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The Art of Stress Management

These days many people take antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications at one time or another. While medication, along with psychotherapy, can be life-saving for some, others find such treatments work temporarily or not at all, or find that the side effects of medications are worse than the original malaise. It may come as a surprise that many techniques and therapies are available to aid one's path towards a happier, healthier existence that don't require a doctor's prescription. Some require a teacher, or a good practitioner, while others require only your will to take that first step to develop new habits.

The Written Word

Eckhardt Tolle, in The Power of Now (1999, New World Library), tells us that there really is nothing to be anxious or depressed about, as all problems arise within the mind. He suggests that all stressful emotions are the result of a perceived lack of fulfillment of some need, a sense of abandonment or neglect, or the idea that "there isn't enough / I'm not enough." Thus, to be fully present in the moment is to have no problems. Most of us have too much noise going on in our heads to appreciate the significance of this concept. Reading the writings of such poets as Jahluddin Rumi or Kahil Gibran can also effectively bring your awareness into the present. The act of journaling about a current, or even distantly past, event can make the perceived stressor become more manageable. Just the act of bringing the event out into the open, i.e. onto the pages of your journal, seems to be a potent way of letting go.1

Meditation and Chanting

Meditation can be as simple as sitting in a comfortable chair while closing the eyes, returning to one single image or the repeated sound of the breath. Like many things, it gets easier with practice, allowing us that subtle ability to detach when the need arises. There are many health benefits resulting from meditation (www.abc-of-yoga.com/meditation/benefits.asp) including the reduction of blood pressure, resolution of chronic pain, and the ability to release endorphins (the feel-good
hormones). Visualizing healing for a specific area in the body-or even the entire body-can be part of a meditation as well.

An entire science has evolved around healing with vibration. Research documents more efficient healing from illness occurs while listening to classical music such as Beethoven and Bach.2 In Ayurvedic medicine both chanting and mudras (asanas for the hands) are used to change one's vibration.3 The OM sound, for example, is said to contain all the sounds in the universe, and through chanting we can enter into a state of oneness with the Universe.4 To be less esoteric, it calms the nervous system extremely well and with relative rapidity.

We live in a world where everything is seen as separate from us and our goal is to somehow "get" things in order to be happy. Happiness, however, is a state of presence, of accepting what IS. Both meditation and chanting help bring us to the present moment, while the sense of time and responsibilities are momentarily released.

Yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi

These practices use the power of breath with postures or movements to realign our awareness of being in our bodies. During the workday while sitting at a computer, it's easy to become slumped over. Before we know it we are living from "the neck up." Even those of us who move around with our work can lose awareness of how we hold tension in our bodies. The ritual aspect of practicing yoga, qi gong, tai chi or other martial arts clue the body in: as soon as we step onto our mat, or into the classroom our nervous system remembers. Qi gong is often practiced outside and is an excellent way of reconnecting with the natural elements of earth, air, and plant energy-as well as with cycles of nature.

Get That Blood Moving!

Going to the gym, or ideally exercising in nature as often as possible is a surefire way to raise natural brain chemicals which give us a sense of well-being. Regular exercise can be extremely helpful for depression and stress-related emotions.5 In the presence of stressful conditions our adrenal glands secrete cortisol and adrenaline, the chemicals that tell us to "get busy". We use them to rise to whatever occasion we might encounter while driving, writing a presentation, exercising, or even going on a date. These chemicals developed as an evolutionary mechanism, giving us a better chance of survival. However, many of us have developed a pattern of reacting to every little upset with a stream of adrenaline and/or cortisol, thus creating a situation where the nervous system is in sympathetic mode to the exclusion of the parasympathic mode. We need the parasympathetic to dominate during reading/studying, digestion, sleep, and repair of cells. Exercise (including yoga and other practices) allows the body to discharge accumulated stress and return to a relaxed state where we have the choice to respond to various stimuli.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a centuries-old, elegant system that stimulates the movement of qi, or "chi," otherwise referred to as plain old energy. Through various channels or meridians, specific points are stimulated with tiny needles (which are usually painless) in order to "unblock" areas of stuck energy and enhance circulation of same. The microcosm of the body is a reflection of nature, i.e. when the earth's crusts build up tension, eventually there will be a volcanic eruption. In the body this can be likened to inflammation, swelling, infection, or perhaps something more serious. Keeping the systems flowing and in harmony with each other is essential for healthy nervous and immune systems, and acupuncture is an effective route of stimulating that flow.

