by Steven H. Horne, RH (AHG)
Stress! We all experience it from time to time in our life. Perhaps you, like many others in this country, are feeling some stress because of the economy. If you are, Id say youre pretty normal. Just listening to news reports of lost jobs, home foreclosures and reduced sales is enough to cause feelings of anxiety in just about anyone, including me. But, stressful events arent the real problem. Its how we react to stressful events that determines whether we will grow from them or develop chronic worry, anxiety, fear and the physical illness that accompanies it.
Learning how to handle stress is typically called stress management. The implication is that we can never avoid stressful experiences. However, we can learn tools that help us to deal with (or manage) them.
Ive learned stress management skills because I need them to help me through my own tough times, which have included three divorces, the deaths of both of my parents and two of my children, and a bankruptcy. Many people going through these types of stressful experiences become bitter, angry, withdrawn, depressed and hardened. They also typically develop serious chronic illness because of this stress. In contrast, Ive been able to remain a generally optimistic, happy and healthy person.
The reason Ive been able to do this isnt because I possess some natural, special resistance to stress. Im an A blood type and we have a hard time burning off stress hormones, so actually Im very prone to anxiety and nervous tension. (Just ask my wife, she knows.) But, I experience more of this anxiety and tension when I fail to practice the Seven Stress Solving Secrets Im about to share with you.
Which is why I begin with this cautionknowing something and learning it are not the same thing. You can know something in your head, but you really dont learn it until you actually practice it. You cant learn these Seven Stress Solving Secrets just by reading this article. You actually have to deliberately practice them on a daily basis. If you do, they will work wonders for you. If you dont, they wont help you a bit.
Learning these skills isnt optional if you want to be healthy and happy. Based on my own experience, and the experience of working with my clients, I believe that stress is half of the cause of all chronic illnesses. My chronically ill clients see the biggest healing improvements in their health, not from herbs and supplements, but from learning how to resolve their emotional stress.
Unfortunately, there are people who would rather be miserable and sick than do what it takes to get well. Some people love to complain about their stress, but wont actually do what they need to do to solve it. So, dont just read about these skills, put them into practice starting today.
Learning and applying these Seven Stress Solving Secrets isnt just going to help you. Its also going to help you help other people. With so many people feeling the stress of troubled times right now, being able to help others with their stress is a valuable service you can offer.
Keeping in mind that you can only learn them by practicing them, here are my personal Seven Stress Solving Secrets.
Stress Solving Secret #1: Pause and Take a Deep Breath
This first secret to dealing with stress is both the simplest and the most important tool you will ever learn for handling stress. Deep breathing will rapidly counteract the physiological effects of stress in your body and help you feel better within minutes. It is completely free and will even improve your ability to solve lifes problems!
Heres a practical suggestion for applying this stress solving secret that I learned from one of my professors in college. Whenever you feel yourself getting anxious, worried, fearful or stressed about something, pause and notice your breathing. It will be rapid and shallow.
Start by thinking, There is a better way to breathe.
Then, make sure that the soles of both feet are in contact with the floor. Feel the floor or ground beneath your feet. This puts you in greater contact with your body and grounds you so you feel more solid and stable.
Next, take a deep breath. As you inhale think, I am... and as you exhale think, ...relaxed.
Repeat this until you start to feel more calm and centered. This can happen in as little as three to four breaths, but you should probably continue for at least ten to twenty breaths.
Heres what will happen. You will start to feel more relaxed, and your mind will clear. You will find that you are able to cope better with whatever you are experiencing and may even get some clear ideas as to how to proceed.
Heres why this technique works. Breathing is a bridge between your autonomic nervous system and your central nervous system because the diaphragm is the only muscle that is under both voluntary and involuntary control. This means that the autonomic nervous system can alter our breath, but altering our breathing can also alter the autonomic nervous system.
When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is firing and the parasympathetic nervous system is inhibited. This causes our adrenals to fire off ephinephrine or adrenaline. At the same time, hormones released from the hypothalamus and pituitary are causing a release of cortisol from the adrenals. These cause the physiological changes in our body that we associate with feelings of fear, stress and anxiety.
