You walk into the unornate room smelling of anti-bacterial hand soap, prop yourself up on a medical exam table and wait for the doctor to gently knock on the door to come in. They give you a smile, make their introduction, and proceed with a series of questions to better determine your health status. Are you on any new medications? Do you have any health concerns? After gathering all they can and addressing any questions you have, they perform a constitutional exam to check in on your physical health.
But what is often neglected at a doctor’s visit is the status of our mental health. Stress is an inevitable part of the human condition. The pain of our minds is the ability to amplify stress and become attached to feelings of self doubt and worry. The beauty of our minds is we have the power to choose how we react to our situation. My closest friends may have heard or seen the quote plastered on my fridge by Victor E Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist that I love…
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom
Of course, we could leave that to the experts… the therapists, but do we have to take it that far? Don’t get me wrong, I think going to therapy is crucial for some, in fact I have friends who talk about it openly and attest to the healing power of ongoing therapy sessions. But for those people who simply don’t have the time or money to go to an expert, it is important to tap into healing practices that can help extinguish the detrimental effects of unattended stress and anxiety.
Since this is my blog, with my name in it, every word I write is attached to my name and my voice. I’m here to say that I don’t have it figured out. After 7 years of yoga I am no where near as Zen as I thought I’d be and that’s okay. People live their whole lives trying to cultivate Zen only to find that it is fleeting, and life will still try you no matter how many times you’ve said Namaste.
In fact, sometimes I get overwhelmed with worry and anxiety and I notice it show up in my body. I get a tense sensation in my neck and I grind my teeth at night. My stomach churns and nausea sets in, and my breathing becomes shallow… The acute effects of stress can be felt quite instantaneously. However, the long-term effects of stress are insidious and progressive. We don’t notice these until we end up with labs showing markers of high blood pressure and glucose, or worse, at the ER with a heart attack.
At nearly 27, I’d like to say I’m a pretty healthy woman. I eat my greens, stay active, and I floss daily, which my dentist praises me for at my six month cleaning. 😉 Ever since I started my new job in June though, I’ve felt a stress creep in that gave me grad school nostalgia (*shudders*). Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. But perhaps the added responsibility of my new role and the prospect of specializing in Diabetes is Eustress and I treat it as Distress at times (see chart below). Anything between increasing attention and interest and optimal performance is considered good stress or eustress. Once you go over the peak, there’s a decline in focus due to anxiety, which leads to bad stress or distress. We have to aim for the peak without falling down the other side. I always tell my patients…I get it, we don’t live in a bubble and we can’t avoid stress.
After all, stress is a result of experience; we are constantly reacting to what is around us. Sometimes the bad feelings we end up with are just machinations of spiraling thoughts. However, the stress that we experience is not always reality. I always make it a point to tell my patients how important stress management is when it comes to their diabetes care.
I need to, we need to, keep practicing stress management as a preventative measure to chronic conditions that are exacerbated by stress itself. It is not enough to just eat healthy, exercise, and sleep. We must address the mind!
How do we do this? By tapping into what creates a space of relaxation and ease for us. This looks different for everyone. Yoga and meditation is not for everyone. So, finding out what makes YOU zen is essential to reducing stress and anxiety. We have to start writing prescriptions (rx) for at least 30 minutes of self-care. If we did they’d look something like this:
Rx for 30 minute bubble bath.
Rx for 1 hour of yoga. Side effects may include increased focus, relief of tension, achy muscles, euphoria.
Rx for physical activity. Use at least 3x per week for 60 minutes for the best benefit.
Rx for journaling prn.
Rx for 1 hour of working with hands for those creative folks. Results may vary.
Rx for 1 hour of screentime. Use once per day.
Rx for calling a friend prn. Warning, extreme feeling of internal warmth and stress relief may occur.
Rx for a facial/mani/pedi. Use at least 1x per month for best results.
Rx for 1 hour of music. Use as many times per day as needed.
Rx for planning and taking a trip. Use prn as much as you can afford.
Get my drift? So, let’s stop feeling bad for allocating time for ourselves, for the sake of our health and wellbeing! Let’s address the mind NOW so we don’t have to address the detrimental effects of unattended stress later.
Till next time,