My husband and I decided we would treat ourselves for Valentine’s Day early and spend a day at the spa. I had been looking forward to our time away for weeks. I craved the time to completely zone out and indulge in some much-needed rest and relaxation. However, on the day, as we were sitting in our cozy robes in front of a blazing fire, tea in hand, I found that I could not relax… In fact, I felt an intense urge to do something. Thankfully, I had my trusty little Headspace app on my phone and, after doing a 30-minute meditation, I was able to be present and calm and enjoy our time at the spa.
My experience at the spa sparked a conversation between my husband and I about stress and how, even when we think we are not stressed, we are often ‘buzzing’. It got me thinking about how stress can hide in our lives, and how most of us become accustomed to a constant steady hum of stress. As we all know, stress is one if not the leading cause of illness in North America. Chronic stress can cause heart disease, mess up our hormonal balance causing issues ranging from infertility to thyroid dysfunction, and so on. It is one of the main causes of sleep disturbances, and also wreaks havoc on our digestive system. I could go on and on about the negative side effects of stress, but the point is that many of us experience it in our lives and finding ways of decreasing it or managing it are key for our health and well being.
So, what can we do about it? Aside from eliminating stressors we have control over, stress management is the most efficient way we can address the stress in our lives. I have found that techniques for stress management and their effectiveness vary per individual and their lifestyle. However, the best stress reduction techniques that seem to work across the board are:
1. Meditation: Mindfulness meditation has been proven to effect stress levels and has been used effectively to treat patients suffering from ailments such as cardiac disease to depression and anxiety. In fact, a ground breaking new study found that meditation appears to provide as much relief from anxiety and depression symptoms as antidepressants. Read more about it here. I love the mindfulness meditation app called Headspace. I use it personally and recommend it to patients.
2. Exercise: We all know that exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and cardiovascular health, and preventing a large list of other illnesses. But exercise is also an amazing way of ‘blowing off some steam” and keeping our stress hormone, cortisol, in check. When we get stressed and our bodies are in “fight or flight” mode, our bodies crave exercise to help us out-run that saber-toothed tiger – even if it is only figurative! A burst of short duration exercise (30 minutes) reduces cortisol levels significantly and releases a healthy dose of feel good endorphins.
3. Play: I was at a birthday party for a 5 year old last month and realized while watching the children, how we as adults rarely take time out to simply play. I made the decision right then and there that I would implement more play time into my life. How about you? What do you enjoy doing? Are you doing it? Sit and make a list of all the things that you love and try to implement at least one per week (or at the very least, one per month) into your schedule.
4. Sacred Rest: In our culture we value work and productivity and often see sleep or rest as unproductive. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Rest is SOOOO important, not just for our bodies to repair and rejuvenate themselves, but also for creating space for us to receive inspiration and creativity. I get some of my most creative ideas at times of rest when I am not trying to force anything. It’s amazing how, when I am relaxed and in tune with myself, ideas will just come to me. I encourage you to incorporate more sacred rest into your life, whether that’s getting more sleep at night or scheduling time when you are ‘turned off’ from the world and doing nothing.