One of the effects of this stress response is to shut down rational thought, causing us to react instinctively. This allows faster reaction times, which is why we can swerve to avoid an accident or flee from a potential mugger without having to think about it first.
This response is designed to save our lives when we are in actual physical danger, but it doesnt serve us well when were faced with long term problems like debts, lost jobs or struggling relationships. Dealing with these sorts of problems requires clear thinking, not instinctive reaction. In fact, reacting instinctively to these kinds of problems often makes them worse! Its why we may snap at our spouse or children, or do something self-destructive like getting drunk or binging out on junk food, when we experience stress. Slow, deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and delivers more oxygen to our brain, which reactivates awareness and clear thinking.
Of course, you probably wont remember to breathe deeply when youre actually in a stressful situation (because youll be too stressed, right?) so you need to start training yourself to breathe deeply when you arent reacting to stress. You do this by spending at least five minutes, twice daily, practicing deep breathing. If you can do it for 10-15 minutes, thats even better.
Dont even think, I dont have time for this. You dont have time NOT to do this. The more difficult your life circumstances are right now, the more important it is that you spend a few minutes each day practicing deep breathing.
To practice deep breathing, lay flat on the floor (use a cushion or mat if you need to) or sit upright (with your back straight but not tense) in a chair. Breathe in and count silently to yourself as you breathe in, in, two, three, four. Then breathe out silently counting to the same number, out, two, three, four. Make your inhalation time and your exhalation time equal.
Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose. If your nose is plugged, breathe in through your closed teeth and out through your closed teeth.
Breathe from your diaphragm. Your tummy should rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out. If you cannot breathe from your diaphragm and have to lift your chest and shoulders to breathe, you have a hiatal hernia. (You can read about this problem and how to correct it in my article, Hiatal Hernia: Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness at www.steven-horne.com.)
Practicing deep breathing will calm your nervous system and focus your awareness. It will help you feel better no matter what is going on in your life. It will also make it easier to remember to take a deep breath in stressful situations. Dont just read about it, start doing it today!
Stress Solving Secret #2: Experience the Present Moment
Most of us are constantly thinking about the past or worried about the future. We are determined that our life should be different than it is. We fret over past decisions and experiences and fear for what the future might bring. Unfortunately, as we remember bad things that happened in the past or we worry about possible bad things that might happen in the future, we induce in the present the same stress response that occurs when we are actually in a stressful situation.
What this simply means is that 99% of the anxiety, fear and stress we experience has nothing to do with what is happening in our lives right now. In other words, the actual moment we are in probably has nothing stressful about it at all. The stress response were feeling is being induced by our mind dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
So, simply by returning our thoughts to the present moment, we can dissolve about 99% of our stress. Now, thats an easy thing for me to say, but how do you actually do it?
Well, for starters, just do the deep breathing exercise Ive already shared with you. Deep breathing helps pull you back into the present moment, because you cant breathe in the past or the future. You can only breathe right now.
And, therein lies the secret to bringing your mind back to the present. Just turn your attention to anything which can only be done in the present moment. Here are some practical suggestions.
First, your senses only operate in the present moment. Unless you have some paranormal ability that I dont have, your eyes can only see what is in the present, your ears can only hear what is in the present and you can only touch what is present. (Yes, you can remember sensory input or imagine potential sensory input, but you can only experience sensory input in the present moment.)
So, after youve taken your deep breaths, open your eyes (not just physically, but mentally). Look at your surroundings. Listen to the sounds around you. Notice your body. Feel the sensations of your clothing against your skin. You can also involve your smell and taste. Dont let your brain analyze and dismiss what is around you. Instead, just open up your senses and experience it.
Heres another great exercise I learned from Eckhart Tolles book, The Power of Now. He suggests that you should ask yourself this question, What in this moment, is lacking? Try it, right now as you read this article. Stop, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself, What, in this moment is lacking? Maybe a bill is due tomorrow that you dont have the money to pay and youre worried about your utilities being shut off. But, how is everything right now, this very instant?
