When we think about stress, what comes to mind is traffic, taxes, the mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s, the kid on drugs and the cat throwing up. We fail, however, to realize that so much of our stress is manufactured in our own mind. The other thing we have to take into account is stress from our food and environment. What follows are a few practical tips to reduce all kinds of stress in your life.
Evolutionarily, the stress response was incredibly important to our survival. We would have a specific biological reaction to it, that fight or flight response. Our hearts would race, our breathing would quicken and we would prepare ourselves chemically to fight the enemy or flee. Now, our stress is not that dynamic. It’s not short-lived and over quickly so that we can recover. It is stretched out, constant and pervasive.
Since we are no longer being chased by bears or marauding pirates, the stress response is not quite as important. Our minds, however, cannot differentiate between what we are thinking and imagining and what is really happening. If we were to dwell on the most stressful thing we could think of, we would therefore have yet another physiological response. This is why it is so important to stay mindful and in the present moment. Regretting and dwelling on things from the past or worrying about things in the future that may or may not happen simply puts us in an unnecessary stress response. Over time, the cumulative effect of all those hormones and stressors is going to wreak havoc on our bodies and our health. In fact, 60% to 80% of our doctor’s visits are attributed to stress.
The easiest way to stay in the present moment and not let the past or future intrude is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply going about a task with focus and curiosity. If other thoughts intrude, you dismiss them without judgment. We can do any task mindfully. For example, brushing your teeth. Use all your senses, feel what the toothbrush feels like on your teeth and gums, really taste the mint of the toothpaste. Notice how it smells and the sensation on your gums and tongue. Think about the scrubbing sound it makes and look in the mirror to see the colors of the foam. The more intently you can bring in the senses, the more present you are. We have to do certain things every day anyway. Those are great time to incorporate mindfulness.
Another easy tip is a mini-meditation. This is perfect for us Type-A folks that find seated meditation to be difficult and frustrating. You simply concentrate on the breath, the rise and fall of the chest. On the inhale you think, “I am” and on the exhale think, “at peace.” And repeat. If other thoughts intrude, simply acknowledge that you are thinking (no judgment), return to the breath and “I am … at peace.” This immediately stops the stress response and brings on what Dr. Herbert Benson coined as “the relaxation response.” Making your way up to 10-20 minutes a day is ideal.
Being aware of what thoughts enter our minds is important, but it is also critical to know what foods are entering our bodies. With modern technology, we have food available at every turn, but is what we are taking in really good for us? In an era of processed, packaged and fast food, is what we are eating even food at all or is it a food-like product? I encourage everyone to make the best choices when it comes to their nutrition.
Just as you want pure thoughts, you want pure food and water. In fact, we need it to survive. Chemicals, toxins, artificial sweeteners, flavors, colorings and genetically modified foods are just serving to poison our body and keep us from absorbing needed nutrients. I recommend eliminating as many of these fake foods as possible. I’m of the 80/20 mindset. 80% of the time, do the best you can. The other 20%, maybe you splurge, are traveling or are limited in what you can find to eat. Sometimes you just want that donut or dab of ketchup with high-fructose corn syrup. The important thing is to be mindful of your thoughts and what you are putting in your body as food and drink.
It seems that no matter how well we eat, we are still deficient in many needed nutrients. I encourage everyone to take a high-quality vitamin and mineral supplement. Supplements from organic, whole-food sources are always your best choice, as often times potentially damaging chemicals are found in synthetic vitamins. Fake and processed vitamins, in some cases, can actually be more harmful to the body than good. Bottom line is, we want to make the best choices we can. Think the purest thoughts, eat the best food and take the best supplements. There are so many things you can do to strengthen your body and mind. Making these small changes can help.
Kathy Gruver, PhD, is an award-winning author, speaker, educator and expert. Her books “The Alternative Medicine Cabinet” and “Conquer your Stress with Mind/Body Techniques” are multiple award winners. Gruver has lectured around the country on health and wellness issues and has appeared on over 200 radio and TV shows. More information can be found atwww.thealternativemedicinecabinet.com.