Ah stress! None of us want it, but we all get more than our fair share. While a little stress is invigorating, too much stress can have a debilitating effect on our body and mind. In such situations, the only expert qualified to guide you is… you! In this article, through a series of questions, we encourage you to tap into your inherent intelligence and capacity to heal. Through this self-inquiry you will be able to create your own unique road map to stress-relief. Ready to go?
What’s on your plate?
Foods affect our emotional and psychological health more than we’ve been led to believe. Certain foods spike our blood sugar levels, making heavy demands on our adrenals, and consequently causing stress. Stress-inducing foods include stimulants such as refined sugar/carbohydrates, and caffeine; depressants such as alcohol; and excitotoxins that are commonly found in MSG, processed, frozen and diet foods. High sodium foods also cause stress in the body. Are you consuming any of these foods in excess?
On the other hand are foods that help us stay calm, centred and light. Vegetables that grow under the earth, such as sweet potatoes, turnips, beets, are grounding and calming. Leafy greens and fruits that reach for the sky provide a sense of lightness and creativity when consumed. Water is also an excellent conduit of calmness.
Next time you eat a meal, notice how you feel a few hours later, and the next day. Your stress levels will tell you right away whether a certain food is serving you well or not. Experiment with this and pretty soon, you will have devised your own, very successful diet plan.
Do you live a life of gratitude?
The attitude of gratitude is a surprisingly powerful stress-buster. I witness this often with my clients. One of them called Leena was doing very well till her husband got laid off from work. Worried about their home mortgage and finances, her sleep and eating patterns went completely awry. Overwhelmed and exhausted, she was beginning to feel helpless and depressed. For our next session, along with other recommendations, I gifted her a pocket-sized journal. As she looked at me quizzically I said to her, “It’s time to focus on what you’ve got, Leena. Everyday for a month, I want you to write one thing that you’re grateful for.” She looked at me as if I’d asked her to slay a dragon. “But I don’t know how…” she whispered. “Just one thing,” I said. Two weeks later she returned for our session and before we even got started she pulled out her journal and nodded. I opened it and there page after page, were words of gratitude. “I’m grateful I have eyes to see”, “I have more clothes than I need!”, “I have the love and support of my family”, “The view from my home is to die for”, “My cats bring me so much joy”.
Day after day, Leena had focused on what was well, what was working. She became aware of the abundance she lived in. While her external situation remained unchanged, she was able to control how she responded to it. This attitude greatly improved her physical and emotional health through this difficult time.
Studies carried out at the University of California showed that people who feel gratitude regularly have better immunity, and have lower risk of heart attacks and neuro-muscular disorders. They also report better sleep and less anxiety and depression.
If this idea resonates with you, then try writing down three things you are grateful for every night before you sleep. Notice how you feel a week after giving gratitude? How do you feel after a month?
Do some unexpressed emotions need venting?
Unexpressed emotions are often at the root of a stressful existence. We lug these unresolved, unexpressed emotions around and wonder why we’re feeling heavy! Releasing these pent-up emotions is a subjective process and depends on the individual’s needs and situation. Journaling is a powerful tool to release and understand what is really going on deep within us.
In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends doing ‘the early morning pages’ and describes them thus: “There’s a time every morning when we are half awake, half asleep and not quite fully conscious. At those moments, we have access to our unconscious mind and our inner workings. But like dew on the morning grass, it will soon be gone without a trace. Listening to these tender morning wisps allows us to reach into our inner world, the deeper part of ourselves that helps guide us on our path of transformation.”
So get a journal, keep it by your bedside and let it be the best friend you confide everything in. Notice if you feel lighter or calmer after journaling for a few consecutive days.
Are you fully exploring your creativity?
We are all unique beings who bring different gifts to the world. Unfortunately, the demands of daily life prevent us from tapping into our true potential and creativity. When our authentic self is suppressed, we might experience stress as a result. Another technique to release stress is to channel our energy into creative pursuits. In your spare time, bring home some paints and a canvas, take up dancing or foreign language classes, explore your photography skills outdoors, try your hand at Vietnamese cooking, or simply sing your heart out at karaoke every evening. When we channelise our pent-up energies we find a sense of calm and peace that was inaccessible to us before. Although we all have different creative inclinations, I highly recommend creative pursuits that engage the body such as dancing, gardening or carpentry. Given our sedentary lifestyle, working with our body’s energy helps release blockages there as well.
Are you in need of ME [Meditation and Exercise] time?
Me-time or solo-time is often undervalued as a tool for stress-relief. Being on our own helps us tap into our inner reservoir of energy, love and enthusiasm. It helps us reflect on our life and the direction we want it to take. It gives us precious moments to appreciate all that we have and set intentions for what we want to have, do or become. Me-time helps us develop a strong relationship with ourselves, and as a result, with the rest of the world. In my opinion, there is no better way to beat stress than to spend some time alone.
Me-time can also lead very quickly to moments of deep meditation and bliss. Once again different meditative techniques are suited for different individuals and we must explore a variety to see which one clicks. Active meditations are great for people leading sedentary lives and have stress at work/home while still meditations such as vipassana work well for the hyperactive, physically stressed individuals.
Exercise is another stress-buster and one that our busy lives prevent us from exploring fully. We can hold a lot of stress in our bodies and exercising helps us release that. One reason people shy away from exercising is that they haven’t found the one activity that is enjoyable. Maybe working out in the gym is not your thing, but Zumba is? Perhaps you want to learn T’ai chi instead of Pilates. Explore a bunch of activities to touch upon the one that works for you.
So there you have it. Which of these questions resonated with you? Did you find yourself naturally drawn to some of the recommendations? We encourage you to pick one or two suggestions and pursue them for two – four weeks. Notice how you feel afterwards. If they work, continue them and if not, move onto the other recommendations. In a month or so you will have identified the causes of stress in your life and the tools to eliminate them. And you will have no one to thank but yourself!