Chronic stress impairs the immune system, leading to disease, which costs money. Around 25% of the workforce suffers from excessive stress or anxiety (www.stress.org). Long-term stress contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, depression, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers (according to a study of caregivers of relatives with dementia), divorce, and workplace accidents and injuries. Research shows that tumors transplanted into rats living in stressful situations grow more rapidly. Even wounds take longer to heal when we’re stressed, about 40 percent longer in an Ohio State university study of dental students.
Stress alters the body’s chemistry: Stress hormones encourage formation of fat cells and craving for sugar and fat. A study at Georgetown University, led by Zofia Zukowska, found that mice that were stressed and fed a diet high in sugar and salt gained about twice as much fat in their bellies as non-stressed mice with the same diet. The fat is filled with chemical signals that promote illness and “metabolic syndrome:” (high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol).
Adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and secrete hormones that get the body ready for fight or flight. Chronic secretion of these adrenal hormones (such as cortisol) is taxing. Signs of distress include: irritability, fuzziness, fatigue, anxiety, stuttering, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, grinding teeth, upset stomach, headache, sighing, heart palpitations, skin rashes, loss of sexual interest, back pain, nervous tics, stuttering, crying, anxiety, forgetfulness, allergies; feeling tense, hurried, and pressured; difficulty concentrating, loss of humor, withdrawal, hopelessness, frustration, fatigue, eating too much or too little, digestive problems, irritability, high blood pressure (over 120/80), and smoking and drinking to try to calm down. Here are ways to get centered.
1. Breath work to get oxygen to the brain and activate the parasympathetic system to relax.
*Do 4-8 breathing throughout the day to relax: breath in for the count of 8 from your belly, hold 8, exhale through the mouth like blowing a feather up for 8, and then don’t inhale for as long as comfortable. Author Gay Hendricks reports the latter resets your energy field. Also, try alternate nostril breathing. Put your thumb on one nostril to close it. Breathe in the other nostril, shut it with your middle finger, and exhale out of the first side. The main point is not to breathe shallow quick breaths, which signal stress to the body, but deep slow breaths from the diaphragm which sits under the lungs.
*Crunch up your shoulders and face tightly and count to six. Hold your breath, then release your breath and tension while counting to six again. Stress equates with tension; relax to reduce stress, as by remembering your favorite place in nature or stretching. Release your jaw as well as your shoulders.
*To relax, breath should begin in the diaphragm laterally, expanding the ribs. Imagine breathing in an appealing color. Press in an inch or two in an acupressure point three finger widths below the navel and hold for one to three minutes.
*Relax with minibreaks during the day. Do deep breathing, let your shoulders drop, say, “With every exhalation I release tension and with every inhalation I breathe in relaxation.”
2. Kinesiology to balance the body. When we get stressed our energy gets scrambled. We can’t think clearly, we are clumsy and bump into things, break things. We get “homolateral,” meaning instead of a right side of the brain connected to the left side of the body, and left side to right side, right is connected to right and left to left. The way to correct is any movement that crosses the midline of the body.
See the exercises:
a. Make “lazy eights” with your eyes, circling your eyes in an 8 on its side, changing starting to the left or right.
b. Cross Crawl: Stand or sit. Put the right hand across the body to the left knee as you raise it, and then do the same thing for the left hand on the right knee just as if you were marching for about two minutes. Look at your hand as it moves up and over. Breathe in with your tongue on the roof of the mouth. Exhale with the tongue on the floor of the mouth.
c. Hook Ups:
* Stand or sit. Cross the right leg over the left at the ankles.
* Take your right wrist and cross it over the left wrist and link up the fingers so that the right wrist is on top.
* Bend the elbows out and gently turn the fingers in towards the body until they rest on the sternum (breast bone) in the center of the chest. Stay in this position.
*Keep the ankles crossed and the wrists crossed and then breathe evenly in this position for a few minutes. You will be noticeably calmer after that time.
[Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D., and Gail E. Dennison developed Brain Gym as explained in Smart Moves by Carla Hannaford, Ph.D. http://esl.about.com/od/englishlessonplans/a/braingym.htm
3. Other Movement
*Make a fist, then open it and allow any tension to flick out from your fingers. *Shake out leftover tension by shaking out your hands and feet, stomping, or doing the twist. Have a funny temper tantrum by sitting, stomping your feet, slapping your thighs, and growling. If you have time, tighten and relax each muscle starting from your feet up to your face, telling the muscle to be warm and heavy in “progressive relaxation.”
*Blow out lifting arms up over your head and down to the earth.
*Roll your head with ear to one shoulder, down and around to the other.
