Sure, you’ve read a list of stress management tips before, so what makes this list any better? Well, if you’ve read this far, then maybe you still have some stress in your life and another little tweak or two might be just the thing to help you relax. So take a deep breath and have a light, refreshing read. Hopefully we can help!
1. Talk straight, think straight. Obviously you’ve been told to think ‘the glass is half full’, and that’s all well and good, but when do you draw the line between what’s just negative thinking and what’s reality? I mean really, we can’t just all walk around with smiles on our faces, can we? (Okay, maybe we can, but that’s not the suggestion here.) Try a week of monitoring what you say, because it’s really the language you use that feeds in on how you feel. If someone says to you “Boy, this weather is the pits, huh?” You don’t have to disagree to be positive – you can simply say “Yes, I suppose it is. Hopefully it will feel more enjoyable soon.” Saying “feel more enjoyable” automatically puts that thought into your subconscious and gets you on the track to imagining a more enjoyable time.
2. Make a list. Or ten lists, for that matter. Make as many lists as it takes to get yourself organized because one of the most stressful things in life is that feeling of being overwhelmed, and you can minimize or even eliminate that feeling by taking 30 to 60 minutes once a week and making or editing a list, or lists. And with all of the great list-making apps out there today, you can even get one that syncs directly back and forth from your phone and your computer, so that you can have your list(s) with you all the time for reference.
3. Tune in to some tunes. Listening to music can really help you de-stress, which is no wonder that we hear it in all the stores and offices we enter everyday. They want you to relax and thus be a better customer! So be a better customer in your own store/mind, and put on some music when you have a chance – either some headphones at your desk or in the car, or even while you get ready in the morning. And you don’t have to choose classical to feel relaxed; anything with a beat that might get you dancing is great too. Check out some of the amazing, free internet radio stations out there that offer continuous, 24-hour-a-day music. You’ll be surprised at the variety you can find!
4. Get spiritual. Sounds like I’m asking you to light one up and put on some Bob Marley (see step 3), but it doesn’t have to be such a stretch to connect with something bigger than yourself. If going to some sort of organized religious gathering isn’t your thing (or if it is but you’re still stressed), try connecting in a different way. Sometimes getting in touch with your artistic side helps, so draw some pictures or get creative in a way that speaks to you. Or just go out into nature and take a closer look at some trees, plants and flowers. Literally stop and smell the roses? Yes, literally.
5. Self-massage. Sure, using up your benefits for massage therapy, acupuncture and so on is ideal, but it’s not easy to find the time to get into a clinic every day (unless you’re super-lucky, like a movie star!), but you can help yourself out with just a few minutes at your desk once or twice a day. Simply take a minute and massage the muscle between your thumb and index finger, using enough pressure that you feel a slight ache, but not so much pressure that you’re causing undue stress on the hand doing the squeezing. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this point is called ‘Junction Valley’, and is used to open up channels throughout your body. Thus it’s very beneficial for relieving pain and helping to calm you. It’s also great for stress in your facial muscles, and can even help open your nasal passages and help you breathe better (which brings us to step 6).
6. Breathe better! Simply stop whatever you’re doing and take a deep breath, letting go of all your thoughts and just focus on your breath in, and then out. Now make a simple plan for how to get through the next hour or two with a straight head. Good job! Now, if you want to make sure that your body is getting proper breath the rest of the time, you may want to consider doing some regular breathing practice like limbic breathing. This beneficial breathing practice (also called ‘feather breathing’) can be taught by some well-rounded naturopathic doctors, and is excellent for both reducing stress and can even help with other complaints too. Such surprising complaints include: acid reflux, immune system deficiency, high blood pressure, and insomnia, and is good for people of all ages.
7. Call Uncle Bert. Or whoever it is in your life that you care deeply about, and can usually give you the same unconditional love right back. Spending time with the people we love and can talk to about what is causing us stress can really lower those stress hormone levels and help us deal better with life’s worries. Make sure you take time regularly, and if Uncle Bert is just too busy, consider booking regular time with a trained psychotherapist. You don’t have to have a serious issue to just sit down with a professional listener. Sometimes a trained ear is a great ear to have!
