Continuing our series on adrenal fatigue I asked Christa Steeves, busy working mom to three very active girls and now a certified Life & Wellness Coach, to share both some personal and professional advise how you can better manage daily stress and avoid adrenal burnout.
She begins today’s guest blog post with a personal story that I know so many of your busy moms can relate to…I sure did.
Both laughed and cried when I read it.
It is 5:25 and you are in a meeting with your boss, there seems to be no good time to interrupt with, “I have to leave, I am late to pick up the kids”. Images of them being the last kids at daycare, again, are running through your mind. Mother-of-the year, yep, that’s me!
You finally get away and now you are racing through traffic to get to the after-school program and of course you get every light there is, and are cut off by what seems like the star of “Canada’s Worst Driver” at every turn. You now remember you left the file you needed to review before the morning, on your desk. #&%! Agh, now I have to go to work early tomorrow.
The kids are climbing into the car, after you spent time rushing them to get ready and remember all their stuff, and the first question is “What’s for supper?” Supper, I never even thought of what to make for supper! We don’t even have time to go home now, before music lessons at 6:30, drive-thru here we go again.
“Okay kids make up your mind… hurry up the lady is waiting… hurry up there are people behind us…” As the kids eat hurriedly in the backseat, you hear the inevitable gasp, “Mommy, I forgot my violin”. What!?! So, now you find yourself speeding home to get the lost violin. It is now 6:25 and you are at a traffic light texting: “Running L8 again, BRT.” Pulling into the music school parking lot you hear, “Mommy, why are we always late?” Hhhhmpphh! Inside you all go, off to violin and guitar go the kids.
So. You have just had an hour from H-E-double-hockey sticks.
Yes, it’s only been an hour!!!
It’s not the only hour like that today. Or, this week for that matter. And probably not the last. And, now you have 30 minutes to yourself, what do you do?
Well, this used to be me, and what did I do?
Onto my iPhone/iPad/Computer, I have 30 minutes, I can get some work done!
On the outside, I looked like I had it all together.
Now, I’m not suggesting that moments and days like this won’t happen. That’s life. But it is our reactions to them, and often what we do next that determines our bodies’ reaction to, and any long-term effects of the stress.
For 20 years I really did very little to manage my stress, always squeezing in another moment of getting something done, and, one day my body and my mind, finally said, “Enough!” and into full burnout mode is where I found myself.
I then proceeded to move to a job with “less stress and more time to myself”. All very good, and I was on the right path – I lost weight, was eating clean, spent more time with family, was focused more on me. But I still had not learned how to deal with my reactions to stress and how to manage it. I am a working mother of three after all, stress is inevitable. I was still not “well” and found myself in full adrenal fatigue. What the? But I was doing everything right! For the first time in 20 years I was taking care of myself. For me, it was too little, too late. My adrenals had basically taken a vacation, one that I probably needed to go on too!
Of course, there are ways to plan for fewer situations like the one above in our day-to-day, but that is another blog post for another time.
The reality is, stress is part of life. For now, let’s focus on how to deal with everyday stress. Let’s talk about how to not find yourself in adrenal fatigue, burnout or how to get back on your feet if you are already there.
Stress is NOT really the main issue; it is how we relate to stress that IS the issue.
Our stress response it critical to our survival; knowing to quickly swerve to avoid an oncoming car, to be able to lift someone to safety in an emergency situation, to outrun a tiger (that’s where it all started), etc., are examples of reactions to life-or-death stress situations. But, most of our life situations are not life or death. I know, I know, they seem like it. But getting the kids to music lessons is not really life or death. Really, it’s not. I swear. It is our response to these situations – our thoughts, emotions and physical reactions – that, well, could be life-or-death.
If we are constantly in a state of stress, constantly worrying – “how am I going to get that report done by Friday”, “when did the kids need me to volunteer at school, that’s tomorrow”, “why does he seem to never listen to me”, “am I ready for that promotion, I can barely get through the day now”, “where is the money coming from to pay off our credit card”, “am I too fat”, “why does she seem to hate me, what did I ever do to her”, “what did my boss mean by that today”, “don’t forget to book the cake for the party tomorrow, it’s probably already too late”… the thoughts never seem to slow down.
But, we need to learn to slow down. That is life-or-death.
