A guide to destressing
by Melissa Jones, Herbalist for Center for True Harmony Wellness and Medicine
We generally use the word “stress” when we feel that everything seems to have become too much - we are overloaded and wonder whether we really can cope with the pressures placed upon us. Anything that poses a challenge or a threat to our well-being is a stress. Some stresses get you going and they are good for you - without any stress at all many say our lives would be boring and would probably feel pointless. However, when the stresses undermine both our mental and physical health they are bad. In this article we shall be focusing on stress that is bad for you.
The Fight or Flight Response
The way you respond to a challenge may also be a type of stress. Part of your response to a challenge is physiological and affects your physical state. When faced with a challenge or a threat, your body activates resources to protect you - to either get away as fast as you can, or fight. If you are upstairs at home and an earthquake starts, the faster you can get yourself and your family out the more likely you are all to survive. If you need to save somebody’s life during that earthquake, by lifting a heavy weight that has fallen on them during the earthquake, you will need components in your body to be activated to give you that extra strength - that extra push.
Our fight-or-flight response is our body’s sympathetic nervous system reacting to a stressful event. Our body produces larger quantities of the chemicals cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which trigger a higher heart rate, heightened muscle preparedness, sweating, and alertness - all these factors help us protect ourselves in a dangerous or challenging situation.
Non-essential body functions slow down, such as our digestive and immune systems when we are in fight-or flight response mode. All resources can then be concentrated on rapid breathing, blood flow, alertness and muscle use.
So, let’s recap, when we are stressed the following happens:
Blood pressure rises
Breathing becomes more rapid
Digestive system slows down
Heart rate (pulse) rises
Immune system goes down
Muscles become tense
We do not sleep (heightened state of alertness)
Most of us have varying interpretations of what stress is about and what matters. Some of us focus on what happens to us, such as breaking a bone or getting a promotion, while others think more about the event itself. What really matters are our thoughts about the situations in which we find ourselves.
We are continually sizing up situations that confront us in life. We assess each situation, deciding whether something is a threat, how we can deal with it and what resources we can use. If we conclude that the required resources needed to effectively deal with a situation are beyond what we have available, we say that that situation is stressful - and we react with a classical stress response. On the other hand, if we decide our available resources and skills are more than enough to deal with a situation, it is not seen as stressful to us. Destressing is an important part of life, and one that is frequently overlooked.
“Stress” is at the root of 80% of all complaints heard in doctor’s offices, not to mention the complaints that you continually hear from friends and co-workers. I believe that being in a stressed out, unhappy, pitiful mindset has become a bad, bad habit, and an all too familiar American way of being. Stress not only causes mental issues such as insominia, depression and general weariness, it can take a toll on the physical body with elevated blood pressure, a tendency to hold on to weight, muscle tension, headaches and just general feeling of not being well.
I have a simple plan for destressing. So simple even i can follow it, so simple i want you to follow it, and share it with your friends and family. The hardest part is letting go of old behaviors, the best part is feeling fantastic everyday for the rest of your life.
1.) Stop complaining... it is a habit, and a bad one, worse than cigarettes, worse than alcohol, because it feeds on itself. Go get a gratitude journal, and it will serve two purposes. It will keep you focused on the people, places, things in your life that are amazing you can write on the gratitude side as many times a day as you would like. Turn the book over and you have a side to vent on, write down all the things that make you mad, or frustrated or irritated, you get only 5 minutes a day to do this... it gets all that “stuff” out, gives you a voice, and then you can let go of what ever it is. Whatever is holding you back, or pissing you off, there you have vented and now you are done. Composition notebooks work well for this purpose, you can decorate them, or not and they are small enough to keep close to you.
2.) Laugh every day, even if it is at yourself. The body does not know the difference in laughter from pure joy, or any other kind of laughter, it resets your internal thermostat, brings your blood pressure back to normal, makes your heart rate increase for a moment and acts like a giant sigh to your sympathetic nervous system... yep, you need to laugh for at least 30 seconds... every. single. day. Put on something that makes you laugh until you pee, or until you have tears coming out of your eyes... laugh, laugh and laugh some more. Your heart and the rest of your circulatory system will thank you.
