We are all under stress and many of us suffer from some degree of anxiety. Read on for advice from Julie Permut, Lic Ac about coping with stress and anxiety.
During this last snow storm, as the plow drove through my long, circular driveway at 5 am, my mind started whirring. How am I going to pay the plow bill this year? How much more am I going to owe before spring comes? How can we more snow? And so on, until it was clear that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep, so I got out of bed and started cleaning the kitchen.
I know I wasn’t alone that morning or on any of the other mornings when my brain won’t let me rest. My therapist tells me it’s just how I’m hard-wired, so I have to find ways to trigger my body’s relaxation response. Anxious thoughts and feelings are a sign that your body is caught in the “fight or flight” response mounted by the sympathetic nervous system when something or someone threatens our lives. When this response is triggered over and over to cope with emotional stress or anxiety, not only is it not helpful, it’s downright bad for our health.
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Physiologically, the “fight or flight” response causes heart rate, breath rate and blood pressure to increase; our blood thickens to deliver more oxygen, improve immunity (white blood cells) and stop bleeding more quickly (platelets); adrenaline and other stress hormones are released as well as endorphins, our body’s natural pain killers. So, what’s so bad about that, you might ask? In the short-term, these changes are beneficial and do help us survive, but in the long-term these changes can lead to heart disease, adrenal fatigue, infertility and more.
So what do I do to combat anxiety and stress? Most of the things I do are simple and are steps that you could take on your own and some of what I do requires a bit of professional help:
1. I try to take 10 deep, belly breaths (where I puff out my belly on the inhale in order to pull more air into my lungs) two to three times each day. What’s great about this technique is that I can do it anytime, anywhere: in the car, the shower, in bed, at work, etc. Over time, I notice that this quiets my mind and allows me to be a bit calmer in stressful situations.
2. I listen to relaxation exercises and guided meditations on my ipod. Usually these run about 10 to 20 minutes, so when I have the time, as in the middle of the night or early in the morning, I find a comfortable place to lie down and just listen. This technique requires very little of you other than time and a quiet space–most of the time, I end up falling asleep but that’s OK because my subconscious mind is still listening to the soothing words and suggestions for relaxation, so I still reap the benefits.
3. I go for a run. Most runners will tell you that half the reason they run is because they feel so good afterwards. Any vigorous exercise will give you a release of endorphins, those same pain-killing chemicals that are released in the “fight or flight” response, only this time without stress or anxiety as a trigger. I prefer running, but you can ride a bike, go hiking or showshoeing, take an aerobics class, go dancing or do whatever gets your body moving and lets you blow off some steam.
4. I take a break from the news. Most of the news is bad and much of it these days is anxiety-producing, but it’s also nothing that you or I have any control over or can do much about. So, if you’re like me and you can feel your mind clicking into high gear as Charlie Gibson delivers the day’s news, just turn it off. It can be hard to unplug, but believe me, you won’t miss much and you can always catch up in a few days.
5. I get massage, reiki or acupuncture. All of these therapies trigger the body’s relaxation response and quiet the mind. That alone is worth everything to me, but beyond relaxation each of these therapies benefit your health in other ways: improved circulation, better digestion, deeper sleep, reduced pain levels, etc. Yes, they cost money, but ask yourself, how much is your health worth to you?
As the sun gets stronger and the snow begins to melt, I confess that I’m still wondering how I’m going to pay the plow bill. But, if I use what I know to manage my stress and anxiety about the plow bill and everything else, at least I know I’m going to get a good night’s sleep!
For a free consultation with Julie Permut, LAc call 603-924-6624. If you are ready to make an acupuncture appointment, click here.