In my work with women who have a demand of high performance from their constitution, I see a common problem of stress. Not the good kind of stress but just the stress of over extending ourselves - the constantly feeling late to do X, rushing around the house for the next activity, driving from event to event, having a full to do list of small and large things.
This kind of constant small stress leaves us feeling burnt out, worthless and like failures, We are constantly stretching our selves so thin and carrying around a list of things that at most is only 80% completed. We try to fill every second of the day with being “productive.” Not only is it a toll on our over life, but it has a huge impact on our overall health. Stress with no relief, like this can lead to hypertension, gut issues, and hormonal imbalances.
Maybe some of you are not in this stress boat any more because of the COVID lockdowns. Maybe some of you are worried that you are going to lose some of you peace gain by the lockdowns to the ramping up of life again. And some of you were even shocked to find out that staying at home meant MORE things on your to do list.
Let me share with you what I share with my clients about how to reduce the mental and physical health issue of daily stress.
Meditation of all forms
We have all heard about the benefits of meditation, but if you are not one to sit in silence 10 minutes a day, you are not the only one. I have meditated and not meditated and let me tell you my life is much better with meditation (we are talking about that classic sitting on a pillow with feet crossed and clearing the mind) but I just couldn’t bring myself to make it a habit. The hardcore meditator will argue that this is the point.
But I realized that that is not the only way of meditating. There are a number of ways to create space in your mind: Tai chi, silent walks, prayer beads, yoga, body scanning. Now I use a number of forms of meditation and yes it all adds us. In fact most of the things listed on here are forms of meditation.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge advocate of walking. This is a great way to burn calories without increasing hunger, improve posture and amplify heart health. But this is also a way of creating some time in you day to just be a shake off all the stress. The key is to start the walk off in silence.
We are quick to reach for a podcast when we do activities like this but if you are going on an extended walk, it’s best to start this without distraction. Walking for 10-20 minutes in silence is a great way to meditate or create a space in you day to think though problems. Everyone needs a time like this and there is something about the primal rhythm of walking that fires the create space needed to come up with solutions. This is even a nice time to chant mantras.
Respecting meal times
One of the greatest sines of nutrition is walking, driving, working or watching TV while eating. If you feel stressed, eating while doing stressful activities will only exacerbate that. Eating is a parasympathetic nervous system activity, meaning it belongs to the half of the nervous system that is in charge of resting, relaxing and recovering. All the activities listed before belong to the sympathetic nervous system, the one in charge of fight, flight and freeze. Mixing these is creating mixed signals about stress and food in your body and can deteriorate our relationship with it.
If I ask you to do just ONE thing on this list, it would be to be respectful of your meal times. Sit down at a table, give thanks and eat. Allow yourself 10, 15, 20 or 30 minutes to eat and digest without rushing yourself. This can easily be one of the best things you do for your health and your relationship with food.
Islands of free time
Many people underestimate the power of 1-3 minutes of silence and relaxation. Drink you coffee on the porch for a couple of minutes. Take a moment to smell some essential oils or light some incense. Hit pause multiple times a day even if it’s just for 60 seconds. Do not check your phone, but just stop, go outside or look out a window. Watch the people and the trees, a ta few moment to see a sunset or literally smell roses. Creating small island of free time will go a long way in alleviating the constant dull stress that plagues our minds and schedules. It is in these small moment that self care really starts.
The Rule of Three
This is about THE LIST. One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever heard was to have only three important things to do on you list every day. Once all three are done, it’s over.
We have a tendency to fill out list up with tasks, big and small but what if we could do a bit of triage on that list? If you have a long list of things to do, you know that some are more important than other and some are more time sensitive than others - meaning, you could cut that list way down. If you are the type of person that EVERYTHING on that to do list is equally important, well then you are probably big and important enough to have hired help and you just need to delegate a bit better.
Surely there are days where we do have a lot to do (say planning a party for instance), but taking the rule of three as a daily mantra will be a life saver in the long run. Make your weekly list of stuff to get done and tackle it two or three things at a time.
It is sad that more people don;t have hobbies these day. Myself included. I made a career out of my hobby and now I struggle to find a new one that isn;t activity oriented. Recently I have been getting back in to sketch art and I remembered why hobbies are so important for stress management: because its at my own pace, its equally frivolous and important, and it puts our mind in a creative and flow state.
Hobbies are essential to a high quality of life. If you want to feel less depressed and anxious, get a hobby. It can be art, golf, hiking, quilting, lounge singing, playing cards, learning languages, or tying fishing lures. There are a million things you can do and finding one maybe difficult. Just start with something your have always been curious about, have always enjoyed or used to do but stopped. Best best, don’t try to make any money from it. That usually ruins the ease and pleasure of the activity
We are far enough into the information age that our days are now jam packed with information. News, TV, social media, podcast and even music is cluttering up brain space. While I believe humans are adapting to this, I will also always believe that silence is one of the best thing you can do for yourself.
When in doubt, unplug. Just put the phone in a different room and read a magazine, walk, re-pot a plant or cook in silence. Instituting a daily ‘quiet time’ will go a long way for your mental health and sense of calm. In a world of noise, silence will feel like a cozy blanket for your ears. Do not fear getting bored, for boredom creates the tension necessary for growth and creativity.