Chronic stress is wreaking havoc on our hormones, increasing our blood pressure, upping our change of hearth disease and stroke, and the list goes on. And the symptoms of chronic stress such as overeating and weight gain, lack of sleep and others, all compound the problems. It is a vicious cycle. One that can be broken.
There are a number of ways to reduce and manage stress, and until you can find ways to reduce stressors, or remove them, and for some that is just not possible anyway, the ways to manage stress will help. What works for one person, may not work for another, but below are some ways you might find useful. Putting together the right mix of what works for you is what will help you manage your reactions to stress. And don’t stress about having to do yet one more thing! First reaction wasn’t it!?
Fit these ideas in where and when you were already doing something else.
Do 10 minutes of meditation rather than surfing FB first thing when you wake up.
Do 30 minutes of yoga instead of watching just. one. more. episode. of SOA.
Go for a walk with the kids while doing their spelling homework.
Eat outside instead of at your desk, how much are you really getting done anyway, just take the 20 minutes to eat.
Practice deep breathing while you fold more laundry (seriously, where does it all come from!).
You can do it, I promise! If I can, you can.
Stop. If only for five minutes. Even for ten seconds. And just breathe. Be mindful.
Next time you in a stressful situation or in need of calming. Stop what you are doing, start breathing in and out, and be mindful of your breath. Count them. Or, when you inhale say “in” to yourself, when you exhale say “out” to yourself. Now observe your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Just noticing and acknowledging your thoughts and emotions can help you reduce anxiety and find calm. Now notice your body. Does anything hurt? Is your heart racing? Does your stomach feel knotted? Do you have a headache? Does your neck or back hurt? Focus on breathing into that area. When you are ready, do something to support yourself in that moment. If you have to move on, just say thank-you to yourself for that moment. If you have time, have a cup of tea, call a friend, read, or take a bath. Whatever you enjoy. Guess what? You just meditated. Yep, you who thought mediation is all new-age hippie stuff, you who thought you could not meditate, yep you, you just meditated.
So, taking some time to stop, breath, and be mindful is meditation. If you want to practice mediation more, you can find ways to fit it into your day. What are your opportunities to stop? Is it while the kids are at swimming lessons and you are sitting on the pool deck? Is it stopped at a traffic light? Is it in bed when you first wake up? Or perhaps when you go to bed at night? Is it the first five minutes at your desk before you dig into your email? Or maybe you want to carve out a full 20 minutes a day? You can even meditate when doing something else, yep multi-tasking meditation! Seems like an oxymoron, but it’s not. While doing yoga, while out for a walk, when hiking in nature, when doing tai chi in Bannerman or Bowring Park… these forms of moving mediation are very powerful.
Whatever works for you, how ever long feels right for you, wherever you want… it works and you will experience amazing benefits, including reduced stress, ability to handle situations, lower blood pressure, better heart health, and overall wellness. If you like some help, I know I did when I first started, just Google “free guided mediation” there are lots of resources on YouTube and other meditation sites. Another option is to take a meditation challenge such as Oprah and Deepak’s 21-day meditation challenge. The most recent one started on August 5th but it is not too late to register. I’m doing it. Om.
Hitting the mat can help manage chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic and acute pain, depression, anxiety, and insomnia, just to name a few. You will experience reduced risk of injury in other activities including exercise and daily activity, increased balance and flexibility, increased range of motion and increased strength.
Yoga is a mind-body practice, a physical and mental practice to achieve peace-of-mind and body, to help relax, and to manage stress and anxiety. It involves practicing stretching, balancing, standing, sitting and lying postures through controlled breathing and relaxation. There are many styles, forms and intensities of yoga from Moksha, Hatha, Astangna, Vinyassa, and the list goes on. Finding the right yoga for you, your ability, and needs is important.
Do some homework. Go to The Google. You can do yoga before bed or when you wake up, you can do it at your desk or go to a weekly class, you can do it at home with a video, YouTube, or a subscription service, or you can just find a program on TV and PVR it. You get the idea. Just do it (thanks Nike).
Check out our LYL Holistic Expert Coach Rachel Hogan’s 10min Yoga Flow Video.
OR…her bedtime Yoga routine.
