly. If we take 10 minutes to breathe deeply, to return to that quiet place we are far more likely to react better to any stress anyway. So making the time for this for a few short minutes can actually help that whole
‘stress’ situation. Making time everyday to do this has an even deeper effect. Just 10 minutes meditating can make you calmer and more able to deal with stress. Just 10 minutes stretching your body can help you feel stronger and more relaxed. Just a 10 minute walk in nature reconnects you to the world as a whole and helps to reset your nervous system.
These don't have to be big commitments that take up a lot of time, they can be a few small minutes of peaceful breathing or a quick walk in a field. The most important thing isn't how long you do them for… its simply that you do them.
And you make that commitment to give yourself a few minutes of your precious time every day, consistently.
Here are some suggestions for better relaxation that you can start today…..
Meditation (and good sleep)
Learning to meditate can be the most liberating and life enriching experience but I think that people often feel intimidated by the whole concept. The reality is that meditation is simply ‘switching off your mind’ and there is no hidden secret or magic involved. You do not have to be sat cross legged chanting OM to feel the benefits of meditation. I personally found that when I started I preferred guided meditations and someone talking me through it, it really helped to let go. The trick with meditation is NOT TO TRY! I often think people are lying there ‘trying’ to relax, trying to clear their mind.. Trying. And that's the problem.
The best thing you can do is get comfortable, just lie/sit there and breath, listen to the voice of the person and just be there… listening and breathing. There is nothing else you need to do. Other than relax and allow yourself to let go but often when we ‘try’ to relax we get more restless. So just be there with no demands on yourself, no need to ‘do’ anything.
The Internet offers a whole range of guided relaxation and meditation tracks (just type it in to YOUTUBE) there are meditations for every emotion and mindset, there are 10 minute ones and 2 hour ones. Just find something that is right for you. That you enjoy. As stress often affects sleeping patterns so profoundly this is also a very good way to go to sleep at night, I often fall asleep listening to a ‘sleep meditation’ and can honestly say it really helps me to have a full night of restful sleep and wake up feeling great! The other advantage is that stress often leads to poor sleep so this can help you relax AND sleep better. It is also a great time to fit this into your day as you will be lying in bed every night to go to sleep. What better time to fit a little meditation into your day! There are so many to choose from you are bound to find something that works for you! I highly recommend you start meditating today!
Regular exercise is not only essential for wellbeing but has also been medically proven to reduce stress related disorders. I personally love YOGA and have seen continuous positive changes in my mind and body since starting the practice 20 years ago, but everyone is different and the key is doing something you enjoy! Exercise doesn’t have to be hours in the gym (that would be my worst nightmare anyway) a gentle walk in nature, a stroll along the seafront or a hike in the mountains is good for your body and your soul. Even just 10 minutes of gentle stretching will help your body more than no exercise at all. It doesn't have to be hard graft. Your body needs to move, even lazy cats stretch out their muscles, so moving your body in a gentle way is very helpful. I personally couldn't survive without nature so I spend time walking in forests and fields. Im not focusing on how many calories I am burning I am just moving my body and breathing.
Getting active and out in nature is the best stress relief known to man! Its free, its easy and everyone can do this no matter what their level of fitness.
I highly recommend that you go for a walk outside today!
Breathe… it's all ok!
It may sound a bit crazy telling you to remember to breathe but many of us actually hold our breath for long periods when we are stressed. Remembering to breathe and taking a few minutes to focus on our breath can really help. Breathwork is very powerful stuff. It took me a few years to really understand how important the breath can be but we can literally change our physical chemistry by altering our breathing. I mentioned this during the Self Care article as I talked about anxiety breathing, slowly our breath can literally help to take our body out of its ‘stressed’ state.
Breathing deeply and slowly is the key to this and the exhale is more important than the inhale. So a slow exhale is actually the physical action that helps to correct your nervous system. Just spending a few minutes taking some deep breaths and slowly exhaling that breath will really help.
Definitely keep breathing today and try to take deeper breaths today!
Getting help to relax and alleviate stress
Sometimes you do all of these things and you still feel stressed! That’s when you should look for help! When the body is in a state of stress or anxiety the whole of your system is working at full capacity, staying in this state for persistent lengths of time will cause health issues so finding something that helps you to completely switch off is very important. Most people do not find relaxation easy and they often need someone to give them ‘permission’ to rest. This is where a treatment can really help as the therapist’s main focus is to help that relaxation process!
There are a vast range of treatments and therapies that help to alleviate stress, from Reiki to Reflexology the choice is endless and making time for yourself and making the commitment to yourself is really the key here. Allowing yourself a regular appointment of your chosen therapy to completely relax and unwind will have far reaching benefits on your physical and mental health.
Sometimes we have genuine reasons to ‘stress’ in our lives but often it is merely the treadmill of life that causes us to feel this way. Taking some deep breaths, going for a walk in nature and getting some help when you need it will allow your body and mind the much needed rest that it craves.