Most of us can attest to the fact that stress is reaching epidemic proportions in modern society.
Balancing work, family, health, money, etc. is a challenge that many of us feel ill-equipped to face. Eighty percent of the doctor visits in our country are stress related. Our quality of life and health is largely determined by how we adapt and relate to daily stressors. Excessive stress not only takes its toll on our bodies, but strips the joy out of life and suppresses our creative instincts.
Without physical health, joy, and creativity, life is scarcely worth living. Dissolving stress is certainly possible, but takes a commitment to making lifestyle choices that create balance throughout our lives. Here are a few ancient techniques for eliminating stress, increasing energy, and creating emotional balance. These are some of the most powerful tools we have for achieving optimal health and preventing future disease.
Practiced for thousands of years in many Asian cultures, meditation has long been recognized as one of the most powerful tools we have for cultivating peace of mind and balance. Numerous studies have proven the incredibly positive effect that meditation has on stress reduction. There are literally hundreds of meditation techniques taught around the world.
For beginners, the most helpful approach is to start with basic mindfulness techniques that develop both relaxation and alertness. Once a basic ground of awareness has been stabilized, then more advanced meditation practices can be undertaken. Meditation is a practice that helps us identify with stillness and silence. It cultivates intuition and surrender. It can deeply help just about anybody, but is truly a miraculous practice for reducing stress and anxiety.
This ancient practice has also been utilized by millions of people throughout history. Yoga is typically considered a form of meditation that involves putting the body into a variety of poses in combination with deep breathing to induce mental clarity, increased energy, and physical strength and flexibility. The healing benefits of yoga have been repeatedly documented by a variety of clinical studies. There are many forms of yoga and it is best to experiment to determine which form feels the most helpful for your needs. I highly recommend combining yoga with sitting meditation, as they work synergistically to induce deep states of relaxation.
One of the pillars of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture has been practiced for at least 2,500 years. Perhaps one of the last truly holistic forms of healthcare remaining on the planet, acupuncture works with the Qi (life force ) of the body in order to induce a variety of therapeutic effects. The safety and efficacy of this practice are well documented which accounts for its incredible surge in popularity in the Western world. Acupuncture is considered one of the most powerful treatment options for stress reduction. Only seek acupuncture treatment from licensed acupuncturists ( as opposed to chiropractors or MD’s who practice acupuncture).
There are a variety of both Chinese and Western herbal formulas that have been clinically proven to reduce stress and create emotional balance. Herbs are much less concentrated than pharmaceuticals, which is why they have far less side effects (but can still be as effective). If you are interested in this treatment option, many acupuncturists can skillfully prescribe herbal formulas. This is recommended over buying herbs over the counter with little knowledge of their intended usage.
Eat a diet high in protein, healthy fats (no industrial seed oils like canola), and essential fatty acids. Minimizing your intake of simple carbohydrates (foods that are sugary, or turn into sugar quickly when digested) and industrial seed oils can go a long way toward healing stress. The standard American diet (high in processed foods, sugar, seed oils, and transfats) has been linked to anxiety, depression, and increased stress in numerous studies. Change your diet to an organic, whole foods approach and both your body and mind will reward you beyond measure. Poor adaptability to stress is often a sign that our brains are starving for nutrients that we aren’t getting from our standard American diets.
Move your body. Find some activities you enjoy. Many people think they have to go to the gym for an hour to get any benefit, but this is simply not true. In fact, short bursts of intense activity are of great benefit, and are fantastic for changing our mental state from lethargic and anxious to energized and hopeful. Try jumping jacks or squats or pushups or … for a minute or two, and you’ll immediately be more engaged and positive.
Making these lifestyle changes may not be easy in the initial phases.
It is often helpful to seek out the support of a health care practitioner to guide you through these transitions. Once you start feeling the enormous payoff of making such changes, there truly is no turning back. Your stress will dissolve, your weight will decrease, and your energy will skyrocket, not to mention the preventative measures you are taking for heart health. Isn’t that enough to warrant making a few changes?
Jim Stegenga, L.Ac.
Serving Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater, and the South Puget Sound