Stress Can Grow Like a High Rise
Recently I have encountered a number of friends experiencing unusual levels of stress. including death in the family, changing jobs and countries, personal illness, marriage, changes in employment of a partner and illness of a loved one. Two psychologists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed a stress index to assess if stress related to developing illness and in their opinion it does. If you are experiencing four of the above factors you would be at a higher risk of illness (See index)
Then We Forget Self-Care
One thing my friends had in common was that the aspects of their lives concerned with self-care had evaporated. Pressure of life had got in the way of things like exercise, yoga, going out in nature, relaxation and play.
It is no wonder that stress and anxiety create such a toll. It seems a general rule that the first things to go from a stressed life are the things that could actually help us cope. We are more likely to devote any available time and space top mindless distractions. Why is that?
Likely it is some form of childhood coping mechanism that has never left us. Under pressure we are more likely to engage in old patterns. Hiding one’s head under the covers seems a sound strategy to escape life’s challenges as a six-year old. Perhaps it has less relevance today.
Developing a Self-Care Kit
Each of us needs to identify our own self-care plan and find a way to remind ourselves when life takes a turn for the worse. As Carl Jung once said, “ the shoe that fits one person pinches another, there is no recipe for living that fits all cases.” Each plan needs to be individual.
Mine embraces daily meditation, a walk in nature, listening to music, writing in a journal, learning poetry and stopping watching TV at least an hour before bed. However we don’t all feel stress equally. It is essential to pay attention to how life unfolds.
Mindless TV and Games Playing and other Distractions Are Not Self-Care
I have learned to recognize that when I find myself slipping into mindless pursuits it is assign of underlying anxiety. I try to check in each evening and ask, “Did I live a balanced life today?” I do not beat myself up if I have not but I do attempt to stay fully conscious of what is going on in my life. And make adjustments.
So What To Do?
I also believe that times of great crisis remind us to assess whether the path we are travelling is in concert with our deepest being. Jungian analyst James Hollis in his wonderful book Living An Examined Life suggests, “When what we are doing is wrong for us we can temporarily mobilize energy in service to goals but in time such forced mobilization leads to irritability, anger, burn out and symptoms of all kinds.”
I think our society has detrimentally confused selfishness and Self-Care. Self -Care can help reduce stress and make our lives more productive and meaningful. Each of us should design a simple “Go To-Self Care Kit As the poet Hafiz (exquisitely interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky wrote in his poem The Swing, “You carry all the ingredients to turn your existence into joy, mix them, mix them.
Components for a Self-Care Kit
Developing your own self-care kit requires identification of the aspects of your life that bring you joy, help you to feel grounded, support you in moving into the witness state (observing what you are experiencing) and exploring the moments you seem to move into a relationship with the mystery or a larger sense of who you are. Some examples:
Meditation, Contemplation, Centering Prayer, Yoga – all ways of stilling the mind. Medical doctor and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zynn runs a successful mindfully-based stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts medical Center that has demonstrated significant results.
Exercise: Running, a bike ride, walking, skiing, and many others can get us back into our bodies and help reduce anxiety and stress.
The Arts: Music, poetry, art, theatre can all offer nutrition to cope with life’s traumas.
Grounding: This is considered a powerful way of addressing emotional trauma. Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD, is Professor of Psychiatry and the director of the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) research unit at the University of Western Ontario recommends a Grounding Toolkit.*
Journaling: Writing and exploring can also be extremely cathartic.
Frequently we will argue that there is not time for these things but that is generally resistance. When the Buddha was asked, “what do you do when you are to busy to meditate” he replied that he would meditate for twice as long.
*This includes walking meditation where you’re paying attention to the feet on the floor; listening meditation where you’re listening to ambient sounds; nature meditation where you’re looking at trees and sky and the like. There are also equanimity practices where you imagine yourself being a mountain going through seasonal changes with a sense of continuity and stability to your “mountainness,” even though there is a lot of change going on around you. (https://s3.amazonaws.com/nicabm-stealthseminar/Trauma2017/confirmed/NICABM-TreatingTraumaMasterSeries-Module3TalkBack-TraumaticMemory.pdf)