The truth is that 99% of the time, nothing is wrong in the present moment. We just allow the 1% bad moments to overshadow our lives by constantly rehashing them or trying to figure out how we can never let them happen again. This is an awfully stressful way to live.
In the New Testament, Jesus recommended that we, Take no thought for the morrow...sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:34) Its sound advice. We can only deal with the problems of today. What is past is past and what is done is done. We cant change it. And, tomorrow we can deal with tomorrows problems. Focus on today, or more importantly on the task right in front of your face, and youll find that much of your stress will disappear.
Stress Solving Secret #3: Focus on Solutions, Not on Problems
Here is a simple truth that I learned many years ago: we magnify what we focus our attention on. There are many applications of this principle, but in relationship to stress, it means that if we focus too much attention on the problems in our lives, we will simply generate more problems. I have noticed, for instance, that people who are always talking about the problems in the world, seem to attract an unusual number of personal problems and setbacks into their personal lives.
Positive thinking is extremely helpful for managing stress. As weve already stated, much of the stress we experience we create for ourselves by not living in the present moment. Negative thinking is another way we create stress for ourselves.
Negative thinking is simply focusing our mental energy and attention onto what is wrong and what we dont want. In contrast, positive thinking is simply focusing our attention on what is right and what we do want. Its as simple as that.
So, whatever problems or troubles youre experiencing, admit them to yourself, and accept the fact that youre experiencing them. Just as the first step to recovering from drug or alcohol addiction is to admit youre addicted, the first step to dealing with stressful circumstances in our life (after pausing and taking a deep breath and returning to the present moment, of course) is to admit whats happening. Instead of saying, No, this cant be happening to me, say, Yes, this is what is happening to me.
But, once youve identified the problem, turn your thinking around. Dont start thinking, I dont want this. Instead, think, This is where I am, but where do I want to be? Start asking yourself questions like, What do I want? Whats the solution? What could I do right now that would help me change my circumstances?
Positive thinking isnt believing that thinking will magically solve your problems. Its actually just faith, which means believing that there are solutions to our problems and that we are capable of finding and implementing them. This is my form of positive thinking and I find it really works.
When I realize I have a problem (and sometimes after Ive gone through my little bout of stress and feeling sorry for myself), my positive thinking starts kicking in. I believe that God can help me find answers. So, I start praying for guidance and start looking for the knowledge and skills I need to fix the problem.
I look for mentors, people with track records of success in achieving what I want to achieve. If I dont know a good mentor personally, then I, at least, find books written by good mentors. I then start implementing or trying out their suggestions. I practice the techniques that seem to work and discard the ones that dont.
Often, in the process, I will find stories that inspire me with hope. For example, Dan Kennedy wrote about a man named George Haylings in his December Gold Letter. His story is very inspiring to me. George Haylings lived in a tent city during the depression. He did research at the local library and wrote little books on his manual typewriter like, How to Make Money at Home and Hidden Dollars. He became a millionaire during the depression. I found an article about him on the internet you might enjoy. Heres the link: http://www.infomarketingblog.com/george-haylings-info-marketer-who-laughed-at-the-depression/
George didnt prosper during the depression by sitting on his behind and thinking positively. He combined positive thinking with skillful action. When you learn to change your focus from talking about problems to searching for and testing solutions, thats when you are really thinking positively.
Stress Solving Secret #4: Cultivate a Gratitude Attitude
Part of the process of shifting our attention from the negative to the positive is to recognize what we already have that is good. Remember the exercise Echkart Tolle recommends when he says to ask, What in this moment is lacking? Well, a powerful extension of that exercise is to look around and ask, What do I have to be grateful for?
I use this technique a lot. When Im feeling down or discouraged, I often look around and start finding all the good things in my life and start saying, Thank you, God for everything in my life that I have or thats going right. Most of the time we have a lot more to be grateful for than we have to be worried about. My attitude starts improving right away.
