Stress is more than just an unpleasant emotional feeling that we all have to cope with. It is literally making us sick and taking years off of our life span. And don't even get us started on how stress is reducing your quality of life. For the sake of your own health and wellness, it's important to learn ways to manage stress. Otherwise, the mental and physical health consequences can be dire.
Monks have been meditating since ancient times and have been recorded changing their body temperature and even slowing their own heartbeat just with the power of thought. Aside from anecdotal evidence like that, there are scores of recent scientific studies which show that meditation produces actual physical changes in your brain even over short-term practice (between 4-8 weeks).
And before you ask, yes, these are positive changes, not negative ones. Specifically, the physical size of the parts of your brain which process anxiety and fear shrink and the parts of your brain which process calmness and good judgment become more active. Meditating can even help you get better sleep. Many people, no matter how busy their lives are, can get these benefits from meditating as little as 10 minutes a day. And there are plenty of free meditation phone apps and YouTube videos out there that can help get you started.
We understand that in some circles, there is still a lot of stigma around meditation. Lots of people think it's woo-woo hippie-dippie mumbo jumbo and look down their nose at people who practice it, even in the face of obvious benefits. In that case, don't tell anybody that you're meditating. Tell them that you are undergoing scientifically advanced dynamic neural retraining. Hopefully then they will recognize the legitimacy of meditation and shrug it off - or they'll probably mistake it for scientology on accident. But here's hoping they fall in the former and not the latter.
It's almost ridiculous how many physical and mental health benefits you can get from exercise. Whether it's a mind-blowing runner's high from successfully completing a marathon or something as simple as feeling less winded when you climb a flight of stairs, exercise can have substantial benefits. So why aren't more people doing it?
In part, it's because they don't know how to go about it the right way. The first step is to identify a form of physical activity that is either mind-numbingly simple or effortlessly fun. Preferably both! Once you find that, it's a simple as figuring out how to practice that activity within the limits of your physical ability.
Some people may be severely overweight and incapable of jumping immediately into a weekly Zumba class. And that's okay. If you have physical limitations, start slow and do a 10 to 15 minute walk every night after dinner. Work your way up (and keep in touch with your doctor) until your physical limitations are no longer holding you back from doing what you need to do to stay healthy.
But if you don't have any physical limitations holding you back, then go nuts! The only thing limiting you is your imagination. You could do a dance class, spend more time in the kitchen preparing and cooking healthier food, or you can try some sort of martial art. Martial arts are especially good for not only expelling stress via a healthy outlet, but also for teaching discipline. And that's on top of the physical and mental health benefits of exercise!
There are a lot of joy-sucking emotional vampires out there who are probably telling you that you're not working hard enough, that you're taking too much time for yourself, and derisively talk about people who need "mental health days" as spoiled snowflakes who need to "grow up". But take a step back and look at those people: are they the shiny, happy paragons of success and beauty and wellness that you strive to be? Or are they just as ugly, fat, and stick as everyone else?
It can be easy to get bogged down in other people's bitterness. After all, misery loves company, and it's a lot easier to tear other people down and drag them into the snake pit with you as opposed to building yourself up and helping others do the same. So give yourself a break, and stop listening to these people. Better yet, give yourself an even stronger dose of mental recovery and do something fun for yourself!
It can be something as simple as sitting on the couch and binge watching some Netflix one night a week when you "should be doing something else". Or it can be something silly and lively and fun like visiting an adult trampoline park (remember the exercise stuff we talked about earlier?). Whether it's losing yourself in an entertaining show or indulging in something that makes you feel like a kid again, it's healthy to take a small break every now and then to distance yourself from your problems and remind yourself that there are still little joys in life worth living for.
Are you over-medicated, overworked, overstressed, with barely an outlet for your misery other than a bottle of wine a night and a seemingly bottomless Xanax prescription? Maybe you need to flip the table on your life and start fresh. This can mean leaving an unhappy marriage, quitting your job so that you can find a more fulfilling career, or going on an international journey of self-discovery where you eat and pray and love your way into an extra large pair of Lane Bryant stretch pants.
All joking aside (you know we were joking, right? We hope you do), it's important to recognize both where your stress is coming from, and how much of a detrimental effect it is having on your life. Most people get so wrapped up in the expectations of others that we forget sit down and ask ourselves what we really want. Maybe the partner you have and the children you have together and the job you're currently working are sometimes challenging, but still rewardingly fulfilling. But maybe they aren't. And that's okay. The first step is to acknowledge these truths in a self-loving, non-judgmental manner. Only from that healthy space can you start to make a plan for eliminating toxic stress from your life and making changes for the better.
Some people may decry this as "selfish" or unhealthy; but that's just the result of years of social conditioning telling them that it's not okay to rock the boat. In the long run, though, it's better to say goodbye to or distance yourself from the ones you love rather than staying too close and extremely miserable. The harder you work to love yourself, the easier it will be to love everyone in the world around you. But the first step to doing that is figuring out how to manage your stress!
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