I was away last week. I spent a few days on vacation in the Dominican Republic looking at this miraculous view each and every day. I took walks along a beautiful teal-blue ocean, felt the island sunshine soak into my shoulders, listened to the waves crash into the shore and marveled at the sporadic deluges of rain that blasted in almost every night from the edges of seasonal tropical storms but, just as quickly, left behind a clear sky. Exotic birds and insects appear in front of you there, colorful flowers are everywhere and leaves that we recognize as houseplants spread out large and almost pre-historic looking from the trees. In places like this, everywhere you turn, people are smiling, laughing and, truthfully, trying desperately to leave “real life” behind and bask in a week of relaxed, stress-free living.
I’ve had a rather stressful year this year and so I was one of those who was probably working too hard at being relaxed. I also have some bad habits in how I deal with the most stressful parts of my life, although I’m working very hard at becoming more aware of these pesky habits which can be an effective way to at least begin to make them go away. On the positive coping side, I’ve always used running and exercise as a way to deal with stress in my life and find that this kind of tool, as many of you know, gives you the double benefit of improving your health at the same time you reduce your feelings of anxiety or stress.
But, when I returned home from my vacation I encountered two of the most stressful days I’ve had in a long time; work had piled up while I was away, personal issues overlapped with professional issues and before long, I was feeling totally freaked out. I contacted my new friend, Barbara, whom I’ve met through on online class I am taking and, after telling her that I was in a classic state of “overwhelm,” her first response was: Remember to B R E A T H E.
Breathe. It’s so simple.
Scientists know now how stress effects our brains and our bodies on a cellular, genetic level and the evidence that has been revealed through the research is astounding. If you have an extra hour in your life to check out this National Geographic video on a three-decade long study done by Robert Sapolsky at Standford University, you will be fascinated by what he discovered through his observations of a tribe of African baboons. Through extensive blood testing, Sapolsky was able to show how the stresses of a hierarchical social group show up in the bodies and the brains of the individuals. During the study, a tragic event revealed the ways that stress, and its companion hormones, actually chips away at the immune system until we begin to succumb to systemic disease, particular of the heart and arteries.
So, back to breathing. It sounds silly, I know. Almost ridiculous. And I know there are people out there who know me who have and will continue to guffaw and roll their eyes when I say it but it’s a little way to attack stress and you can do it anytime or anywhere. So, I want you, my friend and reader, to do something right here, right now.
Sit up nice and straight, but not too stiffly.
Close your eyes.
Take in a deep, deep breath through your nose that fills your lungs up all the way.
Hold it for a moment.
Now let it come out.
Nice, right? Repeat as necessary.
TRY THIS WEEK: Remember to breathe.