Mental Health

Stress: Good or Bad for You?

 

Stress.

That word alone can make you cringe. It’s got all this bad juju and negative emotions surrounding it that you haven’t wanted anything to do with it.

As I’m currently taking a Women’s Health class, we were instructed to “assess” our stress levels. Getting on to WebMD (of course) to take a quick survey on how well I handle my stress levels made me realize some good and bad facts about stress.

In my life and based on the results of the assessment, I definitely could stand to handle my stress a little better – “Stress Management: Could Be Better” to be specific. Comparatively, my life is pretty ‘cushy’ as they say. As a general overview, I live in a first world country with all of my rights, access to education and healthcare in a beautiful home, nice neighborhood and quaint city. My family is incredibly supportive of me and I get to see them all the time. Engaged, my fiance is incredibly helpful around the house and provides for our family which includes our two large dogs. My work can be a little stressful, but not because anyone’s life is depending on me and rather because I am spread thin between locations. Teaching in the fitness industry usually means you have multiple places of work and having to divide your attention between them can weigh on your time and energy. In addition, I also teach a multitude of different styles of fitness which means I am prepping for different programs while constantly shifting gears throughout the day.

Building a business is probably one of my main stressors because it is always in the back of my mind. Working full time and going back to school is stressful. Maintaining some semblance of a healthy lifestyle while being pulled all over the place and still taking care of my life’s responsibilities can be trying at times. Frankly, I have everything I could ever want and my life is incredibly abundant. (Yes, I realize this.) The stressors I deal with are what comes along with being productive, forward-thinking and motivated to always be growing in the ways I see fit. This kind of stress I would deem more as eustress – the beneficial kind. All these things I consider to be managed well enough, but the biggest burden of all is typically financial stress. This post is not to blab on about the hardships of shiftings careers and going back to school; but acknowledging the emotional repercussions, tensions in my relationships and insecurities in my life created by these changes are an important part of understanding my own difficulties with stress. I know that better times are ahead as I work to grow this business, however, it all takes time. Managing my financial stress admittedly can be the most challenging.

Based on my results, WebMD explained:

You’re taking healthy steps to manage your stress. And it’s helping. Your stress doesn’t seem to be getting to you. Everyone has stress. It’s part of life. And although people usually think stress is bad, it can be good for you. It gives you energy and sharpens your senses to help you power through. The key is how you deal with your stress. You can’t be in an amped-up state all the time. It takes a toll on your mental and physical health.

This makes sense to me and is what I have begun to learn about stress. Simply put, not all stress is bad. (Hurray!)

Stress is not inherently bad for your health and as long as I continue to mitigate my stress response appropriately I should stay relatively healthy. The TED Talk I’ve shared below is a look at the positives of stress. About a year ago I was introduced to the book “The Upside of Stress” by Kelly McGonigal and it significantly shifted the way I’ve come to understand or even speak about stress. Not surprisingly based on my belief of the mind’s power – McGonigal shares how the way we THINK about stress can be more impactful than our physiological response to stress itself.

What?! Whoa.

Take a moment to watch her presentation and see how stress can be a positive thing in your life based on our perceptions.

As for handling my own stress, I find the following helpful:

  • Streamlining Schedule: By planning ahead and scheduling out meals or breaks throughout the day I am better able to handle my workload.
  • Self-Care: By taking time off when necessary blocking out time for the things in my life that satisfy my restoration.
  • Focus on the Moment: By concentrating on the task I am able to give my attention to the present moment. Whether it is a meal with my partner or teaching or school work, being able to provide my undivided attention to the activity eases my mind, so I am not worried about what is coming up next. Instead, appreciating and being wrapped up in the here and now.
  • Mindfulness: When I am feeling a little more stressed, I make time for meditation or revisiting my yoga practice. Being able to focus on breath and/or partnered with movement can calm the mind and nervous system.
  • Physical Activity: When I tend to be emotionally stunted or grasping at getting a handle on my stressful emotions, some good old fashioned strength training usually does the trick. Exercise releases serotonin and feel-good chemicals that get improves your attitude and shifts your perspective to one of greater positivity.
  • Planning and PreparationWhen it comes to financial stress, my most difficult problem, I believe having a plan will help. As I look at our expenditures, chart out budgeting and strategically plan ahead, it eases some stress knowing that there is a solution to the problem. Even planning for the week or day ahead of time can help me better manage my time to ward off stress.
  • Gratitude: When I get wrapped up in all the difficulties of the stress of life, sometimes simple mental reminders of how lucky I am are the cure. Reminding myself of all the things in my life for which I am grateful and lucky to have can reground me. Either creating a specific list or mindfully sending thanks for these things in my thoughts can ease some of my heightened emotions.

Each of these eases my anxiety, balancing out my emotional state and making me feel more optimistic about my state of life. All in all, I live a relatively stress-free life and typically cause any tensions on my own by dwelling on the difficulty instead of taking action. By continuing to keep pace with staying ahead of the game and by doing instead of fretting, I tend to work my way around stress.

How do you view stress and in what ways do you find relief?

 

Credit to TED Global 2013: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend#t-3619

Meditation

Meditation & Visualization: The How & Why

“Where our thoughts dwell, so becomes our reality. Choose wisely!”

Nanette Mathews

They say thoughts become things.

Meditation and visualization are hot topics right now in the health scene. You can find them in our growing yoga trend, touted in practices and principles of successful people’s lives and even used in health centers, schools or for mental wellness in various clinics. These historical concepts aren’t on the rise for no reason. As we move further into our technological advances, using our devices and staring into screens for most of the day (now included) we lose our present awareness of the moment. We lose touch with the here and the now. We lack connection and a true understanding of what it means to be present. With yourself, with your food, with your physical activity or with the people in your life. What does this mean for your life?

