So I am sitting outside on my back porch, surrounded by the beautiful flowers my mother bought for me, the hot sun is beating down on my bare back and the sound of a neighbors water fountain trickling in the distance is almost too soothing, for a few minutes I actually thought I was dreaming. At least until a fly smacked right into my right eyebrow
It’s a shame that moments like those are so difficult to capture in our fast-paced lives. How many of us run ourselves ragged, at the expense of our families, personal relationships and health? We ‘burn the candle at all ends’ (as my mother always said) and then get frustrated with our bodies and minds when they cannot keep up. Chronic fatigue syndrome, recurring infections, mood disorders…these are all signs that your body and mind is not getting what it needs. Stress is the number one killer. There is no food, herb or medication that can protect you from the extreme physiological assault of chronic stress. The human body is powerfully adaptive and resilient; in order to survive, our endocrine system is made to withstand dangerous situations to be able to act quickly in an emergency. Our bodies can pump out superman-style adrenaline faster than any sky diving experience if the need arises. This is why we can run hella-fast when a big bear pops out from behind a tree (hate when that happens!), or why at our most unfit, we can suddenly jump like a ninja over a fence when a rabid dog is chasing us. We were meant to listen to our instincts, to feel the pounding of our hearts and those undeniable gut-butterflies when we notice someone threateningly close to us.
I wanted to address the number one (and most overlooked) reason for disease: stress. As well as share some helpful ways to identify and address your own stress load.
There are several types of stress. There is the physical stress; the over-exercising, the under sleeping, the over-eating, the over-working and the escaping from alarming situations. We are usually pretty aware of this type of stress since we can’t easily ignore the feeling of muscle fatigue, the painful bloat that accompanies thanksgiving dinner (or every dinner if you’re a glutton like me!) or the nasty brain fog that makes basic functioning hard after pulling an all-nighter. Emotional stress is much harder to identify. There are two kinds. Acute stress can be seen as the intense but more short-lived devastation of losing a loved one, the abrupt end of a romantic partnership or the sudden betrayal of a cherished friend. Although these experiences are very painful, the body is able to eventually heal from the trauma of the hurt as life falls back into place. The burst of emotion and the hype that often surrounds these unfortunate events help to replace the energy lost to the person grieving.
In the case of chronic stress: continual lower-level periods of discomfort or ill-feeling over prolonged periods of time will be more energy depleting and cause more internal damage. It is this deeper, slower and less obvious turmoil that drains you over time, robbing you of your life-force and paving the way to disease. One day turns into the next and this poisonous environment becomes the ‘normal’. On-going dysfunctional relationships, exposure to toxic family members, dealing with condescension or abuse at work and even battles within yourself; self-deprecation, insecurities, and a lack of self-worth can all negatively impact a person’s wellness.
Decreasing stress and learning to love yourself is critical to your healing. The first step to dealing with your stress effectively is to address it. Do not deny that you are stressed-out while you frantically rush around your home looking for your keys, hollering about how ‘damn busy’ you are these days (you know you’re guilty!). Take the time to assess your life. Are your priorities in order, do you take the necessary time to care for yourself? Do you eat nutritiously and enjoy your food? (And yes, I’m talking about you, hoover-style inhaling your granola bar while you’re rammed in traffic!!). Do you find the time to exercise regularly or are you making excuses to yourself about why you’re carting around more rolls than your local bakery? Do you get your butt into bed when it is tired, or do you try to squeeze in one last data entry, e mail or article (yep, its currently 1:08 am, I am guilty as charged!) before allowing yourself to sleep? Stop denying the power you have to change the entire format of your life, if your life is stressful and you don’t have enough time for what you need, do something about it! Get help! Hire a babysitter to help with the kids, cut down your hours at work, insist on more family time, demand more engagement from your partner and stop making excuses. Leave your partner if they cause are toxic for you; no amount of children or financial dilemma justifies staying in a poisonous environment, ESPECIALLY if you have children.
Stop investing emotionally in friends, lovers or family members who do not have your well-being at heart. You don’t have to be selfish but learn to say no to your boss or friend if they are taking advantage. Learn the art of self-preservation. Not only will you command the respect and admiration you deserve by respecting your own limitations, but you will be immensely happier. Through your shining happiness you will inspire others to become the best versions of themselves and leave the world behind a better place than when you entered it. Not everybody is a nice person. Learn to detect the meanies and get rid of them!
Small changes can make a BIG difference. The few bucks you’ll lose by hiring a babysitter or cutting down your hours will be far justified by your increased health and hence huge decrease in medical bills and hours of suffering in the future. Look at it as investing in the best vehicle you’ll ever own; your awesome body. Without your health, you have nothing. Every dollar in the world won’t soothe your inflamed burning bladder, return circulation to your diseased heart after an attack or ease the agony for your ulcerated colon, I assure you. On your deathbed you will likely not be looking back and thinking “oh damn, I wish I had handed in that project on time” or “ I’m so happy I never worked out, I really enjoyed feeling lazy and panting like a dog in heat every time I walked up two stairs…Good times”.
As I have not yet experienced my own last moments of life, I cannot say the following with 100% certainty however I think it’s fair to assume that most of us will likely look back and be grateful for things like the sound of our grandchild laughing hysterically, the warmth of your best friend’s arms wrapped around you, those hot moments of passion, and appreciate the experience of being fit, virile, healthy, energetic and alive. When we regret, it is always that we did not meet our full potential as individuals or become the best person we could be to those we loved. Find out what is important to you and focus on it, while still taking the time to enjoy the simplicities and pleasures of life. After all you are not a mere passenger in your own life and your only true obligation on this earth is to be true to yourself.