Since stress has become such an important figure in today’s modern society, it’s no wonder that an abundance of it can have an impact on your ability to conceive. You may have been told to ‘just relax and let it happen’, assuming stress is the culprit, but that’s easier said than done. Especially when the stresses of life don’t just go away – it’s one thing to try and adapt, but more often than not it takes a rather different approach to what you’re doing to get things working. So here is a little background on what stress is, how it may be affecting your fertility, and what you can possibly do to counteract its effects.
Stress 101: When you’re ‘under stress’, you’re really experiencing the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is a built-in system left over from times when humans had to worry about predators attacking. Back then, this mechanism was very handy, because it causes your body to increase your heart rate and ramp up cortisol levels, which increase blood pressure. All of this, in the short term, is great because it makes you respond more quickly – a necessary advantage when being chased or attacked. But in today’s fast-paced, high-stress world this mechanism can get triggered hourly, and since you’re not built to be ‘attacked’ so frequently, your body suffers. Sure, give it a few thousand years and humanity will learn to adapt, but right now a frequently triggered alarm system causes hormone levels to be out of whack, causing various kinds of illness, including high blood pressure.
So how does stress affect fertility? Scientifically-speaking, when you’re under stress your sex hormone GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) gets suppressed, thus affecting ovulation, implantation, libido, and sperm count. This makes sense in evolutionary terms, since a stressed-out human would be unlikely to be able to care for a baby. If only your body knew the advances we’ve made! And stress gets even worse when you’ve had trouble conceiving, so of course the added stress makes conceiving even more difficult.
If you are trying to conceive and are having trouble, you should definitely look at ways to reduce the stress in your life, no matter what conventional methods (e.g. IVF) you’re already trying. Here are some ways that you can lower the stress in your life naturally, and thus improve your chances of conception:
1. Quit. That is, consider changing positions within your company, or getting a new job altogether. This may seem drastic, but if you are taking fertility seriously, you have to ask yourself some tough questions. How far are you willing to go? If you’re on the fence about leaving your current job versus having a baby, then also consider your own personal health. Stress has untold effects on other parts of your body besides fertility, so making a career move could very well be adding years to your life in addition to a little bundle of joy.
2. Talk to a psychotherapist. Actually, anyone trained in helping you get your feelings out can help – so consider talking to someone who can help you get to the root of some of your stresses, and possibly also help you find ways to cope with them better.
3. Try some massage therapy, salt baths or anything natural to relax your muscles. Getting your blood flowing and releasing some toxins as a result can have a tremendous effect on your well-being and fertility.
4. Acupuncture. This ancient modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine has been used for thousands of years for fertility, and still with great results. It can be used in conjunction with any drug therapy you might be on, and it may only take a couple of months of acupuncture to get your hormones back on track.
5. Exercise and eat right. You just can’t say it enough: a proper diet with some exercise thrown in will help you manage your hormone levels, lowering your stress and helping increase your chances of conceiving.
There are really many, many ways to learn to relax. Choose what feels right for you – don’t force yourself to do something because everyone else likes it. If making mud pies in the park is your thing, go for it. It’s all for a good cause.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
Need something quick and easy to do so that you can just relax a little? And maybe you also need something that you can do in the car or where your computer is not available (or perhaps ‘not wanted’ for that matter!)? Well, here are 3 easy exercises that you can do on your own (or with a friend, if that helps) to enable you the ability to let go of some of the stress weighing you down. Rule #1: these exercises only work if you give them a chance! Rule #2: each of these exercises can be done lying down with your eyes closed in a dark room, or wide awake in your car driving. They’ll have some effect even in the most active of your states.
1. Good Air, Bad Air. One of the harmful effects stress has on us is that it virtually fills us with toxic elements (essentially the residue of our ‘fight or flight’ system going for too long). This exercise will help you rid yourself of that toxicity.
