It is National Stress Awareness Day but the majority of us don’t need a special day to acknowledge the stress in our lives. Many feel its repercussions constantly. Anxiety, heart palpitations, poor digestion, body tension, insomnia and fatigue are a few of the common symptoms, which if unaddressed can lead to more serious dis-eases.
A healthy diet, regular exercise, 7 to 8 hours of sleep and time for recreational pursuits help reduce stress and all are important components to maintaining good health over time. But what about the multiple stresses you experience over the course of a day? You didn’t sleep well, the car breaks down, the kids are late for school, an important project is due at work, a colleague offends you … the list goes on and on, compounding until you feel overwhelmed.
I came across an informative little article in an old Sprouts magazine (January/February 2011) that talks about three simple things that we can do to decrease stress, which I have paraphrased here:
- Breathe: With awareness take slow deep breaths that extend the abdomen out; upon exhaling, pull the abdomen in so that all the air is expelled. When stressed, many of us take shallow breaths so less oxygen is reaching our cells, which undermines our health.
- Be aware of your body: We hold stress in various places. Note such things as clenching teeth, butterflies in the stomach, scrunched, tight shoulders. With intention, relax into that part of the body; send your breath to that part of the body; in your mind, envision the stress and tension melting away.
- “Approach everything you do with devoted intention”: Put your mind to your work, task or household chore as if it were the best and only thing you do. Bring non-judgment and love to your experiences and recognize that each is an opportunity to learn and grow, no matter how difficult or mundane.
Each of these asks us to slow down, heighten awareness of ourselves, and our surroundings. At first, doing so may feel cumbersome, maybe even unproductive, but with practice this kind of awareness will become habitual and one of the keys to reducing stress and cultivating a sense of well being.