We have discussed several key factors that should be considered when addressing stress and trying to improve its management: diet and sleep are crucial, and supplementation with nutrients and botanicals can offer incredible support.
The power of our mind, however, is perhaps the most paramount. There is a fine balance between stressing the importance of diet and lifestyle and harnessing the power of supplementation, while also acknowledging that efforts in these areas will amount to very little if one’s perception and thought pathways are not supportive. At the end of the day, we are always going to have sources of stress in our life. If we can change our perception of these stresses and let go of the thoughts and feelings we have been programmed to experience as a result of stress, we can achieve much greater health and freedom.
The notion that our brains are hardwired to work a certain way and that this way is largely out of our control is false and disempowering. In reality, our brains are quite susceptible to change and our programming can be shifted with diligent effort. The way in which we achieve such a shift is achieved through simple but consistent means. The combination of stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system (recall that this part of our nervous system is responsible for relaxation) and conscientious thought selection comprises this simple yet effective tool.
To understand why stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system and choosing our thoughts helps us reduce stress and essentially feel calmer and experience more joy in life, we must first understand how our brains work. We spend the vast majority of our time on autopilot; our brains are running mostly on programs that have been established early in life and stories we have been told about ourselves and the world around us. This subconscious programming is responsible for any of the feelings we experience in life. Our feelings are a result of the thoughts we tell ourselves in response to a certain event or the meaning we assign to any aspect of our life. It is when we interrupt this subconscious programming, when we change these automatic thoughts, when we remove meaning, that we truly shift the way we feel and experience life.
Deep breathing, meditation, and physical movement are some of the best ways to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system and create space to change our subconscious programming and lay down new thought processes. These are also some of the best ways to create space between ourselves and our thoughts and feelings, including those associated with stress. The notion of being separate from your thoughts and feelings can be difficult to accept at first; however, the more you identify yourself as just a witness of your thoughts and feelings, watching them come and watching them go—as they always do—the more grounded and calmer you will feel during emotionally heightened or particularly stressful moments.
Physical movement is so important for our mental health and can be a huge asset in the management of stress, helping us create this space between ourselves and our thoughts and feelings. It acts on so many levels, including improving hormone regulation, supporting digestion, and relaxing our nervous system. Movement also allows us to get in touch with our bodies, waking up our physical selves to the present moment and experience the sensation of letting go and moving forward. It literally shifts our physiology and frame of mind; if you are moving sufficiently and paying attention, you will always notice feeling differently after from the way you did before the movement. Incorporating even 20-30 minutes of light to moderate physical activity a few days a week, such as walking or yoga, can have a significant impact on our cortisol levels and perception of stress.
Apart from movement, we have the accessible tools of breathing and meditation. Our bodies and minds respond quickly to even small changes in behaviour. Taking just a few minutes to focus on your breath and become aware of different sensations in your body can shift your system into a parasympathetic state, which has immediate benefits for your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing, including in the management of stress.
During particularly stressful moments, stop, sit down, close your eyes, and begin taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Doing this for even a couple of minutes slows your heart and breathing rate and shifts your nervous system out of a sympathetic (stressed) nervous system state. The more time we spend shifting out of a sympathetic nervous system state into a parasympathetic nervous system state, the easier it becomes for our body to shift back into or remain in this relaxed state. This is why consistency is so critical to experience the true benefit of deep breathing and meditation. For a more in-depth look at breathwork and meditation, you can read this post: https://drdanielledeblocknd.com/blog/2019/2/20/the-magic-of-meditation
Once we are in a relaxed state, focusing on our thoughts becomes much more manageable. Changing our thought pathways is much simpler than one might presume; you are simply choosing new thoughts to tell yourself, and then telling yourself these new thoughts—typically by saying them out loud or writing them down. The more you tell yourself a certain thought, the more in-grained it becomes in your brain and the more it starts to shape how you perceive yourself and the world around you. You are essentially creating your reality. For example, you can choose to tell yourself that if you don’t get something done (whether it be cleaning your house, getting a promotion, making more money, losing another 10lbs, going to the gym, making it out to dinner with friends, having another baby), you won’t be as happy, liked, or successful. If these are the thoughts you are telling yourself, then surely you won’t feel as happy, liked, or successful. On the contrary, you can choose to tell yourself that all is as it should be and whatever is, is enough. If these are the thoughts you are telling yourself, then surely you will feel more at ease and content.
You can choose your thoughts, and you can choose your reality. The first step is letting go of your old thoughts and welcoming new ones. Letting go also applies to the meaning we assign to ourselves and the world around us. When we truly let go of old thought pathways and the meaning we have given to certain aspects of our lives, we experience mental and emotional freedom.
Let go. Let go of control. Let go of expectations. Let go of disappointment. Let go of fear. Let go of insecurity. Let go of needing more. Let go of resistance. Let go of self-doubt. Let go of your past. Let go of your future. Surrender to the present moment and trust that you are exactly where you need to be. Know that you are enough, exactly as you are, and that you have everything you need within you. Turn in to the difficult moments, breathe them in and breathe them out. Observe your thoughts and feelings coming and going, allowing yourself space to just be and experience the moment. Breathe. Surrender. Trust. And let go. Let it all go.
Nourish yourself. Get enough sleep. Slow down. Say ‘no’. Move your body. Breathe. Reclaim power over your thoughts to reclaim power over your reality. You get to choose every moment, and you get to choose your story. Be gentle with yourself always, and give yourself the time and space you need to feel well. You are enough, and you are exactly where you need to be.
Dr. Danielle DeBlock received her undergraduate degree at the University of Western Ontario in 2013, where she completed a Specialization in Environmental Science and a Major in Biological Sciences. She then attended the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and graduated with a Doctor of Naturopathy Degree in 2018. She became a licensed and board-certified Naturopathic Doctor after completing exams through the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners and the College of Naturopaths of Ontario.
Dr. Danielle’s passion for naturopathic medicine is rooted in her passion for sustainable living and holistic wellbeing. She believes that every human is unique and shaped differently by their own lived experiences, and, as such, believes each person’s journey to health and wellness requires unique consideration and exploration.
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