Does the world seem to be off its axis? I was brought up to pay attention to and be involved in politics and to care about our planet. I have lived over half a century now and this is the craziest time I’ve ever witnessed on both fronts. Random horrific violence, multiple earthquakes and devastating hurricanes rock the planet, people are divided and personally witnessing hatred, fueled by vitriolic daily tweets from top levels of government. It is unnerving, stressful and heartbreaking to say the least.
One lesson I learned through my very stressful personal cancer crises, was the importance of self-care to manage stress. To be honest, I’m not sure I had even heard the term “self-care” before I got cancer. I was a Health Coach and knew how to be healthy, like eat my vegetables and exercise. But even as a health coach, taking care of myself was something I squeezed into every day life. It wasn’t the main event.
I learned the hard way that our health and self-care is, in fact, the main event. I dove deep into this concept of self-care, exploring what it means to take care of myself beyond simply healthy food and getting adequate exercise. Don’t get me wrong, paying attention to food and exercise is vitally important. But I’m talking about the whole picture—the holistic health triad of Body-Mind-Spirit. I realized I hadn’t been paying much attention to the mind and spirit parts of the equation.
It turns out the mind and the spirit need to be attended to just as much as the body, or the body may falter when you least expect it (read my book, WTF?! I Have Cancer? for more on my experiences). Like a three-legged stool that can’t stand if one of its legs is broken, self-care means attending to all three legs as if your life depends on it. Because it does.
When the world feels like it’s going to hell in a hand basket, hostility and negative events create stress in the body. Our bodies’ stress response of hormones like cortisol and adrenalin were not meant to be sustained in a chronic, every day way. Although these hormones are great to get us out of harms way in a dangerous situation, they can be destructive to the body if they aren’t allowed to calm down.
And if you’re paying attention to current world events, you know that the crazy is happening daily! I hate to say it, but there is and has been a very real affect from all of this on your health. Chronic stress can ravage the effectiveness of your immune system as well as lead to problems like heart disease and liver damage, higher blood pressure, hormone imbalances that can lead to thyroid issues and excess weight that won’t budge.
Going back to the stool analogy, stress weakens the body leg of the holistic health stool but the mind and spirit legs can help bolster it back up. Adding mindful and spiritual practices to reduce this stress is an effective form of self-care in these circumstances.
Because of the very real health consequences, stress management is one of the areas we focus on in The Permanent Remission Project, my small-group coaching program. We spend an entire session on stress management as well as another session on other self-care techniques—it is that important. Cancer is that stressful.
For all of us in these crazy times, while exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress, there are also mindful and spiritual practices that are equally effective. Here is a very simple yet effective practice for stress management that I teach in The Permanent Remission Project group coaching program. You can see benefits from this with as little as 5 minutes a day (although the longer the better) and it doesn’t require any equipment.
Set a timer for however long you have and sit comfortably, closing your eyes. Take a few deep breaths through your nose. Continue to put your mind on your breath, the air going in and out. Feel the air go in and out of your nose, feel your chest rising and falling, feel your lungs expand and collapse. See if you can feel the oxygen in your blood course through your body revitalizing every cell. With every inhale, visualize that breath feeding your cells with oxygen and then expel what is not needed with each exhale. Continue to stay present to your body as it breathes, feeding its cells, the lungs rising and falling, until the timer goes off. Slowly open your eyes. Notice how you feel.
Studies show that this simple act of mindful breathing meditation immediately reduces stress hormones and boosts the immune system(source). Give it a try and let me know what you think.
And if you are interested in creating permanent remission with a supportive and friendly group of women, check out the web page for The Permanent Remission Project and apply for the program. The first group starts November 9th.