3.) Get out there... do something that makes your heart happy. Take a class, paint a picture, scrapbook, learn something new about gardening, spend some time outside with plants, take a walk, a hike or jog... get up and go do. One day a week, one morning a week, one afternoon, that is your time, go find something beautiful to marvel at.
4.) Acts of service. It is really heard to feel sorry for ourselves, when we are helping others. It realeases endorphins, it is a natural kind of high, and who couldn’t use that?
5.) Limit your use of alchohol, recreational drugs, or other chemicals that help you cope... even if those chemicals are food. Eat a more plant based diet and reduce the amount of processed food you are putting into your body.
6.) On “those” days (and we all have them), take a bath, sing in the shower, call a friend to vent for no more than 5 minutes and then let it go... your mid section and your heart will thank you... find a comedy and laugh the rest of it away...
7.) Do yoga or some form of excercise everyday, meditation, intentional breathing, focus on the breath, and the fact that you are in fact... alive!!
8.) Do it now!! If not now, when? When the bathroom is clean enough? When the kids are grown? When the grandkids come home to visit?? Now is the time. Go do it.
9.) Enlist your friends and family on your new path to wellness, have them get on the same path... how fantastic would life be if everyone spent all their time counting blessings instead of complaining about the jerk who cut them off on the freeway, or the fact that yes, indeed their boss is a jerk?
10.) Find joy every. single. day. It makes life worth living, otherwise what is the point?? I choose joy.
One hundred things to do when you are stressed,
or how to keep calm and carry on
• take a bath • sing in the shower • paint a picture • finger paint if you have to • plant a seed • pet your dog, or horse or fish if you have one • call your kid • call your mother • listen to a song that you can’t NOT dance to • go outside and sing loudly • have a nice cup of tea • light a candle and say a prayer • have an ice cream • buy yourself a bouquet of flowers • laugh for at least 30 seconds • tell yourself a joke • call someone and tell them a joke • take a beautiful picture, of yourself • go out in the grass with no shoes on • swing on a swingset • play in the sandbox, build yourself a castle • do the dishes • go to a yoga class • use your best dishes for dinner —you are the special occasion • use the good silverware too • plan a dinner party • plan your birthday party • put on your party hat • make a list of ten things you are most grateful for, put yourself at the top of the list • burn some incense and say prayers, until the incense is gone • look at your high school yearbook • plant a tree • laugh some more • make a cup of hot chocolate • look at your scrapbooks • go take ten random photos • drink more water • take a nap • get crafty • put fresh sheets on the bed • go for a walk • plan a vacation • draw up a floorplan for your dream house • climb a tree • do high kicks • run an errand • go shopping at a thrift store • get out your gratitude journal and read it (just the good side) • sit in the car and turn up the radio • make plans for the next holiday • laugh • re-arrange your refrigerator magnets • toss in a load of laundry • spend ten minutes on the internet looking up ridiculous things • organize your junk drawer • organize your sock drawer • make a nice cup of coffee • pick some fresh flowers and put them on your table • take a nap • make a list • laugh at yourself • go to the mall and people watch • window shop • get a manicure and pedicure • get a massage • get your eyebrows waxed • buy a new pair of awesome jeans • find a fancy new outfit for the party you are planning • sit in a bookstore with a joke book and a cup of tea • do ten deep ha ha breaths • sing • plan your fall or spring garden • go fabric shopping • crochet • go outside with a cup of tea • laugh • doodle for 20 minutes • do ten minutes of stretching • walk around the block • get out your holiday decorations, decorate • plan sunday dinner, then shop for the meal • invite a friend over for a cup of tea • go to a movie • drive to the lake • go fishing • pack a picnic lunch and go • go to a baseball (or football or basketball) game • listen to a baseball game in the car on the radio, eat a hot dog • visit a friend • mow your lawn • spend 20 minutes in the sunshine • laugh • use google maps to find your house • test drive a new car • play with the puppies in the mall • go greeting card shopping • get a hair cut • laugh • bat your ears • laugh • sit in the car with someone special and kiss them (like when you were in high school)