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Tackling stress by practicing the art of wellness
In recent weeks, our record-breaking heat put us to the test. For those without the respite of air conditioning, we felt the effects of unprecedented heat. Our bodies begged for relief in the daylight. At night, we tossed and turned until sleep finally came. After several days of swimming in discomfort, the novelty of a warmer climate had worn out its welcome and we were ready to return to a former standard of ease.
While the climbing heat of summer has passed, the presence of discomfort is an ever-present aspect of living. It is intimately woven into the fabric of simply existing on the planet. In an imperfect place, the discomfort of stressors will always abound. However, we have endless choices in how we chose to journey amidst the discomfort and stress that enters our lives.
Like the shared experience of coping in challenging weather, we may also share the common discomfort of our country’s current economic climate. In other places, we may know a more private stress and discomfort. Perhaps you know the tension of a season of decisions, the ache of losing a loved one, the concern for a friend in a difficult trial or the uncertainty of uncharted places.
Whether challenges arise in a shared spirit with your community or in private and sacred spaces, I encourage you to be intentional about fostering a sense of wellness in your life. When we care for ourselves with thoughtful ambition, we are much more equipped to encounter the discomfort in our lives. As you foster greater wellness in your life amidst the presence of stress, I offer the following suggestions.
Slip into sleep
During our heatwave, many felt the effects of poor sleep. As a result, exhaustion came and moving throughout the day took more energy. While this may happen occasionally without lasting effects, we cannot build a healthful life without adequate sleep. In any weather, our bodies need time to be lulled into rest. Seldom is sleeping a process that happens quickly. Generally, our bodies need time to unwind. Before the era of electricity, our bodies responded to the rhythms of nature. As sunlight faded, our bodies slowed down. Recreate this experience in your home. Prior to bed, begin dimming lights. Turn off the television. Reduce noise and give yourself a quiet place to rest. Resurrect rest in your life.
Nourish your body
At the risk of speaking what we already know, eating healthy is paramount to a lifestyle of wellness. We truly are what we eat and our bodies simply cannot support poor choices in our diet without consequence. It is only when our bodies are nourished that we stand a fighting chance against the stressors and demands of our life. It may be beneficial to consult with a nutritionist in your area to create a healthful dietary plan unique to your needs. In the meantime, a few general rules apply. Reduce processed foods and those foods high in fat, sugar and salt content. Enjoy generous servings of fruits and vegetables. Stay hydrated by drinking water consistently. Ensure adequate vitamin and mineral intake by supplementing your diet with a multi-vitamin and/or supplements recommended by your physician.
We are not all meant to love the gym, but we all need to have movement in our lives. Our bodies cannot be still and expected to work well. In an era of technology, video games and computers, we are challenged now more than ever to seek activity in an intentional way. Currently, we are raising a generation of children deprived of vitamin D simply because they lack outdoor activity. Obesity and health crises reign in a culture lacking exercise. Children and adults alike must create a lifestyle that involves activity and body movement as a daily aspect of living. Balance the act of indoor and outdoor activities, but keep moving! Your body will thank you.
A legendary woman once proclaimed that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Not only are they lucky, they are wise and healthful. Isolation is vital in small doses for renewal, but toxic to our system if experienced in prolonged periods. Supportive and pleasurable relationships are central to our sense of wellness. We need companionship and connection in the presence of others. Without meaningful relationships, we run the risk of compromising our physical and mental health. As an additional note in this regard, there are some relationships that may be destructive and toxic. If members of your social community bring more stress than solace, it may be time to reconsider the relationship.
Life happens when we make other plans — unless we are practicing the art of reflection. There will always be demands and expectations, appointments and obligations, opportunities and invitations. As they enter your life, be clear about your passion and purpose in the world. It is impossible to be everything to everyone, but it is possible to live a life defined by intention. When we are clear about our desires and values, we can better discern how to make choices when they are before us. Keep your visions close at hand. When your eyes are fixed, it is much harder to become overtaken or emotionally captured by life’s stressors and discomfort.
Pondering and practicing these disciplines will reduce stress and bring greater vitality to your life in immeasurable ways. Change may not arise overnight, but it will unfold in time and will be well worth the investment. There is no greater reward than reaping the returns as we invest in the value of our lives. In any economy, it is among the few places were value is sure to be sustained. As you invest in the art of health and wellness in your life, I wish you great success.
Bothell native Shannon Renae West, MS LMFT is a licensed family therapist working with adolescents and young adults on the greater Eastside. For more information, visit www.ShannonRenae.com.