Bodywork

There are many forms of bodywork available to help de-stress. Massage helps to loosen up muscle and connective tissues that may hold lactic acid and other metabolites, preventing our spine from maintaining normal alignment. Chiropractic treatment and Aston Patterning, a cousin to Rolfing, help break down patterns of holding that we unconsciously recreate when under stress. These patterns may be related to old injuries or simply represent where fear lives in our bodies. The chronic holding of tension in the body reduces range of motion, depletes our energy and even our ability to concentrate. CranioSacral therapy is yet another form of subtle bodywork that enhances the parasympathetic nervous system, or the "relaxation response" innate to our nervous system.

The Right Diet

Making good food choices not only affects our weight and skin health, but can also provide optimal nutrition for concentration, ability to focus on tasks, and proper fuel for our physical needs. The wrong foods can affect the nervous system, producing such diverse symptoms as headache, fatigue, crankiness, fogginess, oversensitivity to light, sound, smells, and chronic low-grade infections almost anywhere in the body. Eating the right diet can help remove toxic influences that produce behind-the-scenes physical/emotional symptoms. To help demystify the myriad of dietary choices, we can work with a Nutritionist, Naturopathic doctor, or other healthcare professionals who can custom-design nutritional programs that fits our specific needs.

Community

Many of us live separately from our families, don't know our neighbors, and miss the support of community. Only a few decades ago we could rely on parents, grandparents, and extended family to aid us with childcare, health needs, and bolster us during holidays. Social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol.

According to a UCLA study on women and friendship, people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a six-month period. In contrast, those with the most friends over a nine-year period reduced their risk of death by more than 60 percent. Not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to one's health as smoking or being overweight.

Classical Homeopathy

For long-term resolution of chronic anxiety, depression, and all manner of stress in the body and mind, a well-chosen homeopathic medicine can produce profound and lasting results. There is never an emotion that doesn't have a physical place in the body, just as there is never a disease that hasn't come from a pattern of disconnecting from the deepest Self. Homeopathy is the original "mindbody medicine."

When stresses produce an overtaxed liver, stomach, spleen, or nervous system, some kind of symptom is sure to follow. Often it's in the form of pain or discomfort, but is sometimes expressed through emotional distress masquerading as sadness or anxiety. Even in long-standing conditions such as lifelong depression and anxiety, homeopathy can cure. It can detoxify on a cellular level, restore function, improve sleep quality, enhance performance, and prevent the progression of disease states. In essence, homeopathy allows for a repatterning of relationship responses, both to oneself and others, from chronic dysfunctional habits to more healthful and aware choices.

Homeopathy is safe for infants, pregnant women and animals. Taking a wrong homeopathic medicine does no harm; there will simply be no change. When the right medicine is given, however, our body's innate intelligence responds and corrects the problem. In homeopathic language, our vital force is stimulated.

In Closing

There are many ways of unwinding, letting go, relearning, and retraining our minds and bodies to experience greater joy. The best way to start is to begin exactly where we are. See what calls to us. Explore, ask questions, take time and make conscious choices. Consult qualified, experienced professionals for assistance, particularly in the case of serious conditions. Always seek guidance before elimimating prescribed medications.

1. James W. Pennebaker, Writing to Heal, New Harbinger Publications, 2004
2. The Mozart Effect, Don Campbell, Harper Collins, 2001
3. Sounds of Healing, Mitch Gaynor, M.D. 2002
4. Healing Mantras: Using Sound Affirmations for Personal Power, Creativity, and Healing, Thomas Ashley-Farrand, 1999, Ballantine Wellspring Book.
5. (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043)