|Each of us faces tremendous challenges every day. As we get up each morning, we may face bumper to bumper traffic, getting the kids off to school, a career "make or break" report due to the boss, not enough time in the day to accomplish all you need to do, and so much more. Everyday life can simply get us down, and cause many form of stress, depression, and anxiety.
Stress is a fact of life but you can choose not to make it a way of life for you. By incorporating most or all of the tips below, you will experience more joy and less stress, be well on your way to creating a healthy, happy, peaceful, fulfilling, and soul-satisfying life.
In a classic study of tense and anxious people, Herbert de Vries, PhD, former director of the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at the University of Southern California, administered a 400-milligram dose of meprobamate, the main ingredient in many tranquilizers, to a group of patients. On another day, he had these same patients take a walk vigorous enough to raise their heart rates to more than one hundred beats per minute. Using an EMG (electromyogram) machine to measure the patients' tension levels as shown by the amount of electrical activity in their muscles, de Vries found that after exercise the electrical activity was 20% less than the patients' normal rate, indicating their bodies were less tense. By contrast, the same patients showed little difference after the dose of meprobamate.
Along with exercising outdoors in nature, yoga is an excellent exercise for reducing stress. A study of yoga-class beginners found that workouts left them less nervous and more energetic. Another study found that yogis go through life with lower stress hormone levels.
Nurture this inner peacefulness by book-ending your day with quiet meditation for at least 15 minutes first thing in the morning and again before you go to sleep at night. This quietude will remind you that you can make the choice every day to live in the world but not be caught up in the frenzy of it.
Part of the meditation process is focused, deep breathing. In fact, conscious breathing-inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply-is itself a form of meditation. In addition to practicing deep breathing while meditating, take mini breathing breaks throughout your day. While you're breathing, be sure to focus on your breath or a relaxing, peaceful thought and not on anything that might be stressful.
Besides being rich in fiber, phytonutrients, chlorophyll, antioxidants, minerals, and enzymes, life-giving fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals that help the body when it's under stress.
And don't forget to drink at least 8 glasses of pure water every day. When you don't get enough water, the result is added stress on all of the organs and cells in the body. Dehydration can also lead to frequent headaches, general fatigue, dizziness, and weight gain. That's right. A shortage of water will result in excess water weight, as too little water causes our bodies to store water outside of our cells, making us feel bloated and heavy. Drinking plenty of water will actually help you lose or maintain a healthy weight, too. Water is calorie-free, suppresses the appetite naturally (drink a large glass 15 minutes before mealtime on an empty stomach), and helps metabolize fat.
Without enough water, your kidneys can't function properly, which forces them to send some of their workload to your liver. Since one of the liver's main functions is to metabolize stored fat, the added work from the kidneys means that the liver burns less fat, so that more fat remains in the body-usually in the hips and thighs for women and around the waist for men. If you desire to lose some fat, it's a good idea to drink at least three extra glasses of water every day.
One clear sign of sleep deprivation is needing an alarm clock to roust you out of bed in the morning. To dramatically improve your alertness, mood, appearance, and overall health, as well as help normalize stress hormones, try to get to bed 30 to 60 minutes earlier than you're used to. Exercise helps you sleep better but you don't want to engage in strenuous exercise too late at night because it accelerates the body's metabolic rate, which remains "revved up" for a few hours, making it tough to sleep. Morning exercise routines or, if you've got insomnia, exercising 4 hours before bedtime, will help you sleep much better.
It was Norman Cousins, a noted journalist and author who, during a life-threatening illness, was able to achieve two hours of pain-free living for every ten minutes he devoted to laughter. In his wonderful book, Anatomy of an Illness, he told about how he watched old Marx Brothers comedies, the Three Stooges, and Candid Camera by the hour. He learned that laughter-hearty belly laughter-produced certain chemicals in the brain that benefit body, mind, and emotions.
According to researchers, Cousins was right on! Laughter releases endorphins into the body that act as natural stress beaters. It aids most-and probably all-major systems of the body. A good laugh gives the heart muscles a good workout, improves circulation, fills the lungs with oxygen-rich air, clears the respiratory passages, stimulates alertness hormones that stimulate various tissues, helps relieve pain, alters the brain by diminishing tension in the central nervous system, and counteracts fear, anger, and depression, all of which are linked to physical illness and stress.
Living an uncluttered life (and this includes drawers, cupboards, closets, and day-to-day scheduling) gives me time for the things I really care about, like time to think, to read, to walk in nature, to meditate, and watch the sunset. Through simplification, I am more clear-minded and, I believe, a kinder, more sensitive person. But it's hard for me to live a stressless life when my environment is surrounded by clutter and I have no time during the day to call my own.
Spend a few minutes each day and clean out one drawer, cupboard, or closet. That's easier than committing to taking an entire week off to simplify your entire life. One step at a time is practicable and within a month or so, you will be living and working in an environment that brings you more joy and less stress.
So choose your thoughts wisely. A new report from the Mayo Proceedings suggests that individuals who profess pessimistic explanations for life events have poorer physical health and a higher mortality rate compared with either optimists or "middle-of-the-road" types, regardless of age or sex. In fact, every 10-point increase in the study's pessimism scores was associated with a 19% increase in the risk of death. Conversely, participants whose test scores indicated optimism had a survival rate significantly better than expected. The reason for this may be that pessimists may be more "passive" or have a "darker" outlook on life than other personality types, leaving them more prone to "bad life events"-such as illness, injury, and depression. The researchers concluded that pessimism itself is a "risk factor" for early death, and should be viewed in the same way as other risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol level.
One way to foster a positive attitude is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude (and appreciation) is a magnetic force that draws more good to each one of us. It's a dynamic spiritual energy that allows you to exert a powerful influence on your body, life, and world. Most importantly, it's a stellar stress-buster. What you think about consistently, you bring about in your life. Keep a gratitude journal and each day write down at least three things for which you are grateful. Focusing on the positive things, even during the most difficult times, is the perfect remedy to reduce and alleviate stress. And if you don't feel positive and grateful, "fake it until you make it," as the saying goes.
In other words, "acting as if" will help you through many challenging times and carry you on to better times. It was Shakespeare who championed this sage advice in his immortal words in Hamlet: "Assume a virtue, if you have it not."
One way to cultivate calmness and peacefulness is to progressively relax your body, beginning with your toes and ending with your head. Breathe slowly and deeply and totally relax each part of your body, saying to yourself as you go along, "My toes, feet, legs [and so on] are relaxed," until you have gone through your entire body. Then rest for a while in the quiet and silence. Listening to a relaxation or meditation tape may also be helpful and I have several available through my website below.
When you make time daily day for a few minutes of deep relaxation, you will experience more joy and less stress. And if you incorporate most of the above stress-buster suggestions, you'll enrich your experience of living and achieve the goal of a balanced life.
This material contains highlights from Susan Smith Jones's book Be Healthy • Stay Balanced.