As we settle into our work/school year again and the Christmas holidays become memory, the stress in our lives tends to resurface.
There are so many causes of stress in our modern lives, from traffic jams to difficult family or work situations. A common cause of stress is the feeling that we have too much to do and too little time to do it. Unemployment is another potential source, as is pollution — both from our environment and from junk food. Even watching crime stories and violence on TV day after day builds up stress and releases stress hormones into our systems. An unhappy relationship (or no relationship), a dominating spouse, school exams, sick children, burn-out at home or work — the list of causes is virtually endless.
Stress, in turn, may trigger allergies, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, skin conditions, herpes and can also lead to heart conditions. I’ve found in my naturopathic practice, that stress can be the underlying cause of almost any disease of mind, body and spirit. Depending on our constitution the stress will manifest in different ways and different disease states. Generally stress lowers our immunity and resistance to disease.
For pregnant and breastfeeding women managing your stress is particularly important, as the latest research has shown that high stress levels adversely affects your baby. Cortisol (the hormone produced in excess by stress) crosses the placenta and can affect the baby’s mental development.
So what can we do about the stress in our lives?
First we need to look at the causes of stress we can change or remove from our lives, and then take the necessary action. For those causes beyond our control to change we need to manage and reduce the stress they cause us.
My favourite stress busters
Regular exercise. Walking, swimming, yoga, dancing — find which type of exercise suits you and fits into your life and then do it. Exercise has been shown to increase circulation, strengthen our nervous system and major organs and generally increase our immunity and our ability to cope with stress. Start slowly, don’t over push; regularity is the key.
Breathe deeply. Simply breathing deeply can greatly lower our stress response. Take long deep full breaths through your nose. Try it right now! Breathe out your stress.
Stress release hold. This is a kinesiology hold where you place your left palm across your forehead and your right palm across the base of your skull. Then while holding, take a few deep breaths (again with your mouth closed and breathing through your nose). This simple hold diffuses stress and tension. It can prevent headaches too if used when it’s first coming on.
Positive thinking. Stress is often the result of fear which is based on imagination. We worry because something may happen. Look at your worries and negative thinking. Is there any action you could take, or do you simply need to replace with positive thinkin? Each time you consciously choose to think or imagine a positive outcome for yourself you are building a new positive neural pathway… and not only does it feel good, but energy comes in and supports you towards this. Practise daily feeling and seeing what you really want.
Ex stress. This is my favourite herbal formula for relieving stress (and the symptoms of stress), and for strengthening the nervous system. It is an Ayurvedic formulation called Ex Stress or Medha Care. It can be used ongoing for chronic stress or at higher doses at times of increased stress.
Herbal/Naturopathic remedies. There are many herbs that help to relax and/or strengthen us and aid in stress reduction. Try chamomile, passionflower, skullcap or valerian. A cup of tea is the first step. Otherwise see your herbalist for a stronger herbal tincture. Bush and Bach flower vibrational essences can help too. As can homeopathics like chamomilla, pulsatilla, arnica or ferrum phos.
Massage. Either self massage with warm oil or receive a massage. Try massaging your feet before bed, or massage your child’s feet to aid sleep.
Essential oils. Try lavender, rosemary or roman chamomile. Apply diluted to your wrists or temples, or add a little to your massage oil, or in an oil burner.
Meditation. This is again a practice to start slowly with and to do regularly for the most benefits. The simplest form is simply watching your breath or repeating a sound. Or start with a guided deep relaxation/meditation.
Laughter. This is the best medicine for stress. Get out a funny dvd, or do whatever will help you to laugh and see the lighter side of life.
There are many ways of reducing stress in our lives. First we need to be honest with ourselves and recognise our stress. Then choose one of the above suggestions and just do it. Take charge of your mental, physical and emotional health.
Published in Kindred, Issue 21, March 07