A Healthier You Begins with Stress Reduction

June 11, 2011

I have been asked to speak at the Marine Corps Community Services summer stand-down on stress relief. When the aerobics coordinator first asked me, I thought, No way in hell, lady. Not this chick. You’re asking me to speak in front of a lot of people.

Vidi. All rights reserved to the artist. Please do not steal or repost. Thank you.

Granted, the base I live on is not so dense in population as it is huge. As I walked my little heart out on the treadmill after the initial conversation–I did not say “no”, by the way; I needed to give it some thought and check my schedule–I wondered why I would say no to an opportunity to reach out to people who are overstressed, fatigued, unrealistic, injured, medicated, depressed, and often losing hope. Am I not an American Council on Exercise certified group fitness instructor and lifestyle and weight management coach? Am I not passionate about health and wellness as a whole? Did I not stand up before people several times a week and instruct them in my classes?

The answer simply is “yes” and within the hour I met up with the coordinator to say that I would speak at the three briefs MCCS had scheduled in a week and a half. A subscriber to Whole Living and reader of the complimentary subscriptions of the journal sent to all ACE-certified instructors from the same organization, coupled with IDEA, I went back to my house filled with confidence. The aerobics coordinator informed me later that day that the lady in charge of the briefs would make up some slides for my 10-minute presentation on stress relief and ways to alleviate its ailments.

But that isn’t good enough for me. I started rummaging around through my magazines and journals after picking up ACE’s latest issue, and quickly decided to do my own presentation. I finished the initial presentation and sent it off for review to my “boss” (technically, I’m a volunteer so I don’t have a boss, but the AC is a great woman to work with). The research that I have put into this has given me fodder for this post.

Let’s face it. We’re all stressed and most of us are stressed all the time. A recent study suggested that 75% of Americans are overstressed constantly. What? With reaching for it all–the big house, the fancy car, the fat paycheck, the family with two kids, the cute dog, the perfect body–we barely have time for sleep let alone for ourselves. What happens then is the opposite of what we want: we get fat and lethargic and grow unhappy with ourselves; we develop chronic illnesses such as heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes; we grow depressed and seek professional help, which most often results in drugs (and sometimes a lot of drugs); or, if we don’t seek help, we turn to the things that comfort us–food, alcohol, drugs, etc. So many people say they don’t have time to do something for themselves but the result is death.

Yes, truly. Death of the quality of life. Death of our health. An early death. And potentially the early deaths of our children.

Come on, people. Wake up and smell the roses. Life is an amazing experience and we need to learn to STOP. Literally. And then prioritize. If all that money and stress is worth it to you, if sacrificing your health and the positive experiences associated with finding time for you, then don’t bother reading this post. This isn’t for you.

If you’re hurting and depressed and confused and don’t know where to start with finding help, I’m glad you took the time to stop by and read it.

Here’s the reality: You, and YOU alone, have the power to impact your family, your workplace, your health, and ultimately your life. This is a choice. Not anything short-term, either. I’m not talking about losing that 20, 30, or 50 pounds in order to fit into that bikini you have always wanted to wear, only to let quit the gym after summer is gone because it’s raining. I’m not talking about eating “clean” in order to reverse the effects of inflammatory disease until you feel well enough to go on with your life, or get bored of doing what the doctor ordered because “it’s tedious”. This is about lifestyle behavioral changes that last the rest of your days.

Here are some things to keep in mind when looking to reduce stress factors in your life:

1. Acknowledge your limitations and fears. Define them. Write them down if necessary. Do whatever it takes but get real. Once you know what the evil monsters under the bed really are, it is easier to face them. Create a “no fear” zone and learn your ABC’s. A = action: take a leap of faith and do something you have always wanted to do. B = Belief: have faith in yourself and watch your fears diminish. C = courage: be strong; you’ve succeeded elsewhere, so why not here too?

2. Be realistic. Set goals you know you can accomplish. Remember, lifestyle and behavioral changes take time, money, and patience. Baby steps result in progress. Whether it is a change in your dietary or fitness habits, how you think about yourself (known as positive self-talk), or merely taking the time out of your schedule to spend more time with your family, embrace what is important to you. Take it by the hand and run with it. You will feel free.

