1. Awaken with ease
Does your alarm clock jolt you from the serenity of sleep? Harsh buzzing noises can ignite the fight or flight response, secreting cortisol into your bloodstream—not a good way to start your day. Cortisol is a chemical often referred to as the “stress hormone” since it is involved in the response to stress. It increases blood pressure, raises blood sugar levels, and has an immunosuppressive action.
One way to reduce stress from the moment you wake up is to choose a pleasing alarm clock. There are many alarm options these days, including clocks that can awaken you with music, sunrise simulators, nature sounds, aromatherapy, or my new favorite, a Zen-like gong. On the days when I need to rise at a specific time, I now awaken to a digitally reproduced recording of a Tibetan gong bowl. It’s delightful! I was so excited to hear it that for the first week I kept waking up long before it was set to go off. For me, this peaceful sound generates a sacred feeling to the start of the day.
If you intentionally create a reasonable bedtime and plug in just a bit of extra time in the morning, you have the opportunity to start your day with ease. If you awaken to a baby’s cry, children squealing, or if you are the caregiver of another family member, it may be all you can do to take a deep breath before bolting out of bed. When possible, take a few gentle breaths before allowing your feet to gently step into your day.
2. Meditate and/or pray
Plugging in five minutes of quiet meditation or prayer right after you awaken has the ability to profoundly affect the direction of your day. Fifteen minutes is even better, but starting with five minutes will create amazing results. You can do this before getting out of bed or find a place where you can sit quietly without being disturbed. If other family members require your attention at this time of day, set aside some time during the day when you can just pause. It’s cheaper than a latte and can be deeply satisfying. (Or you can totally enjoy your morning coffee as a meditation dessert!)
3. Eat a nourishing breakfast
It’s so easy to grab the first “meal” of the day on the run or even wait until mid-morning to gulp down a muffin while you stand by the kitchen sink or sit in front of your computer. There’s a reason breakfast is known to be the most important meal of the day. It breaks the “fast” from dinner and is absolutely crucial in providing essential nutrients for your day. If you don’t eat breakfast, that cortisol kicks in and your body thinks it’s starving. Then, when you do eat at lunch time, your stomach still isn’t ready to digest your food because the cortisol is supporting your stressful fight or flight mode by preparing the body to be chased by a bear (or a grumpy boss). So, your lunch just hangs out in your stomach for an extra amount of time and eventually creates extra pounds around your middle, causing more stress. We don’t let our car get to empty before we re-fuel. It’s equally important to keep our body’s fuel supply steady for our best running condition and to reduce stress.
4. Take high quality supplements
Supporting our cells with vitamins and minerals is crucial these days. The American Medical Association (AMA), previously saying little about the need for vitamins, now encourages daily vitamin supplementation. (Learn more from the 2002 Journal of the American Medical Association resource listed in the bibliography.) When we nourish our cells at the most basic level, we give our bodies the opportunity to thrive, increase our ability to handle the daily stressors of life, help to prevent degenerative disease, and control damage produced by free radicals.
5. Be in the present
I cover this topic in Chapter 29, but if you don’t get to it today, here’s the gem: the present really is a gift you give yourself. When we let the concerns of the past or fears of the future enter into this precious second, we create stress. Stop. Breathe in. Breathe out. Be.
6. Provide service
When we provide service to others, we also support ourselves. Being of service is a real stress-buster if we are doing things we love, in a passionate way and without expectation of return. I have a little Post-it note on my computer that says, “What do you have for me to do today God? How can I be of service?” It is a guide for each conversation and each task I assume.
Engaging in providing service doesn’t mean I “help” people, because that would put me on a higher plane and others below me. Rather, I offer service from a realization of oneness, as a fellow human traveler offering the best of who I am at this moment. It doesn’t mean giving unsolicited advice or telling people how they can make their life better when they didn’t ask you. It may simply mean listening—being fully present—to what someone is saying. Service may mean sharing your music, art, or other talents with others. It may mean volunteering or working in a soup kitchen. It may mean working as a grocery clerk and offering a kind word to someone whose nasty behavior indicates he is having a really bad day. (I have heard that the amount of pain a person inflicts on others is directly proportional to the amount of pain that person feels within himself.) It may mean being all that you are, in whatever work you do, so that you can make a difference in this world. Provide service, release stress!
7. Seek pleasure
Be a pleasure-seeking arrow, always on the lookout for a great, joyful target. Awaken with pleasure, work with pleasure, love with pleasure, pray with pleasure, provide service with pleasure, work out with pleasure, eat with pleasure, breathe with pleasure. Or, you could concentrate on searching for things that aggravate you or cause tension and stress. It’s your choice.
Taking three breaths before you begin to eat is quite a quick entry into a more relaxed state. It relaxes the digestive system, so you can better receive the food you are feeding your body. Are you feeling tense when stuck in traffic? Come back home to your breath. Breathing in—and breathing out. Getting ready for an important meeting or potentially challenging conversation? Breathe. Our breath is such a treasure if we choose to simply call upon it with mindfulness and awareness.
9. Tell the people you love that you love them
We can do this in person, on the phone, in e-mail, on Facebook, or by sending a silent message to a special heart. Be sure to be unattached to any expectation of reciprocation, as that can add stress rather than dispel it. Love is a vital nutrient that can gently melt away the stressors that sometimes surround us. Don’t forget to send some loving messages to yourself too.
And out of the mouths of babes: “You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” (Jessica, age 8)
10. Be grateful
Calling attention to gratitude is a magical tool for reveling in relaxation. When we call to mind the people and things we are grateful for, we may discover that the dramas of life are temporarily placed aside, the loneliness is put on hold, the fear dissipates, and our focus rests on extraordinarily simple pleasures. As you’ll read in Chapter 31, nighttime is a great time to bless the day with thoughts of gratitude. Or don’t wait until bedtime; feel free to take a moment and think of just one thing you are grateful for right now.
We all relax in different ways. You can listen to music, read, watch movies, walk, garden, feed the birds, sew, work in the garage, or create art. Pick your way and plug it into your daily life whenever possible. Relaxation is a wonderful way to enhance your wellness wisdom.
Thank you for reading this excerpt from chapter 16 “Revel in Relaxation” from Wellness Wisdom: 31 Ways to Nourish Your Mind, Body, & Spirit by Susan Tate.
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