A Choice or a Physical Response that You have No Control Over?
Everyone experiences stress. Some experience more of it than others, but few of us rarely think about what stress actually is and what it actually does to our systems.
Stress begins as a thought, nothing more, nothing less. If our thoughts are the root cause of our stress then we have complete control over the stress because “it’s not something that happens to us but something that happens in us.” (Hyman, 2013)
Stress is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium.” Dr. Mark Hyman states that “it is your thoughts out of balance that create these stress factors.” If we “perceive” a threat, like a spouse or child being angry or actually “experience” a threat like a devastating diagnosis, both, scenarios can create the same response in your body.
There is a burst of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones flooding your system that cause a rise in your heart rate and blood pressure. This results oxidative damage or stress in the memory area of your brain and increases fat storage around your middle making you feel weak and overloaded. Stress is a perceived thought or point of view. How our thoughts affect us determine how our body will respond to any given stress. The gut and the brain are tightly connected and that is why some eat under stress while others refrain from eating.
When my husband was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as Pseudeomyxoma Peritonei my body took on a life of its own. Months of research and meeting with doctors took a toll on my system. I couldn’t eat, my adrenaline constantly ran, my brain became foggy, I woke up at night with nightmares of what was to come. Life and death were in the balance. It was hard to believe that my husband had been diagnosis with a cancer that affects one in a million when he had rarely been sick and was an extremely fit triathlete. This seemed like too much to bear. Worry and anxiety became my constant companion. The fearful thoughts that my mind seemed to deal with on a moment by moment basis, were things I soon realized were a choice.
One morning, after a very difficult night of sleep, I awoke to a phrase from a Bible verse that I had memorized years earlier. “Do not be dismayed, do not be dismayed, do not be dismayed!” I knew this verse was something I had to look up. The answer to my heart ache seemed to be wrapped up in that verse.
It was Isaiah 41:9b-10. It said, “You are my servant; I have chosen you and not rejected you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” This verse seemed to bring comfort to my weary soul as I realized that God had chosen my family for this task and He had not rejected us. I was not to be dismayed. I was not to walk around anxiously or fearfully. He (God) was going to strengthen me, help me and uphold me with his mighty right hand. This verse seemed to give my heavy heart hope and peace during a rough time. This realization was only the first part!
What was difficult was training my mind when fearful thoughts seemed to overpower me. How was I going to deal with those thoughts? How was I going to make progress so that my thought life wouldn’t overtake me? How was I going to live moment by moment without letting the waves of fear consume me? It came down to a choice. I had to choose to make positive choices. I couldn’t let my thoughts control me. I had no control over what came into my brain but I did have control over what I did with that thought once it was there. I could choose to stay fearful and in bondage to my thought life and run, or I could choose to overcome my fears by acknowledging them. Instead I chose to take steps to move toward those fears and ultimately diffuse them by replacing them with positive, affirming thoughts that were pure, lovely, and good. When thoughts like “he’s not going to make it” would enter my mind, I would quickly replace it with a prayer of something small thing that had happened that day that was positive. Then I chose to zero in on that positive thought.
Learning how not to let my “self talk” abuse me for actions, fears or thoughts I was experiencing became a real challenge. This challenge needed to be overcome! I knew that deceptive “self talk” was not going to produce results that would give me victory over my fears. I had to come up with some tools that would work to enable me to overcomer my fears, anxiety and stress.
Here are six ways that I have found helpful to enable me to overcome the great stresses that I have experienced in my life. These tools have prevented me from falling victim to my anxious thoughts and enabled me to soar to places of peace and rest.
- Thinking Differently: Start each day with positive affirmations. Throughout the day meditate on pure, lovely and good thoughts. Moment by moment negative “self talk” often needs to be addressed and at times can be quite challenging. These negative thoughts are toxic, stressful and cause great anxiety. Replacing negativity with a positive encouraging mindset is a step in the right direction.
- Rolodexes of Affirmations: I found that writing scripture verses, meditations or quotes on a rolodex helped me to stay focused on positive, encouraging thoughts. As I rehearsed these verses, meditations and quotes over and over, my disposition would change. Bible verses became friends of encouragement to me. Phillippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything but by prayer and petition with thanksgiving make your requests known to God, and the peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This verse encouraged me to pray, petition God and then thank Him for the things that were happening in our difficult situation. So I started listing things each day that I could be thankful for — even when it was hard to find something. Sometimes I would thank God for the sunny, warm weather when I struggled with coming up with something to be thankful for in the current situation. I repeated them often by petitioning God, and gratitude began to change my heart and mind related to the difficulties we were experiencing.
- Moderate Exercise: One of the best ways to decrease stress hormones and change your thinking is to move and sweat. As a collegiate swimmer I remember days of walking to the pool after a stressful class day. I couldn’t wait to get into the pool and start pounding the water. On the days that I was extremely stressed the workouts seemed to re-energize me. The combination of intense swimming movements and heavy breathing patterns were exactly what the doctor ordered for relaxing my weary body and bones so that I could ultimately sit down hours later and accomplish my studies. Exercise is a great tension releaser!
- Breathe: Deep, slow, belly breathing has a profound affect or resetting stress responses on our body. The vagus nerve goes through your diaphragm and is activated with every deep breath. Taking a deep breath in on 3 counts and letting it out in 6 counts, slows everything down. If you do 5 sets of this you will feel very different in just a few minutes.
- Take A Hot Bath: My favorite stress reliever is taking a hot bath (as hot as you can stand it) with 2 cups of Epsom salts (which contain relaxation minerals, and magnesium), 1 cup of baking soda, and 10 drops of lavender oil (which lowers cortisol, a stress hormone). Sitting in this hot bath for 20 minutes while listening to your favorite, soothing music will induce relaxation in your body and mind.
- Sleep: A lack of sleep increases your stress hormones. Getting a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep is essential for most of the population. Adding a quality melatonin supplement can enhance quality rest and decrease your stress hormones.
As we can see, our thoughts and actions have a huge affect on our ability to overcome the stress responses in our lives. What we do on a daily basis is the key. We all experience stress, anxiety, and fear in varying degrees on a daily basis. Would you share with me your stress relieving techniques? Or try some of the tips I have left above and send me an email on how it worked for you! Please leave a thought or comment in the box below and let me know what you do to relieve stress!
Healthy Living To You,
Works Cited: Hyman, M. (2013, April 26). [Web log message]. Retrieved from Hyman, Mark. “Five Ways to Never Be Stressed Again.” Latest Articles (blog), April 26, 2013. http://drhyman.com/blog/2013/04/26/five-ways-to-never-be-stressed-again/ (accessed May 11, 2013).