This is the hardback book that came with my Women to Women program. It's a great resource, divided into 6 chapters and covering some of the issues expressed in this post as well as nutritional guidelines, detoxification and recipes.
I’m not sure why emotional health sometimes gets swept under the rug or why some consider it a social stigma to acknowledge a battle with negative feelings/thoughts and depression. Maybe it’s our culture that prizes traits such as aggressiveness, slyness and an exterior “toughness” that make us reluctant to work through it openly. I don’t know, perhaps the way we’re raised has much to do with it. What I do know is that many battle this dragon alone and sadly, turn to self-medication such as overeating, drugs, sexual promiscuity or other addictions in an effort to dull emotional pain.
How does our emotional health affect our bodies and how does one heal from chronic emotional pain? That’s what I’ve been exploring in the last many years; the first one is easier to answer than the second.
A female motivational speaker came to our area once to speak at a Women’s Conference. Her basic message was that there is a direct connection between our emotional and physical health, the quality of our life, and our capacity for talking to ourselves in an encouraging rather than negative way. When we think negatively, when we go down that spiral of uncertainty and fear, either doubting ourselves or that God really is in control, something happens in our bodies as well: stress is triggered.
Stress sends a message to the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and adrenaline. These are the substances that come in handy for that fight or flight mechanism and yet, with chronic stress, the adrenals go into overtime, producing an abundance of cortisol, which is really bad for us. High cortisol levels are linked to weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, accelerated aging and suppression of the immune system. And what’s more, as we age, the ovaries are not as effective at producing hormones and call on the adrenals for back-up. The overburdened adrenal glands are hard pressed to keep up with demand. An overtaxed endocrine system = hormonal imbalance. So that’s the basic science of it.
Reducing stress and coping with chronic stress is another matter. I think, in general, that women place way too many demands on their bodies-- trying to be everything to everyone and feeling guilty by saying ‘no’ to someone who asks of our time or resources. A routine that can leave us not only exhausted, but harboring resentment as well. There was a time when I fell into bed at night, so tired from the daily events that I couldn’t even finish a prayer before falling into deep sleep. Instead of giving myself what I truly needed, I relied on caffeine and carbs to get me through the day and then crashed by nightfall. And now, as the prompting of this series indicates, my lifestyle had to change because as we age, the ramification of not giving our body what it truly needs becomes more apparent.
While some issues that create stress are out of our control, I have learned a few things over the last 3 years that have helped significantly in reducing stress and promoting emotional health: (no particular order)
Implementing boundaries is a healthy thing. Saying “no” when I know I don’t have the right amount of time or resources to help with something, reduces my stress and is a favor to the other person who deserves 100%.
Going to bed early/rising early is a better practice than staying up late/ rising late. It’s more conducive to productivity which helps to reduce stress. I’m amazed at what I can accomplish in the hours between 6:00 - 9:00 am.
Tending the garden of friendship. Making time for those special people in my life has so many rewards; I’ve finally learned that spending quality time with friends takes effort and planning...an endeavor that always seem to give back more than I put in, including a big reduction in stress.
Yoga. I know yoga is controversial in christian circles, but I’ve been reaping the rewards of this practice for several years now. I’ve never done any type of exercise that offers such immediate results as yoga*
Nurturing my relationship with Christ, striving for obedience. Prayer is a big part of this, saying morning and evening prayers -- not as I fall asleep, but in a designated area of my house, whether I feel like it or not. I’ve learned that the action often begets the feeling --it’s become a rhythmic, healthy part of my day, meeting my Heavenly Father in this way. There is peace in communion with the Father and no room for stress.
Eliminating all televised news. May sound extreme, but that constant streaming negative visual and audio stimuli is harmful to my spirit. It caused me to dwell on unhealthy things like fear, violence & wickedness which is contrary to what I’m advised to do in Philippians 4:8 - to dwell on good, honorable and pure things.
Journaling. Obviously, I love to write and I’ve found it to be very therapeutic, not just blogging, but keeping a private journal of my life and the bumps encountered along the way. It’s easier to see patterns in myself, my emotions and actions, when it’s written down before me, when I can go back and read it over several times. Identifying the roots of stress better enables me to eliminate or reduce it from my life.
Exercising outdoors. It’s been exhilarating to take hikes in our snowy cold temperatures these last few months! I think winter has become my favorite season for such hikes because if you’re going at a good pace, after a few minutes, 31º feels great. Getting my body moving, taking in the crisp air and delighting in nature is good for body, mind and spirit.
Aromatherapy. That is, using essential oils, incense or candles to brighten my mood and decrease stress. Essential oils are profiled according to several factors, such as their note in perfumery and also their effect on emotions. It probably won’t surprise you that the citrus smells, such as bergamot, orange, grapefruit, mandarin and neroli are all helpful in lifting the spirit. Sandalwood incense is burned frequently at my house not only because I savor the fragrance, but because of it’s calming and soothing quality.
Phytotherapy. (the use of plants to aid healing) It’s been my experience that certain herbs and supplements aid my emotional health, as I mentioned previously when using St. John’s Wort and now the Herbal Equilibrium supplement. I think this could even include herbal teas -- have you ever tried drinking camomile tea at the end of long day to relax? I’ll write more when I’ve taken the Herbal Equilibrium for a full 30 days, but I can tell a difference already. Similar to using St. John’s Wort, my ability to respond in a positive way to stress factors is strengthened. This is no small thing. Let me give a specific example:
Only a few days ago, when the children were out of school for yet another snow day, I took them on a hike with me. They didn’t want to go, but I insisted; we needed to get out of the house and move. It was just one of those days when they were out of sorts and misbehaving and I had to repeatedly call them on it. By the end of our 35 minute hike, they were still at it and now asking to eat out for lunch. Well, I don’t believe in granting a reward like eating out for lunch when their behavior has been bad, so I said no. Oh my! the negativity and complaints escalated at that point.
Typically, this would set off my stress button and I would raise my voice above the din in a sharp way, being completely enmeshed in the hulabaloo - giving way to anger.
But this day, I laughed. Of all things! I laughed at the ridiculousness of it, held my ground, but in a jovial way. My anger played no part in the scene and the results were favorable. The children stopped their bickering when they realized they weren’t being treated for lunch and my ability to remain peaceful, even cheerful, prompted a quicker than normal end to the whole negative scene.
Anger - 0
amy - 1
*Hatha yoga. More on this and meditation next time.