Calm and Collected in the Eye of the Storm: 5 Tips for Optimal Stress Management
“Have to catch an early train, Got to be to work by nine And if I had an aeroplane I still couldn’t make it on time”
The Bangles all too true lyrics in Manic Monday sum up our modern experience completely! Many of us are living under an unprecedented level of daily stress: cost of living increases yearly, a single income is just not enough to support your family, everyone seems to be accomplishing more than us, it’s never been harder to keep up with the rapid pace of life. Some of us have even forgotten what a little R ‘n’ R feels like!
First, let’s do a quick biology lesson on the effects of stress. Remember that old term from freshman year biology, homeostasis? Homeostasis “is the ability to maintain a constant internal environment in response to environmental changes.” Well, nothing pushes our bodies out of homeostasis faster than stress. Our heart races, palms sweat, we feel a buzzing in our limbs. This buzzing is actually blood flooding your arms and legs so you can make a quick getaway from perceived threats. Digestion shuts down, and your most recent meal can no longer be transformed into energy. Instead you feel bloated, gassy, or acidic. Some real sensitive folks even get constipated or immediate diarrhea!
Lucky for us, ancient wisdom of Ayurveda can help. While we cannot slow down the pace of the world, we can learn how to live peacefully within the chaos. Here are five tips to reside calmly, harmoniously, in the eye of the storm.
Holy Basil, ocimum sanctum
Holy Basil is rapidly gaining recognition in the west. But, this pretty purple herb is no new kid on the block! Known in India as tulsi and used in Ayurveda for roughly three thousand years, adaptogenic holy basil helps the body return to homeostasis. It’s calming, energizing, strengthens your immune system, and helps you find your center. Strong extractions in capsules or tinctures are great, but you’ll get immediate effects simply by sipping a delicious cup of tulsi tea.
Abhyanga: Morning Oil Massage
World renowned Ayurvedic teacher and clinician, Dr. Vasant Lad, speaks at length about the importance of soothing, grounding morning routine. Most of us don’t have time to execute a complete, complicated dinacharya (daily routine) each and every morning. So I’ll let you in on a little secret: The most powerful stress-management tool from Ayurveda’s traditional morning ritual is abhyanga. Abhyanga is a soothing, head-to-toe massage done first thing in the morning with warm sesame oil. And it doesn’t have to take a long time! Fifteen extra minutes spent nurturing your body will make a world of difference in your ability to roll with life’s punches.
Slow, Deep Breathing
In every horror movie, there’s this moment: A monster stalking through a forest. It’s intended prey (usually a sweet, innocent young victim) begins breathing in short, loud gasps as the monster inches closer. And closer. They realize they are breathing loud and hold their breath. The monster moves on. When it’s long out of hearing range, the potential victim lets out a sigh of relief.
What an amazing demonstration of breath control as a means of stress management! The stress response (also known as “flight or fight”) can be interrupted by returning to a breathing pattern that mimics homeostasis. Ever heard that phrase, “fake it till you make it?” Well, just by breathing as if you are calm, your body and mind will respond by calming down and slowly returning to homeostasis.
HALT is a technique used frequently and successfully in addictions recovery. In moments of extreme stress there’s a very good chance you are either Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or all of the above. In any of these less-than-optimal states, it’s easy to fly make snap judgements and regrettable decisions. So! Take a step back, and see if your current state indicates that you should HALT. Take care of these basic needs first, then come back to the problem when you are well-fed, neutral, feel supported, or energized.
One Bowl Meals
Your digestive fire, or agni in Sanskrit, takes a big hit under stress. Avoid stress-induced digestive disturbances like gas, bloating, acid reflux, constipation, or diarrhea by eating nourishing, cooked, easy to digest meals. How do you know if your meal fits the bill? Make a “One Bowl Meal.” Simple foods like rice and sauteed veggies, lamb stew, mashed sweet potatoes, hearty butternut squash soup, or spiced oatmeal are all great examples. Eating at roughly the same times every day helps, too.
Ok! The next time something stressful comes up (maybe later today), employ one of these methods. The fastest and easiest are HALT and deep breathing. The others require a quick trip to the grocery store. So, take a little time and create your “Eye of the Storm” tool-kit and begin managing stress with grace, ease, and calm.
Heather Vaughan is an Ayurvedic practitioner and writer. She spent many years struggling with Ankylosing Spondylitis (an autoinflammatory disorder which attacks the spine). Her quest for health has become a deep, respectful study of traditional medicine which has taken her all over the world. A Northern California native, Heather now resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she happily dances, climbs rocks and helps other transform illness into health. For more stories and sweet health gems, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or check out her website.