It means that you miss out on the in-depth passion there is to be found. It means that you cease to acknowledge the little things. It may mean that your relationships suffer, your career doesn’t progress as rapidly or confidently as you’d like, or that you’re stuck in what we accept as the “status quo” of life. When you wake up every morning and undergo the same rushed routine of what you call your day-to-day. When you’re moving quickly through food, life, conversation, relationships, and your downtime. By taking a step back from the chaos, turning inward, reflecting on where you are in your life and on your path gives your self a shot at releasing a proverbial sigh of relief.

Through this chaos, your mind is a reflection of your life. How your thoughts move, the convoluted nature of your list of to-dos, and the way you react to your encounters are a testament to this lifestyle. Maybe you feel a multitude of these various emotions throughout the day: anxiety, depression, malaise, laziness, distractedness, misery, drudgery, negativity… These are not the human condition when you make an active effort to reflect on your world. You can move through your day with confidence, with positivity, with deep appreciation for each moment and with a viewpoint on the world that turns each second, turning each physical piece of reality into something beautiful, something to be praised.

What would you do with this newfound power to shift your mindset into one of awe in greeting each new moment in time?

Meditation: /ˌmedəˈtāSH(ə)n/

“The action or practice of thinking deeply or focusing one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.”

To expand upon that… From a simplistic perspective, meditation can be used synonymously with mindfulness. Meditation is the practice of bringing awareness to the present moment with a varied list of topics you have the option of focusing upon. There are many different types of meditation, but the resounding idea is to take a break from your everyday busy path to focus in on the here and now. Bringing awareness to this particular space and time in which you sit, stand or lay – whether that is through the breath, scanning the body or by concentrating on words of a particular persuasion.

Visualization: /ˌviZH(o͞o)ələˈzāSH(ə)n/

“The process of creating a mental image or intention of what you want to happen or feel in reality.”

To expand upon that… Visualization is seeing in your mind’s eye something you want to take place. Whether that be a successful sports win, an intimate date, a big promotion, or living your healthiest life in a day. To visualize something is to see it playing out in your mind using your own brain power. By visualizing, it is said that we are able to bring thoughts into physical reality as they actualize. This may not be in the literal sense of imagining something fantastical to have an encounter that may be considered outside of possibilities within this worldly realm. However, visualization can be used to bring universal intention into play by allowing opportunities you imagine to come to fruition.

They say thoughts become words, words become actions…

So like… what types of meditation are there?! When meditating, you can…

  • Empty your mind of thought.
  • Hold a particular mantra, a sentence or a single word in your mind.
  • Be prompted to send energy externally to others or to your space.
  • Turn inward to reflect on yourself without passing judgment.
  • Bring awareness to your deepest desires or get clarity on a decision you have to make.
  • Increase physical awareness with body scans.

Meditation and its practice can take many different forms. My personal, most frequently practiced form of meditation is Transcendental Meditation, which would be considered a mantra meditation. The second would be Yoga Nidra, a practice used typically at night to enjoy restful sleep as a relaxing voice speaks through the body parts. Wrapping up the yoga classes I instruct, I usually finish with a simple Yoga Nidra to get bodies comfortably into a state of rest for our final Savasana, or corpse pose.

And uh, what about visualization!?! When visualizing, you can…

  • View from the first person perspective, seeing through your eyes.
  • View from the third person perspective, seeing from a camera’s perspective into the scene.
  • Bring to mind an event or happening that you would like to see come to fruition.
  • Imagine yourself in a location or a state of being that you desire.
  • Concentrate on successful or prosperous intentions with various phrases.

When practicing visualization techniques, think about what you want instead of what you don’t. Bringing things into your life in a positive way will attract the positive. When you focus with passion you are able to put emotionally charged energy into what you’re doing, and you’ll be more dedicated to seeing that through to accomplishment. You’ll be energetically attached to the outcome, increasing the chances of its occurrence and open to opportunities that may not have always appeared beforehand.

How do you implement meditation and visualization practices into your real life?!

  1. Be consistent: Practice whenever you can. Make a schedule for it. Try for daily. Consistency breeds habits; habits formulate your life. Just like anything else, we need regular and consistent practice to get better. Just like we can’t pick up a guitar and play a full song from the get go, we won’t be great controlling our minds right off the bat either. It takes practice, time and energy.
  2. Keep it simple: Meditation and visualization DON’T have to be complex or complicated. They can be simple without a huge time commitment. Practice for short lengths in the beginning with five or so minutes of concentration. Being something you can practice anywhere, eventually you will be able to work it into a normal day without much effort.
  3. Practice with other tasks: Meditation and visualization can both be practiced while doing other mundane tasks throughout your day. Try focusing just on the breath as you wash the dishes. Repeat a mantra meditation while house cleaning. Visualize how you want the rest of your day to go while walking the dog in the morning. Close your eyes and bring attention to different parts of the body while waiting for appointments.

There seems to be much ado about meditation around the internet these days. And although it’s integrated heavily into our trendy yoga scene, it’s a worthwhile exploration for everyone in our society today wrapped up in the business we call life. These mindfulness and mental practices can increase feelings of happiness and positivity. They elicit calmer dispositions and reduce anxiety. They’re related to properly managed stress and better productivity. The list goes on with benefits for your physical health, your emotional wellness, and even your relationships . Give it a try and let me know how you do.

“Self-talk deeply impacts your attitude, decisions and actions hence your success, happiness and self-esteem.”

― Maddy Malhotra

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