*Do yoga poses such as the child’s pose (like Islamic prayer position) and happy baby (on your back holding your feet up and rocking side to side).
Align the Meridians and Acupressure Points
*With your fist, tap from chest down the arm with palm up, turn arm over and tap on back of arm. Tap along the sides of the legs, like where a pant seam is, up the inside of the legs, down the back of the legs, and up the front.
*Rub meridian points, called the Gate Points by Dr. Devi. Nambudripad “The first gate is located in the “webbing” between the right thumb and index finger. The second point is the “emotional gate” located on the outside of the right wrist. The third point is located on a point outside of the elbow. The fourth, fifth and sixth points are the same points on the left arm. The seventh point is located to the inside of the left shin. The eighth point is located in the “webbing” between the big toe and the next toe. The ninth and tenth points are the same points on the right leg. Then the first point on the right hand is stimulated a second time.”
*Rub your hands over your ears, front to back, down the neck, and hang on your shoulders with your hands, palms touching the body. This calms the triple warmer meridian associated with the flight or fight stress response. When it’s on too much, it weakens the immune system.
*Rub your feet, hands, and ears which all contain many reflexology points connected to various organs. The theory is reflex areas in the feet and hands correspond to all of the glands, organs and parts of the body. If you find a tender spot, repeat pressing and breathing into it. When rubbing the feet, think of them side by side as representing the body, with the arches representing the spine. The toes are linked to the head, the organs descending down the feet. With over 7,000 nerve endings in each foot, it’s useful to give them attention.
*Massage your face, scalp and shoulders, tap (use a hair brush for your back), rub, stretch the skin, or gently pull the hair at the roots. Rub your gums through your cheeks. Circle your jaw. Try acupuncture, reflexology, and yoga.
*Rub your palms together and rest them over your eyes, visualizing black velvet cloth for two or three minutes to relax your eyes. Periodically look away from your computer.
4. Self-Talk, Cognitive Restructuring
Gratitude and love are the strongest emotions, so when you wake up say something like, “I’m in loving gratitude that I am alive and healthy with people I love, learning something new every day.” Write in your gratitude journal daily.
University of California, Davis Professor Robert Emmons, author of a book called Thanks, studies the impact of gratitude–so far with over 2,000 subjects ages 8 to 80. In his studies, one group writes a gratitude journal every day including five things they’re grateful for. The second group writes about the hassles of the day. The third does neither. All three groups are monitored for their emotional, personal, and interpersonal well being. Yes, the gratitude journal group had higher well being, physical and emotional. College students who wrote the journals made 20% more progress than the other two groups on six goals they set for themselves by the end of two months.
Dr. Emmons suggests actions we can take to become more positive and grateful: keep a daily gratitude journal, think back on difficult experiences to realize how far you’ve come, identify ungrateful thoughts, enjoy your senses, use visual reminders such as a “I am grateful” wrist band, watch your language to make sure it’s constructive, make a vow to practice gratitude, send a thank you letter to an important person in your life, and think outside the box. He recommends watching a short video on http://www.gratefulness.org. Observe what you manifest by keeping a gratitude journal.
Changing your attitude and self-talk is a major tool to reduce stress. See http://www.positivepsychology.org for evidence that positive attitude leads to greater health and success. Your reaction to a stressor is what counts. As Mark Twain said, “I have had a great many troubles in my life, and most never happened.” Much earlier, Epictetus observed, “People are disturbed, not by events, but by their view of those events.” Be amused at the challenges you’ve selected. People with “hardiness” and “internal locus of control” handle stress better. They view problems as challenges and the opportunity to growth rather than as a threat and believe they have control over their lives.
Use positive self-talk. Richard Bach said, “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hand.” Give yourself and others more praise than criticism. Change your attitude to the glass is half full and to amusement.
*Look for the positive lessons in a challenging problem. If you didn’t do well, think about what you learned from the experience rather than beating yourself up. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes.
*Decide how perfectly a task needs to be done, rather than trying to do everything perfectly.
*Avoid negative people and situations.
*Avoid “awfulizing,” “magnifying,” “catastrophizing,” “overgeneralizing,” “polarized thinking and habitual urgency and “hurry sickness.”
5. Visualizations to Reduce Stress
I teach and write about what I call “Energy tools” to harness the power of the mind through simple visualizations. Athletes who imagine a perfect performance have better outcomes. The goal is to be the pilot of your own plane, the driver of your own car, rather than being directed by back seat drivers. Most people go through life tuned into other people’s favorite radio stations, rather than their own preferences. We need to clear out more space to contain our own information and to gain confidence about using our minds. You decide when you want to engage rather than being sucked in by games people play and be bounced around like a ping-pong ball.
