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Everybody feels stress and knows it intimately, but very few of us think about what stress actually is.
Stress is a thought. That’s it. No more, no less. If that’s true, then we have complete control over stress, because it’s not something that happens to us but something that happens in us.
The dictionary definition of stress is, “bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium.” It is your thoughts out of balance.
The medical definition of stress is, “the perception of a real or imagined threat to your body or your ego.” It could be a tiger chasing you or your belief that your spouse is mad at you (even if he or she is not). Whether it is real or imagined, when you perceive something as stressful, it creates the same response in the body.
A cascade of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones floods your system, raising your heart rate, increasing your blood pressure, making your blood more likely to clot, damaging your brain’s memory center, increasing belly fat storage, and generally wreaking havoc on your body.
The operative word here about stress is that it is a perception, also known as a thought or point of view. There are objective stressors, to be sure—war, death of loved ones, financial troubles, starvation, dental work. But how these affect us determines our body’s stress response. Imagine Woody Allen and James Bond, each with a gun pointed at his head—same external stressor but entirely different responses.
Slowly, slowly, you can train yourself to watch your thoughts, perceptions, and when a stressful thought comes into your head, stop, take a deep breath, and just let go. It’s like a muscle—it gets stronger the more you use it, but if you let go, it relaxes.
But of course, life takes over and things happen, all the “D’s:” divorce, death, deadlines, demands, dumb thoughts, and dumb schedules to suck you in to negative thinking, which creates stress in the body. We get so attached to our way of thinking, to our beliefs and attitudes about the way things should be or shouldn’t be, that it makes us sick.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t respond to injustice or experience intense feelings of joy, happiness, sadness, loss, or pain. Try just to be fully in them when they come, then experience the next moment, then the next and the next, and just show up with my whole self with love and attention.
And when things get out of control, which they do, simply make a gentle U-turn. It’s like a GPS for the soul. Your GPS doesn’t shout at you and call you stupid or judge you for taking a wrong turn, it simply reminds you to take the next possible U-turn.
Each of us has to find out how to make our own U-turn. There are some wonderful ways which work very well.
6 Highly Effective Ways To Turn Stress Around (and try to pick one or more each day):
1. Move. The best way to burn off the stress hormones without having to change your thinking is to move and sweat. Run, dance, jump, ride, swim, stretch, or skip—do something vigorous and lively. Yoga is also fabulous, as it combines movement and breathing.
2. Breathe. Most of us hold our breath often or breathe swallow, anxious breaths. Deep, slow, full breaths have a profound affect on resetting the stress response, because the relaxation nerve (or vagus nerve and not the Las Vegas nerve) goes through your diaphragm and is activated with every deep breath. Take five deep breaths now, and observe how differently you feel after.
3. Bathe. For the lazy among us an UltraBath is a secret weapon against stress. Add 2 cups of Epsom salt (which contains magnesium, the relaxation mineral – sold at Nature Home), a half-cup of baking soda, and 10 drops of lavender oil (which lowers cortisol) to a warm bath. Then, add one stressed human and soak for 20 minutes. Guaranteed to induce relaxation.
4. Sleep. Lack of sleep increases stress hormones. Get your eight hours no matter what. Take a nap if you missed your sleep. Prioritize sleep.
5. Think Differently. Practice the art of noticing stress, noticing how your thinking makes you stressed. Practice taking deep breaths and letting go of worry.
6. Meditate. Learn how to quieten your mind through a meditation practice, which you can do at home. You can also try my UltraCalm CD, featuring guided mediations and relaxation techniques.
Also, I highly recommend EFT tapping, a technique that combines ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology – a full instructional DVD is available at Nature Home for only 400baht.
Enjoy, and happy U-turns!