Given our society's technological advancements, one would think our lives would be stress-free. Vehicles or bikes take us everywhere. Microwaves help with last-minute meals. Washing machines and dishwashers clean for us. So why is there more stress than ever before? Why are there new medical conditions such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? What have we done to ourselves and how can we fix this?
Stress is a normal human condition necessary in one case only: Survival.
Our human response, "fight or flight," is a natural state and a reaction to surviving. I must out-run this saber-toothed tiger. I must hunt all night to find food to feed my family for we are starving and will not make it through the winter. I must find herbs for my child's cut or he will lose his leg.
It's a normal process of the autonomic nervous system. We are built to handle acute stress or stress that occurs over a short period. Once we can identify our stressor, we can alleviate the condition. Hide from the tiger. Kill the buffalo. Find the herb. Simple enough.
Chronic stress is when the condition lasts over a long period to time. This means that the body stays in a perpetual heightened state of arousal, which affects every system in the body. This occurs all too frequent in today's modern society. This means we can't get rid of our stressors or we are bombarded with a constant stream of stressors. Maybe we're stuck in traffic or we have a high-paced job with tight deadlines. Or the holidays are coming up and we have a lot of debt and…. (Phew, I need to calm down because I just stressed myself out!)
See, it's that easy. My brain. Monkey-mind as they call it. Jumping from thought to thought to problem to person to job to event to traffic. Hey, what happened to survival again? Wait a minute. I'm OK. I have food for the winter. I have a soft, cushy couch to sit on and watch True Blood tonight. My kids are safe. Life's good. I am ALIVE. And so are you. So what is all this stress about?
If left unchecked, chronic stress can be a debilitating roadblock. It's estimated to be the root cause of 90% of doctor visits. Chronic stress affects all systems of the body. It wears down your immune system.
Remember that cold that put you on your behind for a week?
Chronic stress raises blood pressure and heart rate, which causes heart disease. Stress is the reason most of us have unbalanced hormones leading to a whole host of problems such as diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. It weighs heavily on the brain and is a main factor in developing depression, anxiety, and irritability. Stress can cause muscle contractions and spasms and lead to muscle aches, pains, and weakness. Lastly, stress affects your digestive system creating slower digestion, constipation, diarrhea, cramps, weight gain or loss, and nausea.
Sounds horrible, doesn't it?
How can we eliminate this rampant and needless evolutionary obstruction?
Here are five ways to help eliminate stress in our modern lives:
1. Develop Self-love.
This is the biggest one of all. I am certain that if you have self-love, if you treat your body as the temple it is, and if you always trust in your intuition, you can do no wrong.
You will always make the right decision and even if you feel doubts, you can trust in the future. Remember this: every decision you have made up until this point was necessary to get you to this point.
This is another real big one. Find 10 minutes a day, preferably right when you wake up and the kids are still sleeping, and right before you go to bed and the kids are sleeping, to meditate.
I use my closet.
Sometimes I use my bathroom. I just sit on the floor (does not have to be lotus style), close my eyes, and be as still as possible. I notice immediately a sense of calm, serenity and I sleep much better too. Add essential oils and deep breathing. Please if you do nothing else, try meditation. It will change your life.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet.
Often, what we think is stress may actually be a lack of very important vitamins and minerals. Maybe we're not getting enough leafy greens or Omega-3s or even fresh water.
Remember that microwave we talked about earlier? You may think it's helping with stress, but it's actually causing more stress in the body by preventing the body absorbance of vital life-enhancing nutrition.
Try green smoothies instead of egg sandwich for breakfast for one week. You'll see. Cut down on caffeine and other stimulants. Try giving up dairy and gluten for a spell and see how that does you. An allergen just may be your stressor.
4. Get Some Sunshine.
Most of us are deficient in vitamin D3. The stuff that only sunshine can help us synthesize right within our skin. When we were children, we (hopefully) were out in the sun. Our vitamin D reserves were built and got us through those tough teen years and early 20s in college when we didn't see as much sun.
When you reach your mid-20s and early 30s, lack of sun exposure begins to catch up with us. For many of us, it may come in the form of depression. It may disguise itself as anxiety and stress. Whatever its form, getting at least 15 minutes of direct sunlight a day and/or taking a daily supplement of D3, can help your symptoms.
5. Practice Awareness.
During one of my stints in college, I took a personal wellness class. A lecture was given on "Be Here Now." It would forever change my life and my perception of the world around me. It's about living in the moment. Or it's the idea that "wherever you go there you are."
Be aware of your surroundings and your body at all times. Recognize your stressors and when you "catch" them, you can actually visualize yourself catching those stressors (such as thoughts, mental pictures of people, worries).
I visualize holding mine in a bubble and then blowing away the bubble. I "watch" the bubble gently float away along with the stressors inside. It may take some practice but it helps me. I allow my stressors to leave. I accept them, tell them they are causing me great pain and sickness, and then release them.
Stress is not going away anytime soon, but how we react to our stress is what we hold in our power. We do have the power to be rid of stress. It is possible to live without it. Let it lie with our ancestors and be released from modern society. It would be nice to let them know all of their hard work and stress was for something.