Chronic stress has a major impact on our health, contributing to conditions like anxiety, insomnia, obesity, weakened immune system, heart disease, and more. We asked two Omega teachers for their best tips for recognizing and managing stress.
The Naturopathic Doctor
One of the first things to do is connect to your breath. If you're a shallow breather, spend a few minutes feeling what it’s like to breath into your belly. This will allow your parasympathetic nervous system to relax.
If you're stressed you may have elevated levels of cortisol (which can be determined by a saliva test) and erratic blood sugar levels, both of which can be helped by better nutrition and meal planning, including decreasing sugar and simple carbohydrates and increasing protein. That simple change can really help.
Talking is also helpful. I see a lot of improvement in people's stress level when they are just able to share their concerns with someone.
One of my favorite recommendations is to sit and stare at a tree. Some people think that's weird, but it’s a great way to practice meditation. Try to sit and slow yourself down to the pace of that tree.
Tom Francescott is a naturopathic and intuitive doctor specializing in helping people awaken to their true potential by identifying and addressing the root causes of energy imbalance and chronic disease. He is founder of Dr. Tom's Tonics, a naturopathic health center and pharmacy in Rhinebeck, New York, where he specializes in science-based environmental cleansing and detoxification and natural approaches to treating Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses.
The Zen Teacher & Contemplative Counselor
The key to recognizing and managing stress is cultivating present-moment awareness. Stress and health issues can feel like overwhelming problems, especially when they are perceived as abstractions. To understand what is actually happening to us, and how to respond in a healthy and meaningful way, we have to learn to pay attention to what is here, not only in our minds, but in our bodies and in our hearts.
Pausing and observing patterns of thoughts, sensations, and emotions, we learn to recognize what it feels like to be stressed. We come to know deeply what our "dis-ease" feels like in a very particular and detailed way. We become curious about our condition, instead of getting overwhelmed by it, or fighting it, or running from it.
The point is not to stop feeling a certain way, but to get to know intimately what is happening right now. And in this practice of being curious and attentive, we can find freedom right in the middle of our distress and pain.
Melissa Myozen Blacker, Roshi, is a Zen teacher and abbot of Boundless Way Zen, a school of Zen Buddhism with practice centers throughout New England. She holds a master's degree in counseling psychology and maintains a private practice in contemplative counseling. She is a member of the American Zen Teachers Association and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association.
© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies