As my Siamese cat Stella and I grapple with everyday living and her constant urge to knock off every trinket from our shelves, I wonder how different our experiences could be, and yet so similar. Just like Stella, we are often confronted with situations that induce stress and anxiety. The only difference is that Stella can easily sidestep her problems by pouncing onto the next cozy, warm spot or indulging in her favorite catnip, while we cannot. Stress is a part of every human's life. A little stress is normal and even necessary as it helps you stay alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger.
However, it's when stress stops being helpful and begins to interfere with your ability to live a normal life that we need to gauge its impact. For many, stress could be a pathway to illness, depression, or worse. It's paramount that we learn to manage stress to lead a balanced life. Managing stress can improve our mood, boost our immune system, promote longevity, and foster productivity and overall well-being.
Breathing is so fundamental to life, we often take it for granted. Interestingly, the way we breathe, especially during moments of stress, can significantly affect our mood and stress levels. Alignment with my yoga principles, let's consider an example from my life. A few years back, I was having a bad day. Deadline pressures, the technical breakdown of my laptop, and on top of that Stella… she decided to give me a hard time about dinner.
In the midst of this, I remembered my yoga instructions: 'just breathe!' I took a few deep breaths... Inhaling deeply to fill my belly, expanding my ribs, and finally my chest...then exhaling in reverse order. It might sound strange, but those few focused breaths brought a wave of calm over me. Harnessing the power of our breath can work wonders in maintaining our stress levels and seeking an overall balance.
Taking a cue from Stella's instinctive love for our balcony garden, I found solace in the lap of Mother Nature. Even a simple act like walking in a green space, or gardening can have stress-relieving benefits. The vibrant color green has a calming and relaxing effect on our minds. Chronic stress could lead to brain changes causing depression and anxiety. However, a recent study showed that spending time in green spaces helps people in reducing feeling of stress, enhancing mood, promoting relaxation, lowering heart rate, and improving overall emotional well-being.
Living in the heart of Vancouver, we're blessed with ample green spots that provide a haven to escape the rush of city life. You don't necessarily need to hike a mountain or visit a forest, even a stroll in a local park or your garden, tending to your house plants, bird-watching or if you're lucky enough, a day at the beach, can function therapeutically!
We have all heard about the advantages of exercise. It not only helps you stay in shape but also reduces stress and boosts overall mood. Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins in the brain. These are natural mood lifters that can keep stress and depression at bay. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean sweating it out at a gym or running half a marathon. Any type of physical activity that gets you out and about can help.
Exercise is my go-to stress buster. Be it a brisk walk around the neighbouring lanes, a quick yoga session or a sweaty Zumba class, I find that these activities help to clear my mind, reduce tension, and improve my mood. Exercise also promotes better sleep, which in return can help manage stress and anxiety. So let's hit that exercise mode and kick away stress, just like Stella playfully kicks the little ping-pong balls.
After a long and stressful day, many of us turn towards comfort food. While this may seem like a small indulgence, in the long run, it takes a toll on our health. Increased stress levels could lead to unhealthy cravings and overeating. A balanced diet with ample fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can be a mood enhancer and a powerful defense against stress.
There’s no denying that we are what we eat. Whenever I feel stressed, I take a few minutes to prepare a healthy meal or snack. Personally, I feel the act of preparing a meal can be therapeutic and a great stress buster. It not only provides a feeling of accomplishment but also, a good meal nourishes your body and can boost your mood and energy levels.
Living in the moment, or mindfulness, involves anchoring your attention to the present moment. When so much of our stress and anxiety stems from regret about the past and worry for the future, mindfulness could be a game-changer. It helps pause 'what-if' looping thoughts, enhances creativity, boosts mood, increases patience, and helps to enjoy life fully.
For me, mindfulness begins with a simple routine of sipping tea every morning while watching Stella's playful antics on the balcony. It's these everyday moments that we generally rush through, that can be most valuable in grounding us to the present. Recognizing and appreciating these moments can help us slow down and decrease our stress levels significantly.
In wrapping up, it’s important to remember that stress reduction strategies are like tools in a toolbox. Not every tool will be effective for every person in every situation. Experiment. Figure out what works best for you. Mix and match. And cultivate your own stress reduction tool kit. Embrace balance, for a more peaceful life. Just like my cat Stella does, balance to perch on the balcony railing and peacefully embrace the world!