Heres what I think about when economic difficulties come. In the worst times of my life, Ive still had central heating, hot and cold running water and a roof over my head. How many millions of people in the world dont have these things? Ive never had to go to bed hungry, except by choice when Ive been fasting. Half of the world goes to bed hungry. I live in a land of relative freedom. How many countries live under cruel dictatorships? And, I can go on and on. The truth is that most poor Americans are far better off than half of the people living in the world today.
Marketing has convinced most Americans that the only way to be happy is to have more stuff. But, if that were true, then Americans would be the happiest people on earth. We are not. We have some of the highest rates of depression on the planet. Many people with a tenth of what we enjoy are actually happier than we are.
Now, let me tell you the most powerful part of this secret. Its not easy to put into practice, but it really works. Be thankful for your problems, too. I learned this secret from a little book called Sons of God by Christine Mercie. I came to understand that if we could see our problems from Gods perspective, we would get down on our knees and thank Him for everything we had been privileged to suffer.
I started trying to do this. It wasnt easy at first, but I did it. I would say, Thank you God for this problem (or difficulty). Please help me to learn the lessons you want me to learn from this challenge in my life.
Something miraculous happens when you do this. Its beyond focusing on the good things in our life and being grateful for them. Its a change in perspective that helps you start seeing everything that happens in your life as a good thing, at least in the idea that it is good for you because it contains the seeds of your growth and development.
Stress Solving Secret #5: Nourish Yourself
The body needs nourishment to thrive and a properly nourished body stands up better to the stress of life. When cash is short, one of the ways people try to save money is to skimp on food by eating cheap junk food. Dont! Skimp on something else, but eat good food.
Actually, eating good food can be more economical than eating unhealthy food. Remember that processed, canned and refined foods are not only unhealthy, they are unsatisfying. White bread may be cheaper than whole wheat bread but youll eat four times as much and still not be nourished.
Besides, whatever happened to homemade? My wife, who is from Russia, simply cant understand how so many women in American dont know how to cook. Home cooking is a great way to get better nutrition and save money!
If you actually buy real food (fresh fruits and vegetables, especially locally grown and in season, whole grains, legumes and fresh meat), you can actually save money on your food budget. If you look in most peoples shopping carts, youll see lots of soda, chips, sugary breakfast cereals, frozen dinners and other convenience foods. This stuff costs way more than real food.
Go look at the price of a bag of beans or split peas or lentils compared to these foods. Compare how much you get in a can of produce to how much you can get (volume wise) in fresh produce for the same price. Real food saves money.
Lacking time to prepare it? That can easily be overcome, too. It takes less time to eat an apple, some nuts and a carrot stick than it does to open and warm up a can of something. Simple food can taste great.
Get a crock pot. Throw in vegetables and meat in the morning and come home to dinner in the evening. Soak some beans overnight and cook them in the crock pot the next day. Its actually quite easy to save money and eat healthier at the same time.
Heres another cheap, nutritious food thats easy to prepare. Put some whole grain cereal in water in the evening and it will cook up in a few minutes in the morning. Add a little butter, cream or flax seed oil.
In short, eating healthy doesnt have to be expensive or time consuming. It just takes a little thought and preparation.
And, while were at it, dont forget our little green friends, the herbs. They can help us, too. You see, plants live with stress, just like we do. They have to endure conditions of excess water or deficient water, extreme heat or cold, poor soil and numerous other challenges in their lives. Because of this, they can teach our body how to cope.
Generally speaking, the most useful herbs to help you through periods of stress in your life are adaptagens. Adaptagens like Nervous Fatigue Formula and eleuthero root have helped me a lot during stressful periods of my life. So have nervine herbs like kava kava, skullcap and lobelia.
However, here again, some of the herbs that might help us the most are actually free. They grow in our lawn, in vacant lots and even cracks in the sidewalk. Poor people used to know how to gather their own herbal remedies for free. Im glad I still know how to do this, because Im often felt that if things ever got bad enough I could gather my own medicines and still help people.
