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I'm a stressed out, hot mess ... My life seems to be spinning out of control. With long work hours and even longer parenting hours, there’s no room for me in my life. I’m feeling worn down and frazzled. How can I find some balance and peace before the chaos makes me crazy?
I hear you, life these days can be overwhelming with work demands, parenting responsibilities and aging parents, who are often ailing as well. The fact we have so many people relying on us is exactly why we have to manage our stress levels. But is stress really that bad for us? Let’s examine this further.
Last year, Dr. Maria Patriquin spoke at our Yoga in Schools conference about the effects of chronic stress. She shared a story about a man who was displaying a host of symptoms and had a series of tests done to find the answers. When she told him his tests were clear and that the symptoms were reflective of high stress levels, he smiled and sighed in relief.
Patriquin did not rejoice with him, however, but explained stress can be a cause of many major illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, obesity, anxiety, depression and even dementia. You can see why she was concerned for her patient’s stress diagnosis!
Occasional stress is natural and unavoidable, like that adrenalin rush you feel after nearly rear-ending the driver in front of you who stopped suddenly to let a deer pass. Your heart rate skyrockets, your pupils dilate, your palms sweat, and your muscles get a hit of energy so you can flee or fight to preserve your life. Once it has been dealt with, your system gradually returns to a relaxed, alert state of being.
Persistent chronic stress however, leads to imbalances in our nervous system, which constantly sounds the alarm bell of the fight or flight reaction. This constant state of hyper arousal drains our energy, diminishes our ability to think clearly and clouds our memory. In simpler terms, acute or sudden stress makes you super strong, so you can lift that car off a child or chase after a thief. Chronic or long-term stress makes you super stupid (and sick), making it nearly impossible to think rationally, remember details and maintain vibrant health.
Dear friend, life is short enough, please don’t succumb to the high-stress lifestyle so many people have become addicted to — it will only shorten your life even more!
Let’s start by putting yourself back in the driver’s seat of your life by taking time for self-care. You may need to change your mind about the time it takes to do this. Try stealing back a few minutes throughout your day for self-care, like massaging your temples, your jaw and neck muscles while waiting for your children to finish music lessons, or taking 10 deep, easy breaths every 30 minutes at work, or doing a loop around the office every hour to keep circulation flowing and stress hormones flushing.
After hearing a friend complain about having no time for exercise, I suggested he arrive at work early to get it in before his shift. He now has a whole posse of people who join him for a brisk early morning walk each day, providing him with endorphins from exercising in nature as well as other happy hormones from the social engagement.
Pull out your phone and make a list of five self-care practises you can add to your day that don’t require a dramatic change to your schedule. Ready, set, go!
My clients frequently tell me they don’t have time to slow down. I always respond with “You don’t have time not to, since stress has been shown to take years off your life.” As Jenny said, many of us have become addicted to stress because it can help us feel productive and purposeful. But stress interferes with our ability to enjoy daily life, since we’re always on red alert, scanning for the crisis. The emotional flames of stress also cause us to react in harsh ways, potentially scorching those we love most.
As a stress reduction teacher of 35 years, I can promise if you were to make stress management a top priority, your whole life would change for the better. It will take some time and commitment to come down off the dangerous cortisol high you’ve been riding for so long, but over time, you’ll become a more patient, present parent and a more efficient, creative, employee.
Here are my top three guidelines for reducing stress in your life, starting today:
1. Lift your gaze to see the big picture
Taking time to step back from your life helps to put the scale of your problems into perspective. When your system has been hijacked by stress for too long, you can become hyper focused on the nasty details instead of viewing issues from a greater perspective, where the best solutions lie. A great question to ask yourself when faced with a stressful situation is how much will this issue matter in an hour, in a day, in a week and so on?
2. Laugh 30 times a day
Most children laugh on average 100 times a day while adults are lucky to get three to five laughs in. Laughter helps to reduce the toxic effects of stress and releases feel good hormones through the blood stream. Instead of watching the thriller movies that reinforce the stress reaction, seek out comedy in television and in life.
3. Work hard, play hard
Instead of work hard, work harder (which is the norm today for most adults) commit to playing hard too. This means you choose to engage in a non-productive, pointless activity for no other purpose than to be present to the joy of life. What activity can you think of that consumes your attention and involves no monetary or employment gain? Perhaps it’s a sport, playing music, or board games, eating spaghetti with your fingers, anything! Schedule it into your calendar and make it a part of your daily routine.
By applying these practices into your life, you will notice the grip of stress soften and the quality of your life will improve.
More from Ask The Therapists:
Have a question? Email Askthetherapists@herald.ca
Blair Abbass and Jenny Kierstead are certified therapists, award winning educators and partners in life and business. They are the co-founders of Breathing Space Yoga Studio/Teacher Training, Yoga in Schools and Girl on Fire. They have been married for 17 years, but who’s counting.