STRESS and 8 Practices for Self Care

Visit your favorite body of water. Chattooga River, South Carolina side

Stress is a double-edged sword. Stress can be a motivating force, and a paralyzing force. The stress in a moment can urge us to move courageously, responding to the stressor with a decisive action intended to stop or change the circumstance to somehow benefit us, which illustrates the positive aspect of the philosophy that within a crisis is danger and opportunity. Constant, unresolved stress from perceived immutable stressors such as a mortgage, a chronic illness, or being in an abusive situation, however, will wither our vitality, causing us to doubt our power to change circumstances and become resigned to dwell in a pit of worry and fear.

Both causing and relieving stress are fortune-producing industries based on principles of contraction and relaxation marketed to people the industry calls ‘consumers’. We live among stressors; it’s unavoidable. Plus, we are biologically designed to respond to stressors which we perceive to be a threat, or that claim our attention. To put this into perspective and emphasize how as long as we are breathing, we will fluctuate between contraction and relaxation, it’s important to note that simply waking up in the morning increases the hormone often associated with stress, cortisol, and the levels may fall and rise throughout the day. Cortisol has many important uses in normal/ideal/health living (What’s that?). When under significant stress, cortisol production increases-generally, up until the point where it can increase no further where then it declines from exhaustion, producing many negative consequences during either the out-of-balance increase or the exhausted decline. This is the point where we notice being “stressed out” or “under stress”.Typically, the stressed out feeling comes after a long duration of a stressful circumstance.

In other experiences, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the result is from a particular traumatic event, or intermittent traumatic events. The physiological and psychological manifestations of long-endured stress or post traumatic stress have similarities and differences, and then, of course, within individuals there are also differences. Describing each of them at length is beyond the focus of this entry; however, it’s important to mention that what gets classified as PTSD is somewhat controversial. Researchers are careful not to apply the disorder too widely. The degree of trauma is in question, which also needs to take into account the state of the individual prior to the trauma. The straw that broke the camel’s back didn’t seem very significant in itself, but added to the existing burden, it was too much to handle for the camel. Young, healthy soldiers who are quickly exposed to traumatic experiences are more easily diagnosed with PTSD, than a single mother of three children in inner-city Baltimore who is worried about her family’s safety after a police raid of her neighbor’s rowhouse resulting in gunfire (I didn’t have children, but I was living alone in Baltimore during a stressful time when this happened to me and my neighbor, which resulted in occasional flashbacks, leading me to realize the importance of self care to which end the flashbacks have disappeared.).

So, we know this: Unavoidable stressors are around us, the stress response is natural, and experiencing traumatic events is unpredictable. That being written, what we DO have control over is our perception and classification of what is or isn’t a stressor, which affects our response to it. Notice when you are feeling stress about something that is insignificant. If you can reevaluate the stressor, and create an appropriate decisive action for the stressor, chances are the stress response to the stressor you were experiencing will shift as the decisive action releases energy instead of absorbing energy.

To prevent the misperception of insignificant toil being a stressor, many practices exist, which we all know but few actually do.

To Do List:

  1. Be in the present: Each of the following are built upon being present. We can anticipate the future. We can regret the past. We can change our attitude and perception of the past and future if we act in the present.
  2. Exercise: This is the single-most lifestyle choice to increase one’s quality and length of life. My favorite form of exercise is walking.
  3. Meditate: Experiencing silence is a revolutionary act for our psyche in an age of stimulus overload. Mediation creates a stillness in the mind and body which has tremendous health effects, such as decreasing the activation of proteins activated by stress associated with Alzheimer Disease and dementia, plus healing the heart and immune system.
  4. Pray: The Serenity Prayer expresses how discernment between things within our control and outside of our control releases stress and brings serenity. When something is within our control, we can create a decisive action in response to it. When it is not in our control, we can release it to the universal creator. Developing a relationship with a power greater than your small sense of self can bring you great peace.
  5. Care for a plant: Being in nature and caring for a plant brings us to the present, connecting us in a primordial bond between plant and animal/human. The relationship communicates soothing chemical molecules between the plant and our human being. An enjoyable read is The Secret Life of Plants.
  6. Eat nutrient-dense whole food from humane farming practices: Food is made up of molecular compounds which carry energy and impact our body in positive, neutral, and negative ways. You are what you eat is true. What goes into making and preparing food is also what what we become. Think about this when it comes to in humane farming practices for farmworkers and animals, synthetic additives and preservatives, and pre-packaged for convenience. One of the glorious aspects of living is eating good food. Why do we willingly give that up for disgusting food? A slow manipulation is responsible, so twisted that we end of wanting our poison. Try an experiment. Choose to eat self-prepared whole foods for a month and document how you feel along the way. Notice any mood changes. They may get worse first before they get better, so you need to be committed. It’s a detoxification process. At the end of the month, you’ll be thinking clearly, which will allow you to discern what is stress-worthy better.
  7. Follow a diurnal and seasonal cycle: Though sometimes we are confused about what we are, we are diurnal creatures. We are not night owls. Our body and mind responds to light and dark in different ways. The light photons enter through the eyes, and interact with the pineal gland which stimulates the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands to increase energy for the day, or when absent decrease energy for nighttime sleeping. Studies of night-shift nurses show a lowered immune system, increased stress hormones, and increased occurrences of cancer. Following the seasons is like tending to yourself as if you are the garden. In winter you rest, being silent and still, allowing creativity to come from deep within. Seeds are planted in early spring, seeds of ideas, plans are made of how to develop these seeds. At summer we tend to each other, we dance, we experience great joy at the great growth. In late summer, we harvest and enjoy the abundance. The fall calls us to collect the seeds of the plants we want to save for springtime replanting. We let go of whatever will not serve us through the winter, composting it in the earth, where it will become a new, nourishing form. We come back to winter to rest, reflect, be silent, and go deep within ourselves, within the earth to become renewed for the coming spring.
  8. Form a friendship with someone who is choosing self care, too: If you are going this path alone, you may have a hard time picking yourself up when you stumble. Also, being around someone who CHOOSES the path of self care is different from instructing others who are not choosing self care. Convincing others who are into self destruction will not help your stress. In this relationship be authentic, genuine, humble, light-hearted, and allow for mistakes. Making changes in our life can develop a sense of taking ourselves too seriously, and being more “evolved” than another. When you begin to feel that way, watch out, it is right before a stressful stumble.

Don’t Do List:

  1. Do the To Do List and the Don’t Do List just might disappear.

What About the Author?

Certainly the reader suspects whether the author follows the To Do List. Admittedly off and on (there is no contest), which is how I know the effects from following the list and falling away from some of the practices. I also know that number 8 is very important. Following these 8 practices can have positive outcomes for one’s self, others, plants and the planet, which is the whole idea.

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