Going to a class for a beginner is a great way to learn the poses, be encouraged by an instructor, meet new friends and have a sense of camaraderie. There are lots of great studios, here in St. John’s such as Nova Yoga, Moskha Yoga, Shakti Yoga, The Lotus Centre, and Ebb & Flow, a quick Google search and you will be sure to find a studio or classes near you.
Melanie Caines, from Yoga Nova has a great show on Rogers that you can catch when it airs or can PVR to do on your own time, and watch her Feel Good Friday videos, short videos you can do anywhere, anytime. I especially love this one for neck and shoulders, try it at your desk/in your office!
We touched on breathing when we talked about stopping. Breath will be a huge part of your meditation, and breathing is an integral part of your yoga practice. It is something our body does automatically, yet many of us do it wrong!
Yep, you are probably breathing wrong! Who knew!
Too often we breath into our upper lungs (chest) and do not breath deeply, allowing oxygen to get to our lower lungs (abdomen) where it needs to go, and for us to reap the benefits of a full deep breath of fresh air.
So practice breathing, yes, practice, because practice makes perfect. See, your mother was right, she always is!
Full diaphragm breathing will oxygenate muscles, improve stamina, and provide mental clarity by increasing blood flow. It also increases the flow of lymph with is rich in immune cells – our little disease fighters! And of course, deep breathing stimulates our relaxation response. No wonder we sometimes tell someone, “Just take a deep breath”. It works!
So how should you breath?
- Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath in and the hand on your belly should rise higher than the one on your chest. This means the diaphragm is pulling air to the base of your lungs. Once you have this down, its time to practice.
- Take a slow deep breath in through your nose imagining you a sucking all of the air out of the room (or outside) and hold it for a count of seven (or however long you can, but not more than seven).
- Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to ensure all air leaves your lungs. Our breath becomes deeper not by inhaling more air, but by letting all air go.
- Repeat this four more times for a total of five deep breathes. You are trying to have one full breath cycle every ten seconds (or six breaths per minute).
Once you are comfortable with the technique you can do this anywhere, anytime, without your hands on your chest and belly. Or with, if you want to ensure you are doing it right. And of course, you can turn it into a powerful meditation by saying words on inhale and exhale such as positive (inhale) and negative (exhale); relax (inhale) and stress (exhale); health (inhale) and disease (exhale). Those exhales will help you get rid of anything you need to, and those inhales will help you feed your soul with whatever it needs. There are a number of other breathing techniques for relaxation; we will talk about these another time, but for now, focus on deep breathing. Just breathe.
Studies have shown that spending time in nature makes us healthier, happier and smarter, yes, smarter. Only 30 minutes a day spent in nature can help us sleep better, feel calmer and reduce our stress.
In May, more than 10,000 Canadians and over 250 workplaces participated in the David Suzuki Foundation’s 30×30 Nature Challenge. They committed to getting out into nature for 30 minutes a day for 30 consecutive days. Research conducted by Trent University researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet after the challenge found that, “Participants in the 30×30 Nature Challenge almost doubled their time spent outside during the month and reduced their screen time by about 4.5 hours per week. They reported significant increases in their sense of well-being, feeling more vitality and energy, while feelings of stress, negativity, and sleep disturbances were reduced.” Wow!
Fellow coach, blogger and friend, Tina Pomroy, took the challenge, and here is how she found it. The results of the challenge show it is possible to take a break from our busy days and get outside.
Some ways I get outside every day include eating outside (gotta eat anyway), taking a walk or playing outside with my kids (gotta spend time with them anyway), reading or writing outside (again, gotta do it anyway), running/skiing/biking/swimming outside (again, gotta get 30 minutes of physical activity a day).
I do my yoga or meditation outside, often as part of my stretching at the end of my run (again, gotta do it anyway). You are catching on now; I can feel it!
I find by not making it something “extra” to do, it is manageable. Plus, I am way more productive and sane if I take that break.
So go on, go outside and get the stink blown off ya!
So take a bath. Go to the gym. Go for a run. Take a hike. Read. Write in your journal. Sit by a pond. Go for a swim. Do those things that de-stress you, but it is important to fully manage and reduce stress by doing some form of mediation and mindfulness. Just be.
As always if you are experiencing any physical or mental health issues, or think you may be in adrenal fatigue or experiencing chronic stress, please see your doctor or natural health care provider.
Until next time, be well,