3. Accept failure. The mindset Americans have about failure is unhealthy. In fact, it is one of the main reasons why people grow depressed and suicidal. They are imperfect and make mistakes, and that affects their lives and how they interact with others, and others with them. Failure is how we learn and grow and human beings. It makes us better because we see the consequences of our actions. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes and failings. Try again tomorrow, for it is a new day.

4. Deal with you first, then move to take action. Don’t start a five-day a week high-intensity cardiovascular program if you are taking heart or blood pressure medications. Don’t start an exercise or diet program at all if you suffer from an eating disorder. Reach out and seek help from professionals. That is why they are there: to help you live a full and quality life. Say you suffer from negative mood or depression, and exercise isn’t helping alleviate the darkness. Talk with your doctor. Let your friends know that you are struggling. Or say you have a bunch of emotional garbage stored up that inhibits you from succeeding. Deal with it. Clear out the clutter to make space for yourself.

AlphaONE666. All rights reserved to the artist. Please do not steal or repost. Thank you.

When you’ve dealt with your you, then reach for your goals. Get moving! Exercise benefits the brain in numerous ways, from combating the onset of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to alleviating aches and pains to reversing negative mood and depression–even saving lives!

Try a mind-body class, such as yoga or Pilates. In a recent Whole Living article on the benefits of mind-body classes as related to healing, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber said, “My conviction is that healing is less about battling illness and more about nourishing life.” Mind-body classes help connect you to your inner self through exercise, breathing, and meditation. Perhaps you don’t want to meditate. That is fine. There are classes that are physical. I’ve taken them. They still calm and connect you to your emotions, and allow you to let go of the crap you’re holding onto. Yoga, meaning “union”, connects mind, body, and soul. Pilates seeks to do the same through a method called controlology, an effort to coordinate all three aspects of your you through concentration and mindfulness. These, and others, seek to bring balance into our bodies and lives.

Not up for, or ready for, exercise? Great! Try cultivating mindfulness. Be aware of your posture. People with good posture–shoulders back and down, chest up, head settled on the neck, tailbone tucked down, abs engaged, weight evenly distributed over the four corners of the feet–have more self-confidence and feel better about themselves and the things they do. Women who have good posture are also less likely to be attacked. Also, the cultivation of mindfulness improves sensory awareness, benefits suffers of MS, and increases gray matter density. Yes, that’s right. You build more brain.

Try wabi-sabi, Japanese for “simplicity” + “beauty of age and wear”. Better stated, it is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is seeing a thing or a person for who and what they are, and accepting it or them as such, rather than seeking from them perfection, endurance, and monumental deeds that they might not be able to meet. Talk about stressful! Which of us can really be perfect? Or live forever? Or do something that will go down in history as being remembered, whether good or bad, but nonetheless, huge? Stop trying and accept yourself and those around you.

Indulge in a hobby. Be creative. Get in touch with a part of you that may be crying out for release. I believe that creativity is essential to the human being. It is freeing. It connects us to our very souls. Go to a museum or attend a dance concert. Better yet, slap some paint on a canvass, get jiggy wit’ it, write a poem, compose the next great opera. You’ll see what I mean.

Create a complaining shrine to “get it off your chest”–break the stagnation and repression and let go of your junk. You cannot control what others do anyway, and often times you cannot control the situations you end up in. Why bother then?

Go on a vacation. Cut the noise. Turn off the television. The news only relates the bad and the terrible these days. Where is the beauty and the joy in that? Enjoy a good book. Listen to soothing music.

Get some sleep. Adults who get the recommended 6-8 hours, or even 10, a night are more alert, aware, positive, and productive in the things they do with the time that they have. I’m not dogging on caffeine. Sleep just works better.

Stress relief and a better quality of life requires a proactive approach. It might be in the form of a yoga class. It might be taking time to get in touch with your significant other on an emotional level. It might only be 15 minutes a day of deep breathing, or that quick cat nap you look forward to every lunch period. Whatever it is that you want to do, do it!

You are the one who has the power to succeed or to fail.

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