Scientists who study our thoughts found the secret of a strong mind is intentions, when you really decide to do something. Thoughts are so powerful the body responds to them, even to something that’s not real. Have you seen a scary movie and jumped or your heart started beating faster? A movie is just colored light on a flat screen but your feelings about it make your body change. Imagine eating your favorite food or a lemon and your mouth may water.
*Imagine a secret garden of your own where you can plant flowers and trees, create ponds and waterfalls, and watch wild animals move around your garden. See it change with the seasons as you visit month after month. When you want an answer to a question, go to your garden, sit on your favorite bench under your special tree, and ask the wisest creature in your garden to sit by you on the bench with an answer to your question. See a scroll with the answer in the animal’s beak, paw, or mouth.
*Think about your day as a song, and set the tempo and mood you want as you get ready in the morning. [15 minutes]
The Institute of Heart Math (www.webcom.com/hrtmath) developed stress-reduction techniques. The institute does scientific studies about the heart, showing it’s much more than a pump. Its powerful electromagnetic field influences the brain and people around us. HeartMath studies prove the effectiveness of their technique called “Freeze Frame” in making the heartbeat more coherent and peaceful.
Freeze Frame to Reduce Stress
1. Freeze frame the stressful feeling, as you would put a video on pause.
2. Shift your focus to your heart by imagining you’re breathing deeply through it, for at least 10 seconds. Keep your awareness here rather than on the problem.
3. Remember a positive time, as when you felt deep love, caring, forgiveness or appreciation, and experience that feeling. Don’t visualize, as this takes you to your head, just sense and feel. This memory causes the heart rate to move to a coherent rhythm.
4.Using your intuition and common sense, ask your heart what would be a more effective response to the situation that would reduce stress? Listen to the answer and be patient.
6. Visualizations to Ground, Center, Energize and Be Safe
A grounding pipe is a line of energy from you into the earth that makes you feel secure and strong, and allows for release and for cleansing your space. The more widely used term is grounding cord, but it’s actually more like a pipe, in that it’s hollow to release excesses and toxins from the body. It also creates an anchor to make you feel safe and connected to mother earth as you use your energy tools to achieve your goal.
Imagine you have a powerful flashlight to shine down from the bottom of your spine all the way to the center of the planet. We’re playing with symbols or pictures as a way to move energy, in this case a technique to create a line of connection from you to the earth. Put something you like down in the center to attract your attention there.
Whenever you release old habits down your grounding cord, you need to fill up with fresh golden energy visualizing a sun, or else the same kind of gunk could flow back in. Imagine a big gold sun about five feet above your head. Fill it with clear gold energy and your goals, like feeling energetic. Then unzip the gold sun, or pour the healing energy out like rain.
Have the gold light drain onto the top of your head and into your brain, down your neck and shoulders and arms, down your spine into your torso and your pelvis, down your thighs, into your knees and out your feet. Fill all the trillions of cells.
Imagine filling your sun with different colors and textures, such as honey, sparkles, or bubbles. See if you notice subtle changes. Do you notice any places where the light can’t flow? How does the light feel in different parts of your body? Use it as a diagnostic tool to scan your body, asking the energy to light up any organ, gland, or body part that needs your attention. If something lights up, conduct what feels like an imaginary conversation with it, but can actually be informative.
Get Centered and Calm
Imagine a room in the middle of your head with only you in it. Decorate it and create windows with great views. Put a throne in the middle of the room and be the ruler. This is a way to feel like the boss of your own body and how you feel. It keeps you in your body rather than “spacing out” and aligns with the neutral 6th chakra, our clear inner vision.
Be Aware of Your Energy Bubble to Feel Safe
Imagine a beautiful bubble around you, filling with the aura borealis to energize, adjust, clear. Surround it with flowers to capture negative energy before it gets to you. Blow them up with firecrackers when they get wilted and create new ones.
7. Time Management
*Make a pie chart, a circle in which you draw what percentage of the circle you spend on various activities. Is this the wisest way to allocate your time?
*Get or make a stack of different colored index cards. One color could signal personal tasks and another work tasks, for example. Write one task per card, and then spread the cards out in front of you. List on the back the actions needed to achieve the goal. They’re already grouped by theme by their color. Then take each stack of cards and shuffle to reflect your top priority; which task is most important and time-sensitive for a deadline? Enter your priority tasks on your monthly calendar, such as, Monday: call Ms. X. Reward yourself for sticking to your plan. Regarding the cards on the bottom of your stack, delegate, pay or trade someone to do them, or say No.
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