Best Friend Handbook: Managing Stress

Best Friend Handbook: Managing Stress

My friend Katherine Stuart writes a wonderful blog,”Best Friend Handbook,” everything from fashion and beauty tips to nutrition and recipes – including recipes for success in life – which she feels is aided and abetted by practicing gratitude every single day.

This week, Katherine talks about how to manage stress. Her great (read educated) advice is hard-earned.

After spending most of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 being treated for a pretty aggressive form of breast cancer, I got a clear Pet/CT scan in early June. Whoo Hoo!! Unfortunately, my “cure” only lasted about 3 weeks when what I thought was a really innocuous rash turned out to be cancer in my sub-dermal lymphatic system. Oh joy. Now, I’m back on chemo (which explains why I’ve been MIA). All of this to say that if the last year and half has taught me anything, it’s how to manage stress. But to manage it, you first have to understand it.

Role of Cortisol

Cortisol is our body’s stress hormone. Along with adrenaline, it is what helps us handle a dangerous situation. If you encounter a bear, for example, adrenaline will get you running, but cortisol is what will keep you running. The problem, of course, is that most of us don’t encounter bears all that often yet we live in a state of constant “fight or flight.” Annoying bosses, hateful traffic, or sick parents can all send cortisol levels sky high. And unlike a bear, these are daily stressors that don’t necessarily go away.

Ideally, cortisol follows a high/low pattern where it peaks in the morning, waking us up, and dips at night, putting us to sleep, with the occasional spike (hello bear) for a stressful situation. But when your cortisol never gets a chance to dip, it can:

cause insomnia
result in weight gain
increase blood pressure
give you indigestion
create a state of chronic inflammation
None of which is good for your health.

Breathe Your Way to Less Stress

The fastest way to bring down your cortisol level is also one of the easiest — just breathe.

Proper breathing taps into the body’s parasympathetic nervous system which is what calms us down. Unfortunately, when we are stressed, we tend to hold our breath. So, the next time that your heart is racing, your palms are sweaty, and your teeth are clenching, try this simple exercise. Sit with both feet on the ground (this alone can work wonders) and then inhale for a count of 5, hold your breath for a count of 5 and exhale for a count of 5. This 5-5-5 breathing is not only a really fast way to stop stress in its tracks, but it can be done anywhere — in the car, during a meeting or while on the phone.

If, like me, you have a somewhat permanently overdeveloped “fight or flight,” it would be a smart idea to incorporate some form of meditation into your daily routine. Personally, I can’t meditate without help — my mind just wanders. But I love my friend Cynthia’s self-hypnosis downloads. I’ve listened to one everyday since I was diagnosed and they’ve been life altering. Each one is only about 20 minutes and focuses on a specific issue. I am a huge fan of “Healing Waterfall.”

You can check them out here.

Other Best Tips for Managing Stress

Another fast fix for stress is getting out into nature — even the one or two trees on a typical city block can make a difference.

There is something about the sun on your face and the wind in your hair that helps bring you back into your skin. And the act of walking causes you to take deeper breathes which, in turn, helps to calm your body. You want to walk at a leisurely pace. This isn’t about sprinting for cardio. Instead, focus on the clouds in the sky, the play of light through the leaves of a tree or the feel of grass under your feet. I am also a huge fan of EFT. I’ve already written a blog post on this (which you can check out here), but this is another one of those simple exercises that is phenomenally healing.

Practice Self-Soothing

Like a lot of women, I’ve historically used food to sooth my anxiety. But too many nights indulging in my favorite ice cream always results in tight jeans. Furthermore, when I was going through chemo the first time, food tasted gross. This forced me to get creative about other ways to self-sooth. My friends Gretti and Wendy gave me a fabulous stuffed bear, and I have to say, petting his very soft paws has gotten me through more than the occasional tough night.

Mr. Roosevelt Bear

If you don’t have a stuffed bear handy, your dog’s ear, a velvet slipper, or your husband’s very worn cotton t-shirt, should do the trick.

The key with a self soothing ritual is to find one that you will actually do as not all of us have the time (or patience) for a spa day.

Here are a few options:

5 minutes or more with a fabulous book
grabbing both shoulder blades and giving yourself a hug
laughing with a great friend
chuckling at one of those famous dog or cat videos on YouTube

The last two are vital. Crappy things happen all the time, and it’s so easy these days to go down the rabbit-hole of darkness. But a great laugh opens up your heart, making you feel lighter, brighter and infinitely more hopeful. Needless to say, I’ve been trying to laugh a lot more these days.

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