But, even if you dont know how to gather herbs yourself, how expensive is a cup of chamomile tea or a bottle of eleuthero root capsules? I have a friend in the east who was suffering from anxiety. I suggested he take eleuthero and rhodiola. He was blown away, not only with how fast the herbs worked, but how cheap they were compared to all the drug medications hed tried for the same problem.
The bottom line is this, dont skimp on taking care of yourself and nourishing yourself properly during times of stress. Those are the times when you need nutrients the most. Youll be able to think more clearly, have more energy, work harder and solve your problems better if you eat nourishing foods and take some herbs and supplements.
Stress Solving Secret #6: Plan for Pleasure
Heres a great stress reducing secret I learned from Paul Pearsall, author of The Pleasure Prescriptiona pleasurable experience does more good for your body than a stressful experience does harm. Thats great news!
What it means is that we dont have to avoid stress, we just have to find ways to make our lives more pleasurable. The problem is that advertising and culture have convinced us that if we dont have certain things, we cant be happy. So, basically we tell ourselves, I have no right to enjoy this pleasure if this and this and this arent right in my life. I know, Ive been a workaholic myself.
Also, we have convinced ourselves that having fun, that is, experiencing pleasure, costs a lot of money. But how much money does it take to cuddle with someone or trade back rubs? How much money does it cost to take a walk in the park or get out in nature? How much money is a warm, relaxing bath with some essential oils and a candle? There are many pleasurable activities we can engage in that dont cost a lot of money.
Oh, but I might caution you that watching TV is not a very good stress-reducer. TV is designed to stimulate us, not relax us. Yes, TV (and video games, too), kind of lull us into a trance-like state, but thats not the same as doing something thats actually physically pleasurable. Engage your body and your senses, not just your mind.
You can even make ordinary activities pleasurable by focusing on your sensory experience as you do them. For instance, pay more attention to your food when you are eating. Notice the colors, the smells and the taste and focus your attention on them. Remember that when you engage your body and senses you have to be in the present moment. So, learning to experience pleasure also helps you to stay in the present moment.
Stress Solving Secret #7: Serve Someone Less Fortunate Than Yourself
This is one of the greatest of all stress solving-secrets, and its the first one I learned. I did not have a very happy home life growing up. It wasnt as bad as some people I know, but it wasnt a really happy life, either. As a result, I became quite depressed as a teenager. The biggest thing that pulled me out of it was learning to be of service to others.
It happened like this. I was on a scout camping trip and I noticed that all the outcasts of the troop came and set up camp near me. I realized that these were all the kids that got chosen last to play and who were really not welcomed into their scout patrols. So, I got an idea. I went to the scoutmaster and I pointed out that these kids all felt left out in their various scout patrols. I also pointed out that I was one of the most knowledgeable and highest ranking scouts in the troop, but wasnt considered cool and therefore, never got elected to be a patrol leader. I asked him if he would make me a patrol leader and give me all the outcasts.
Thus, the mole patrol was born. I worked with these guys, gave them a feeling of belonging and helped them advance in rank in scouting. After a year, we became the best patrol in the troop as far as achievement goes, and I quit feeling sorry for myself because I was helping kids who were worse off than I was.
[As a side note, after about a year, the scoutmaster decided to break up our patrol and assign these kids to other patrols because they were leaders as he put it. I told him this was a mistake, but he did it anyway and most of these kids slipped right back into being outcasts.]
Still, the lesson was one I never forgot. Our lives have more meaning when we serve others. When we lift others, we lift ourselves. And, when we know how to give value to others we rarely lack for meaningful work.
Well, there you have itmy Seven Stress Solving Secrets. All of them are actually integrated into a healthy way of dealing with lifes problems. For instance, part of nourishing yourself is allowing yourself to find pleasant experiences. Serving others who are less fortunate helps you cultivate a gratitude attitude for your own blessings. Practicing any of them will help you practice the others, but remember that they wont do you any good if you dont put them into practice. However, I can promise you that if you do put them into practice, youll find yourself stressing less and being more productive in these troubled times.