First of all, take in a deep breath, imagining that the air you’re inhaling is clean, pure air – the best you could ever find. Let this pristine air fill your whole body, from your feet to your head, and imagine it cleaning out your body’s cells. Hold it in for a few seconds to let it do it’s cleaning, and then slowly exhale. While you’re exhaling, imagine that the air you’re releasing is all the dirty, toxic air that the ‘good’ air has cleaned out from your cells. Repeat two more times.
2. Squeeze and Release. We hold a lot of tension in our muscles when we’re stressed. Much of this tension we’re not even aware of, which is why this exercise is so good. Think of it almost as a self-massage – something to tide you over until you can get the real thing!
Imagine squeezing all of the muscles in your left foot, and hold this for a few seconds. Then slowly release the squeeze, imagining that all the tension you’ve just created is being released. Do this for your right foot as well, and then slowly work your way up your body, squeezing and releasing your calf muscles, your thighs, glutes, back, abdominal muscles, chest, shoulders, neck and even your scalp. Then, if you’re so inclined, work your way back down to your feet. Be careful not to over-squeeze!
3. Energy Cycling. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it’s believed that your energy runs down your front and up your back. Of course energy runs to and from your arms and legs aswell, but for the purposes of this exercise let’s just focus on your torso and head.
Do your best to imagine a warm energy traveling from the top of your head, down your face, and then down the midline of the front of your torso. The energy should feel comfortable, possibly warm and gentle, passing through you without effort. Don’t worry if you only feel it in certain parts of your body – this is normal and may change with practice. As the energy reaches your perineum (the space between your genitals and anus), gently give the muscles here a gentle squeeze, and then imagine the energy shooting up your spine to the top of your head. Repeat this cycle ten times if possible, ensuring that the energy is comfortable and easy down your front, and fast and energetic up your spine.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
Stress is defined as the state by which we cannot shut down the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism that has been built into us over thousands of years of evolution. This mechanism ramps up our symapthetic nervous system, enabling us in short intervals to escape from predators and attackers. In the short-term this mechanism can save our lives, but is not intended for long-term stimulation. In our daily lives, the mechanism intended to help us ends up hurting us, because stresses like traffic, relationship issues, or work pressure don’t go away easily, and we’re not evolved enough to physically handle the levels of stress hormones being produced.
Teens can experience daily stress just like adults can, and oftentimes don’t have the coping mechanisms that we have had the extra years to learn. Most teenagers will experience stress when they view a situation as potentially harmful, over-whelming, or painful, and they are unsure of how to handle it. Some sources of stress for teenagers include:
- social pressures
- physical changes
- parental divorce
- illness or death in the family
- changing schools
- financial issues
- exceedingly high expectations from parents
While a teen has much more energy than the average adult, and can likely recover more easily from stress physically, the long-term effects are still not pretty. At the very least, ignoring your teen’s stress can lead to behaviour patterns that, when copied as an adult later on, could lead to heart disease and high blood pressure, or worse. Although these issues are rare in teens, they become serious as adults and breaking patterns early on can do wonders for your teen’s life.
How can you help? First of all, remember that your teenager is still your son/daughter, and though not yet an adult, can learn how to cope with stress given the right support and encouragement. Try to foster communication without judging them, and listen to them for signs that stress is affecting their health, behaviour, thoughts or feelings. Some ideas you can offer them to decrease their stress include:
- Eating something healthy.
- Getting some sleep.
- Drinking some water.
- Listening to music.
- Watchng a comedy.
- Playing outside.
- Being a kid for an hour.
- Getting a massage or some acupuncture.
The essential points to drive home here are that a. they can still act like kids when they want to unwind, and b. they can do some of the things adults do to relax as well. Perhaps the hardest thing for teens is being caught in the middle of ‘you’re not old enough’, and ‘grow up already’. That’s enough to cause anyone some stress!
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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