Dealing with Stress
Techniques on Managing Stress
1 February, 2018 by
Dealing with Stress

The American Medical Association says that 85% of ALL DIS-EASE is caused by stress. DIS-EASE: to be without ease. EASE: a state of being comfortable, free from pain, freedom from care, freedom from labor or difficulty, freedom from embarrassment or constraint. EASE is a state of balance, wellness, and wholeness. ALL DIS-EASE includes but is not limited to heart disease, allergies, colds, flu, asthma, diabetes, ulcers, hypertension, fatigue, obesity, autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Graves disease, and fibromyalgia; PMS, cancer, all forms of chronic pain like back pain, neck pain, joint pain, abdominal pain, headaches, migraines; insomnia, infertility, erectile dysfunction, constipation, behavioral issues and mental disorders such as ADHD, anger, violence, depression, anxiety and more! You get the idea. When it comes to dealing with stress, how can we limit our dis-ease?

Stress is a complex combination of physiological responses caused by any particular stimulus (good or bad/internal or external). Often we think only of negative life circumstances that cause stress (divorce, illness, loss, traffic, deadlines, difficult relationships, financial obligations, etc.). Surprisingly, even positive life events and experiences can evoke a stress response. Things you might not think are stressful, like marriage, pregnancy, a new job, a promotion, or even purchasing a new home. It can sometimes feel like dealing with stress is a full-time job! When we encounter a PERCEIVED threat, our body automatically goes into a state of high alert. This, we commonly refer to as fight/flight. When the flight or fight response is evoked, it brings into play the sympathetic nervous system, which is part of the autonomic, or involuntary, nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system acts by secreting specific hormones: adrenalin or epinephrine and noradrenaline or norepinephrine. These hormones prepare the body for a perceived threat by dilating our eyes and creating tunnel vision. This allows our body to focus exclusively on the immediate threat. Our hearing is reduced in order to filter the distraction of unimportant noise. Breathing rate increases which automatically elevates the heart rate to create a state of hyper-alertness thus reducing our ability to sleep. Our cardiovascular system redirects blood flow from the prefrontal cortex of the brain, reducing the higher thinking ability. Blood supply shifts away from the extremities to reduce bleeding and pumps more blood into the muscles, which causes muscle tension. Blood pressure rises. The digestive system slows down or stops, and the immune system slows down or stops. This incredible chain reaction occurs automatically without any conscious decisions. Then your autonomic nervous system/ANS recognizes that you are safe, and the parasympathetic/PNS nervous system is evoked. This switch in the nervous system allows you to rest and digest and return to long-term organic activities that promote longevity and well-being.

Chronic Stress

Humans tend to live in a heightened state of alert from lesser but more persistent stress. So much so, that we become literally chemically toxic and depleted. Thus, we find ourselves seemingly always dealing with stress. In effect, to varying degrees, we walk around unable to see the big picture, think clearly, listen well, or fight infection and dis-ease. Long-term chronic stress can have detrimental effects on our health. We may not be able to control the stressors in our life, but we can deal with stress better. As I mentioned earlier, stress can be internal or external. Most of us believe that stress is caused by an external event or circumstance outside of our control: illness, loss, or dealing with a difficult person. Well, my friends, the truth will set you free. ALL stress is internal. Our thoughts, interpretations, and perceptions of an outside event, person, or stimulus are the direct cause of the fight/flight response. Science has proven this theory called the mind-body connection. The thoughts in our mind create our reality. Stress included. This is liberating because it means with awareness and practice, we can reduce the amount of stress and suffering we experience no matter what our life circumstances are. The bad news is that about 80% of our thoughts are unconscious, and many of them are not even yours to begin with. Our minds are more complex than the advanced computer and have been programmed by our environment. Your conditioned mind is a result of all your history, as well as the collective cultural mindset you inherited. You see and judge the present through the eyes of the past and get a totally distorted view of it. Stop now and try this simple awareness exercise. It takes three minutes and it's the first step in dealing with stress. You must see what is in order to change it.

OBSERVE: Watch the Thinker

Do the best you can to find a quiet environment with little or no distractions. Sit comfortably with your spine tall. Set a timer for three to five minutes. Start with three and work your way up to five. Close your eyes and JUST OBSERVE what it. OBSERVE the moment as it is. OBSERVE your breath. Don't change it. Try and breathe deeply, don't judge it or label it. OBSERVE any sensations in your body without labels or judgments. Simply feel the sensations. Be present. OBSERVE your mind. Observe your thoughts. Do the best you can to watch the thinker. Try not to grab onto any particular thought and create a story about it. Don't push away the thoughts you don't like. Let each thought rise, witness it, and let it go. Imagine your mind is on a movie screen, and this exercise is for pure entertainment. Watch without judgment until the timer goes off.

What did you observe? This incessant mental noise prevents you from finding a realm of inner stillness essential for being. It also creates a false mind-made self that casts a shadow of fear and suffering. The voice that belongs to your conditioned mind is not you. You are the watcher, the observer. The more you identify with the observer, the less stress and suffering you experience. Identifying with your mind can create an opaque screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definitions that block your ability to be present in each moment of your life. Our life is now. Not in the past or the future. Pure presence reduces suffering and evokes a state of wholeness and consecutiveness. Buddha beautifully defines enlightenment as "the end of suffering; a state of wholeness, of being at one and therefore at peace." Being completely absorbed at this moment is a skill that takes practice. Lets practice. Here is another simple yet not easy exercise for you to practice presence and awareness when it comes to dealing with stress. The purpose of this exercise is to increase your ability to focus and concentrate, so you can become aware of your unconscious thinking patterns. These patterns keep you stuck and cause you pain and suffering.

Watching, Counting Your Breath

Similar to the last exercise, do the best you can to find a quiet environment with little or no distractions. Sit comfortably with your spine tall. Set a timer for 3 minutes. Close your eyes and bring your full awareness to your breath. Do not change or manipulate your breath. Just observe it. When you inhale, say to yourself in your head, "inhale” When you exhale, say to yourself in your head, "exhale." And at the end of each cycle of breath, count. Example: #1. Three cycles would look like this: Inhale, exhale 1. Inhale, exhale 2. Inhale, exhale 3. And so on. Now, the tricky part is, every time you observe ANY other thought in your mind besides inhale, exhale, or the number you are on, you have to go back to number one. Let the games begin. Be playful. Remove all self-judgment and focus on the task at hand. There's no failure, only feedback.

The more you PRACTICE, the longer you can sustain your focus and concentrate on one thing. You will get what you focus on. Until now, most of us have been unaware of the unconscious thoughts in our head. The ones that cause us stress and suffering. When you become aware of the thoughts in your head, especially those that don't serve you, you can consciously start to change them. In doing so, you will reduce stress and enjoy life more.

 About Karen Sehgal

Karen has spent her life dedicated to the study of the mind, body, and spirit. She graduated from California State University, Long Beach, with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Kinesiology/Science Exercise. She has been an accredited part of the wellness industry here in the South Bay for over 20 years. Karen currently owns and teaches Pilates & yoga at her studio – J.O.Y – located in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. A daily yoga and meditation practice keeps her grounded and connected to her true purpose and calling: service to others. Her detailed teaching style will attune your focus, heal joint pain and discomfort, leading to a path to a more JOYful you. With an extensive knowledge and experience with nutrition, her creativity shines through wise diet choices and whole foods to promote health and vitality. Karen is on the advisory board at Sun Chlorella.

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