One major life lesson for me over the last few years has been that consistency and diligence with smaller things is way more effective than major, lengthy actions that we take less frequently. The universe has given me tons of examples and nudges to prove this, but one very obvious series of examples for me are all related to stress management. If I am not ACTIVELY managing stress, then stress is ACTIVELY managing me!
Here are some ways to think about it: working out for 5 hours on a Saturday will not cause you to lose weight and keep it off; Meditating once for an hour does not create enlightenment (or if it does, you are TRULY blessed!); Gassing up the car once isn’t going to get you across the country. Same goes with stress – one beautiful vacation doesn’t “cure” us of the ongoing stressors of everyday life.
Stress will manifest in different ways. The body is always listening to our thoughts, and it reacts physically to stressful and negative thoughts, even subconscious ones. For many, the same physical condition will present itself time and time again, and for others, different physical reactions may occur at different times. The amazing thing about the body is that it is constantly speaking to us. It truly knows best, we just usually aren’t listening. When something doesn’t feel well, your body is literally telling you something’s wrong! It will start with little whispers, and if we continue to ignore it, it will eventually scream. Here is my experience with this:
The first time I truly realized my stress had gotten out of control, I had gone to see an alternative practitioner in the Boston area. I had been experiencing major digestive distress and I couldn’t wait to be diagnosed with something. I wanted there to be an excuse! I had already seen other doctors, who didn’t have answers, so I was hoping that this alternative practitioner would come up with something new. I even rattled off some names of digestive illnesses hoping it would trigger her to land on one of them. To my disappointment, she declined my suggestions and told me that I “had a stressed gut”. UM, WHAT? She gave me some suggestions on how to eat a little better (cut out deli meats and include veggies in every meal, to name a few), and sent me home with some herbs to try. But the main things she prescribed revolved around lifestyle changes and creating an ongoing plan that would help me manage stress. This included 30 minutes of exercise a day, even if it was just a walk, prayer and meditation (practicing mindfulness and staying connected with my higher power of choice), taking regular breaks at work, lugging less crap around on my commute to and from work, getting regular monthly massages (bless her freaking heart, am I right?), doing types of yoga that increased relaxation (we’ll get to this in a later post!) - basically general lifestyle changes to be more mindful and actively reduce stress. While I was a little bit pissed that she wouldn’t let me be a victim of a diagnosis, she gave me the gift of having to seriously face myself and my lifestyle. There was no pill to take. But there were small, simple shifts to make myself feel better. And I was grateful for my “stressed gut” for shining a light on the fact that my entire being was stressed. So I made a bunch of very small changes and helped myself.
Fast forward four years. I find myself super stressed from a fast-paced job, some impending major life changes, a series of taxing travel days, not getting enough sleep, in addition to probably a bunch of other stuff. Suddenly my right arm and the right side of my face went numb. Very different manifestation than my stress from my earlier twenties, but same idea. I had slacked on my stress management, let my demanding schedule get the best of me, and my body spoke up. Luckily, this time around I had even more tools at hand, including everything I remembered from my previous experience. I committed to practicing VERY gentle yoga, using mantras and resolves to live and move with ease, practicing some breathing exercises to help me relax, eating really well, sleeping way more, carrying around way less, and prioritizing exercise – basically all things that got pushed to the wayside when my schedule got more “exciting”. I was also lucky enough to have personal access to physical therapists AND yoga therapists, so I pulled out all the stops!
To sum up my personal trend, here’s the pattern:
So what’s the lesson here? Intensive episodes of stress reduction do not sustain freedom from stress for long periods of time. Heck yes are they super helpful, but in my experience, when I’m slacking on the smaller, consistent mindful lifestyle choices that aid in stress reduction, it is easy to forget that I’m not a superhero and that small amounts of stress continue to add up and eventually become an injury or some form of disease.
Do you also notice some kind of pattern like this?
OK, so what’s the plan? I want to offer you some tools to help get more mindful in your day-to-day, some options to add stress reduction into your regular routine, and a plan for if and when it does get out of hand. And I’ll share with you what I’m doing currently!
My current lifestyle is so different than when I worked a corporate job, but there are new stressors! Here are the things I currently do to keep my stress down:
When stress becomes more major, I add in the following:
So I hope this gives you some ideas of things to do daily (or most days) and consistently to keep your stress in check! They generally are not time-consuming! Here are a ton of other options that I have used in the past:
***In my opinion, exercise and healthy eating are non-negotiable, pick and choose from everything else!***
With regards to the work day:
Your emergency plan:
What I’ve learned is that stress management needs to be an active priority, not just something we do when things get rough. By making tiny changes to incorporate some of these stress-reducing activities into your regular lifestyle, you’ll become more mindful of when you ARE letting it get the best of you, and you’ll be more likely to keep yourself in check. Consistency is more effective than the amount of time you spend daily.
I’d love to hear your questions or comments! Create a plan for yourself and let me know how it goes!